Connor McDavid adopted a bigger-picture vision as a member of the NHL/NHL Players’ Association Return to Play Committee.
His Edmonton Oilers finished in second place in the Pacific Division, but because of the format under the Return to Play Plan that the NHL announced Tuesday, they are the fifth seed and will play the 12th-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Qualifying Round into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Edmonton is the only team that finished second in its division that is in the qualifying round.
“You need to take a step back and look at it unselfishly; that’s what all five guys did,” the Oilers captain said of himself and the four other players on the committee (Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares, Ottawa Senators defenseman Ron Hainsey, Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele and Philadelphia Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk). “Lots of guys had to make sacrifices, and the Oilers were part of that. We had a good season and put ourselves in a good spot, but we still have to play in the play-in round. That’s the way it goes. It’s what’s best for the League.”
The plan includes 24 teams, 12 from each conference, to be assigned to one of two hub cities. Based on points percentage through games on March 11, a day before the League paused due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, the top four teams from the Eastern and Western conferences will participate in a Seeding Round Robin to determine positions for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the fifth through 12th teams in each conference will play a best-of-5 series in the qualifying round.
“Being on that committee, you have to take a step back,” McDavid said. “You’re not pushing for the Oilers, you have to do what’s best for the League and try and keep 31 teams and 700 players happy.”
McDavid said he believes the integrity of the playoffs is going to be intact, even if a lower-seeded team wins the championship.
“If a team like [the No. 12 seed Montreal Canadiens] beats [the No. 5 seed Pittsburgh Penguins] and does go on to win the Stanley Cup, I think they’re a very deserving team if they’re going to win five rounds and go through some really good teams, then maybe they do deserve it,” McDavid said. “There’s never going to be a perfect scenario. There’s never going to be a perfect format. This just seems to check off most of the boxes for most teams, and we just have to live with that and play the games and see what happens.”
McDavid had 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists) in 64 games before the season was paused. After winning the Art Ross Trophy in 2016-17 and 2017-18, the center finished second this season to teammate Leon Draisaitl, who had 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) to win the NHL scoring title for the first time.
McDavid said he was happy to be included in the extensive Return to Play meetings in recent weeks, talks that included a wide variety of opinions.
“It was definitely exciting to be part of the process. There was lots of back and forth,” McDavid said. “I can’t say that everyone agreed on everything, but that was the point of the committee, to debate stuff and take it to a larger sample size, and I feel like we’ve done our job in putting together a format.”
McDavid said the committee tried to stay focused on its main job, how to complete the season and playoffs, despite all the potential distractions of future unknowns.
Some of those, like quarantines, safety protocols and the logistics of scheduling and testing, will be among the next steps.
The NHL hopes to move its own status to Phase 2 by early June, when teams’ training facilities can open and players can participate in skating and workouts in groups of six or fewer. Phase 3 will be the opening of training camps, at an unknown future date but no earlier than July 10.
“The safety of players and of everyone involved is paramount,” McDavid said. “That’s the main issue that’s got to get solved right now. I think that’s what needs to be answered before anything happens and we move forward. The first step was putting the format together, and now we’ve got to start to connect the dots and start putting answers to those types of questions.”