The Connor McDavid sweepstakes are over, and as we now know, the Edmonton Oilers have come away with the top prize. Just like in gym dodge ball, the advantage goes to those that pick first, and the Oilers have just snagged the equivalent of a 6’2″ fifth grader. But is Connor McDavid in Edmonton – or more specifically in the Western Conference – a good thing? Probably not. Now I know that sounds like sour grapes from a Florida Panther fan that lost out on the top prize, but McDavid out West could severely upset the delicate balance in the NHL and damage the overall health of the league.
McDavid is widely regarded as a “generational talent” that will change the fortunes of a team for the next decade. Buffalo and Arizona, two teams in dire fiscal straits, badly needed McDavid to right the ship and bring stability, or, at the very least, jersey sales. Due to the structure of the NHL lottery, an established Canadian franchise won the top prize. An established franchise that is in no way relocating and is about to open a new stadium in 2016. Now two teams, who are in much worse financial shape, have missed out on this remarkable player and in turn, might have doomed their franchise forever. Take Arizona, a team that is hemorrhaging black ink, badly needed McDavid. Relocation talk has swirled around the league (my own Panthers are not immune to it) and with a talent like McDavid going to Arizona, he would have undoubtedly sold tickets in Glendale. Although relocation has been shelved for now, Arizona still could leave after five years if losses exceed $50 million. If McDavid became a Coyote he would have undoubtedly been the anchor and permanently placed the team in the Southwest. Like Atlanta, if another team leaves for the Canada, it sets a dangerous precedent for Carolina and the two Florida teams to do so as well.
Canadian writers and fans have clamored for the return of Sun Belt teams to the northern Provinces. Winning products in the South would quiet the talk of relocation. But relocation is a nagging and – some would say – a chronic problem in the league. Many up north want relocation, but they are using the wrong word. What they are asking for is league contraction. If southern teams continue to retreat to Canadian cities for quick profits, the sport ceases to grow. Astrophysicists have always frighted us with the idea of a contracting universe. Canada keeps frightening the Sun Belt fans with the same contracting premise. To return to Canada would be a step back. It would be a smaller market, a smaller pie if you will. Those that ask for relocation are missing the bigger picture. The NHL needs to be a global game with worldwide appeal. Those in the north should be proud of their game and desire to share it with the world. Leagues like the NFL are desperately seeking new markets such as London and Toronto to host their games and to be a global sport with numerous markets and potential for revenue. The bottom line is that if relocation happens, the league ceases to grow. It is to this point that makes the case for McDavid going to another team so important. He generates interest where there is little.
Going to Edmonton might also be bad for McDavid as a player. Edmonton has been blessed with four of the last six number one draft picks and have yet to do anything with them. Those high draft picks have yet to produce at the elite level. Nail Yakupov is close to being a bust, Taylor Hall has been labeled difficult and there were talks of him being traded, and RNH has performed well but not like an all-star. Can that be an indictment on the Oilers’ organization? Yes, it can. It is possible to have one pick be a bust, but three points to an institutional shortfall. Without a doubt the Oilers have been an underacheiving lot and are in bad need of goaltending and defense. This deficiency has undoubtedly caused many of the Oilers’ troubles. One can only hope that the Oilers don’t replace Ben Scrivens with Connor McDavid.
A final reason McDavid in the West is bad for the league is that of the time zones. At last count, I have watched zero (0) Edmonton Oiler games here on the East Coast. As most of the general hockey watching population is on the East Coast (love that east coast bias), most will miss his heroics and overall progression. McDavid will be collecting apples and scoring goals as we are snuggled tightly in our bunk beds dreaming of ice dancers. It is incredibly damaging to the league for the player that has generated the most buzz since Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos entered the league to be playing most of his 41 home games at 10:00 pm EST. At last count, there are apparently only four teams on the Wednesday Night Rivalry rotation on NBC. Unfortunately, Edmonton is not one of them. Perhaps McDavid going to the Oilers will change that, but more than likely it will not. When the puck drops to start the 2015-16 campaign, most of the casual fans will only see McDavid on the rare ESPN highlight and not on a nationally televised broadcast.
Having a star like McDavid in the league is undoubtedly a good thing, but on the Oilers not so much. I know that Oilers fans will disagree. Had McDavid landed on a Sun Belt team, it would have brought a calming influence and cooled the talk of relocation. Here’s to McDavid living up to his potential and the NHL becoming the global game that it needs to be.