LAS VEGAS – Connor McDavid is favored to win his first Hart Trophy as NHL most valuable player, which means that Connor McDavid has to at least consider giving a speech on Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena.
He’s not happy about it. The speech, that is.
“I hate that part. I’m not going to be the guy up there giving the long speech,” said McDavid.
He didn’t have to give one last season. McDavid was up for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2016, but lost to Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks. McDavid led all rookies in points per game, but only played 45 of them. He played 82 games in his sophomore season and led the entire NHL in scoring, winning the Art Ross with 100 points and likely taking the Hart and the Ted Lindsay for player of the year on Wednesday night in Las Vegas.
Is this beyond his expectations for this point of his career?
“I never really thought about it like that,” said McDavid, 20.
Unless you expected him to follow the Sidney Crosby success trajectory.
Crosby, like McDavid, was second in the Calder voting to Alex Ovechkin in 2006. In his second season, he won the Art Ross, the Hart and the player of the year award from the NHLPA.
It’s coincidences like this that fuel the McDavid vs. Crosby debate, along with the accepted notion that the Pittsburgh Penguins captain and the Edmonton Oilers star are vying for that theoretical throne on which the Best Hockey Player In The World sits.
Does he measure himself against Crosby?
“That’s a good question. I don’t know if I’d measure myself against Crosby. I’m doing my thing, he’s doing his thing. The media does a lot of that for us. For me, you try not to buy into it,” said McDavid.
But it’s not just a media debate. It’s a fan debate. It’s a player debate too, like when San Jose Sharks defenseman and Norris Trophy nominee Brent Burns was asked which player he would choose to start a new NHL team.
“Sid and Connor,” he said. “Both so amazing. Connor’s younger, and he’s going to be dominant for a long, long time. But playing with Sid, the times I’ve played with him … good things just happen with Sid.”
But McDavid’s desire not to measure himself up to Crosby has less to do with the Penguins star and more to do with personal philosophy. It could be Sid. It could be Auston Matthews. It could be Jack Eichel.
It doesn’t matter. It’s not about them.
“Guys aren’t measuring themselves against each other. They’re just doing their own thing. That’s the case for me at least,” said McDavid. “You’re obviously paying attention to what other guys are doing. Guys you looked up to. Guys around your same age. You’re not comparing yourself. It doesn’t really matter.”
Truth be told, McDavid is more concerned with emulating Crosby than surpassing him.
McDavid is, like Crosby, both a team captain and the team’s focal point. And so rather than worry about Crosby’s point total, he watches his interviews. He reads his quotes. He thinks about how Crosby acts in that role, and in the spotlight, and whether that comportment contributes to the Penguins’ success.
“He just handles himself well. Never steps out of line or stirs the pot,” said McDavid. “That’s hard sometimes. You’re hot. The media comes in two minutes after a game. Two minutes after an overtime game. Two minutes after a Game 7 loss. Emotions are running high. And he never says anything stupid.”
So, for example, going on an extending locker room rant about how Brandon Manning of the Philadelphia Flyers intentionally tried to injury McDavid during his rookie season, like McDavid did last December? Was that stupid?
McDavid chuckled. “It definitely went a little bit crazy. It’s a good lesson.”
So what does McDavid value as a player? What is he chasing? What’s his measure of success?
A championship trophy that Sidney Crosby now hoisted thrice.
“That’s how you’re supposed to measure players. By team accomplishments,” said McDavid. “I think you wanna get that one day. This year was a good taste of that.”
McDavid and the Oilers enter this season as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, after reaching the conference semifinals last season. “It’s going to be an adjustment for us to come in and be that team,” he said.
It’ll be an adjustment for the Oilers, and for McDavid. He’s gone from stellar rookie to likely league MVP in the span of two seasons. Just like Sidney Crosby.
What did Crosby do in Year 3?
He played for the Stanley Cup for the first time. And that, increasingly, is the expectation for McDavid.
“You see those early Vegas odds to win the Cup, and we’re right there in the top five in most of them,” he said of the Oilers. “And that hasn’t happened there in a long, long, long, long, long, long time.”
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