Cianfrone The Problem, Not McDavid
At this point, the whole hockey world and its mother has heard about wunderkid Connor McDavid’s injury.
Expected to miss up to six weeks with a broken hand, sustained during a fight with Mississauga Steelheads’s Bryson Cianfrone, McDavid’s actions have been lambasted and defended in equal measures – as well as making the teen phenom the latest focal point in a much wider debate about fighting’s place in the sport.
Many ‘hot takes’ immediately following the altercation questioned McDavid’s decision – but now the dust is settling, it’s Cianfrone’s role in the encounter that deserves the most scrutiny.
McDavid is the consensus choice to be selected 1st overall at next summers draft. With 16 goals and 51 points in 18 games this season, comparisons to Gretzky, Lemieux and even Sidney Crosby only grow stronger as June 26th approaches.
Granted Exceptional Player status in 2012, McDavid was able to join Erie as a 15-year old and went on to win the Emms Family Award as OHL Rookie of the Year. Simply put, he is a generational talent who will become the centre piece of one franchise next year.
But he’s taken his share of ‘lumps’ along the way. He got hit, hard, by Dougie Hamilton during his first shift for the Otters in 2012 and has since endured three years of ‘close attention’ from opposing sides.
Like any star player, McDavid is a focal point for the Otters and during his time in Erie he’s been hacked, slashed and cross checked – repeatedly – as opposing players try to stop him, distracted him or knock him off his game.
And that’s where Cianfrone comes in.
This isn’t necessarily about the Mississauga man directly – but what he inadvertently represented on Tuesday night.
Cianfrone isn’t even in the picture as McDavid controls the puck behind the net, and whilst the actual contact isn’t something we haven’t seen a thousand times before, again it represents a strange collective attitude when it comes to McDavid – just stop the guy.
Cianfrone takes his chance to make contact, a little dig with the stick follows, words are exchanged and his gloves are off.
You can question McDavid’s decision to drop his gloves in return, but ultimately few can really blame him for defending himself in that situation. After three years of hacks and whacks, not all of which will have resulted in a penalty, the starlet bit back.
And there in lies the problem here. Cianfrone is not alone in taking a chance to have a dig at McDavid – nor is McDavid alone in being the only star player (in junior or otherwise) to take a shot across the wrists/back/ribs/shin.
Many hark back to the halcyon days of hockey, when ‘men were men’ and cheap shots were not tolerated. The word ‘respect’ is oft trotted out during these bouts of nostalgia; and while stick fights and cross checks suggest the idea that ‘old time hockey’ was somehow devoid of dirty play is grade A baloney, there did seem to be a different kind of respect for star players then.
Erie GM Sherwood Bassin appeared on Wednesday’s Marek vs Wyshinski Podcast, and mentioned the respect players like Steve Yzerman got during their junior days. At the height of Gretzky’s career, it was basically an unwritten rule that you didn’t take a run at him – he was the star, the guy so many fans came to see. He helped sell the game and as a result, simply put, many knew where their bread was buttered. And they protected that accordingly, perhaps even at the expense of a goal here or there.
Now, such notions are frowned upon – why would anyone get a free pass?
Largely for the same reasons as Gretzky did, though many get swept up in the language rather than the actual situation.
This isn’t about giving someone a ‘free pass’, but taking a run at the main attraction doesn’t exactly seem like a bright idea either. The NHL felt Crosby’s absence, even in an age where almost every team has its poster boy. Likewise Erie, the OHL, and maybe even the NHL (given the hype surrounding him) will feel McDavid’s absence.
People don’t come to hockey games to see John Scott or Matt Cooke, they come to see Ovechkin, Datsyuk and Karlsson.
Again, this isn’t about giving anyone a ‘free pass’ to just skate in to the offensive zone unopposed – but if the sport is serious about cutting fighting down, selling itself and giving the fans what they want, then it needs to try harder, much harder, to cut out the BS players like McDavid face on a nightly basis.
Because as long as the hacks and whacks are tolerated, the opportunities for McDavid et al to truly shine will always be tempered.