McDavid Years Are Not Imitating The Gretzky Years For The Edmonton Oilers

Danish hockey fans awaiting the World Championships in May, in Denmark are going to get an unexpected major, bonus, windfall for their tournament. They are going to get to see Canada’s best young player, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, arguably one of the two best players in the world today, along with Sydney Crosby, captain the Canadian team. That ought to boost ticket sales. The World Championship tournament will be the only significant, pressure games that McDavid will play this year.

Unless a miracle of a long winning streak(s) occur, the 2017-18 season is over for the Edmonton Oilers. Currently they are behind the top eight teams in the NHL Western Conference by more than 10 points – and four other teams are poised to pull away to be just as far if not farther. It is probably too late for Edmonton to catch them. For the remainder of the year, the Oilers will occupy a space with the rebuilding Vancouver Canucks, who are supposed to be where they are, far away from the top twelve teams in the conference and comfortably above the horrible Arizona Coyotes. That was expected of Vancouver, not Edmonton. Their unexpected drop has been the reverse equivalent of the success of the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights. If one didn’t know any better, one would assume that the Knights were the established, rising power, while the Oilers were the new expansion team.

The fall of the Oilers is an unpredictable shock, and it has its Eastern Conference match in the Buffalo Sabres. Both teams were supposed to be building around two rising young stars, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel but instead of moving forward from the progress they have made, both teams have dramatically regressed and are now top contenders to land the supposed number one draft choice, Rasmus Dalhin of Sweden. But in McDavid’s case, he also carries two burdens; first being the projected successor to Sydney Crosby on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain (the line of Canada’s top players, head and shoulders above everybody else, starting with Maurice Richard) which includes Wayne Gretzky; and second, being Gretzky’s heir in Edmonton. Gretzky himself is back with the Oilers and is acting as McDavid’s mentor.

mcdavid

Much of the blame for the current unexpected result will fall on coach Todd McLellan who has an undistinguished record as a head coach at the NHL level. Unless that miraculous winning streak occurs, he is probably a goner at the end of this season. Dan Bylsma, ironically the fired coach of the Buffalo Sabres, whom impatient owner Terry Pegula abruptly dismissed, who once won the Stanley Cup with Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins, ought to be a leading candidate to replace him. But the real problem that General Manager Peter Chiarelli has to determine is if changing coaches is the only problem.

This situation is in direct contrast with the Gretzky years in Edmonton, which proceeded on schedule like an upward Bell Curve. Except for one hiccup, a shocking playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 1982 playoffs (which included the legendary “Miracle on Manchester” game of Los Angeles Kings’ lore), it was onward and upward for Gretzky and the Oilers until he was shockingly traded in 1988. There were no regressions like McDavid is currently suffering.

Gretzky

Gretzky had entered the NHL with the merger of the WHA league in 1980 and under the merger terms, the four new franchises, Edmonton, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford were severely stripped of most of their players. The Oilers were allowed to retain Gretzky and because of him, they never missed the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the very early years, the Oilers status was that of a very bad playoff team that always lost in the first round, but during their third year, the Oilers, heavy underdogs, upended the declining Montreal Canadiens of the legendary Guy Lafleur in the first playoff round and then seldom looked back.

The fall of the current Oilers could only be temporary. If the coach is the problem, an established winning coach like Bylsma could right the ship within one season and have the Oilers back to where they were projected to be as the coming powerhouse of the NHL. Every member of Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain won at least one Stanley Cup and the current disappointing season won’t dim those expectations in Edmonton. The real dilemma is finding out if there is more to the problem than the coach and that again sharply contrasts with the Gretzky years.

Perhaps the main contrast with the current McDavid years and the Gretzky years is that everything the Oilers touched with Gretzky turned to gold. Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, both goaltenders, Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr are only the up-front players. There was also Kevin Lowe, Esa Tikkanen, Charlie Huddy… the list goes on and on.

In contrast, since the departure of Chris Pronger, the Oilers have a horrible record of developing players and nobody can say why. The latest problem child is Anton Slepyshev whom Chiarelli says is available for the right price. Four times, the Oilers had the overall number one pick in the NHL draft; McDavid, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov. Only Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid remain. Hall was the best of the bunch after McDavid, and is now recovering his status in New Jersey. Yakupov plays a minor role in Colorado and Nugent-Hopkins has never lived up to his status as the over-all number one pick.

Then it gets worse. The departed Ales Hemsky, San Gagner, and Jordan Eberle were the best of a bunch of forgettables. Also during this period, the Oilers have changed coaches, general managers, uniform colors, and even arenas. There is no magic like there was during the Gretzky years. And that is Chiarelli’s main problem. Is getting rid of McLellan enough? Or is there some kind of developmental or even spiritual problem, hard to identify, that has been poisoning the Oilers for over a decade? If the problem is more than the coach, it is going to be very difficult to identify it and root it out. The Oilers have been trying to find it without success for over a decade. Last year, it seemed they had finally got over the hump and were on their way, but this year…

There is a writer for this blog, Sam Happi that specializes in articles about draft picks and the development of young prospects. He has got some potential surreal articles coming up. Imagine, Danish fans getting to see one of Canada’s all time greatest players, Connor McDavid playing in their World Championship tournament in May. Imagine, Rasmus Dalhin, the projected number one pick in this year’s draft in Dallas lining up next year as McDavid’s teammate. None of this would have been predicted at the start of this season. It would have been treated like a joke or a prophet who had lost his marbles.

It’s no laughing matter for Edmonton fans. Is this just one bad year that can be blamed on a coach or is it the continuation of a nightmare that has been going on for over ten years, that nobody has ever found out why it keeps occurring?

 

Gretzky Trade Should Not Be Celebrated

Today is August 9 and a few writers (probably Americans) at NHL.com have chosen to write articles about an event that they believe somehow deserves a place of honor in American NHL sports history, the trade of Wayne Gretzky by the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. Somehow the belief exists that this trade resulted in a massive upsurge of interest in the NHL across the United States, particularly in California. There are those who to this day swear that this trade was an important preliminary step to the eventual creation of the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks. America had finally secured (stole according to Edmonton fans) Canada’s greatest player. Gretzky was being traded, “Americanized”, “for the good of the game”.

They were wrong. The trade would prove to be the first and probably the most important step in the decline of the Gretzky legend. They damaged an intangible. There are some things that cannot be bought and the Gretzky legend would never be the same. There are still regretful articles written about how many Stanley Cups the Oilers would have won if Gretzky had not been traded. In retrospect, the whole thing is a shameful act of betrayal. Canadian bad faith and lack of capital met American greed and ignorance with disastrous results. It was not the first and would not be the last time this author at least, would see such a combination bring catastrophic consequences, not just confined to hockey.

Gretzky himself did not want to be traded. He wanted to be an Oiler forever. This is where he had blossomed, a real hockey environment. The whole team had been built around him and he had already won four Stanley Cups. But Oiler owner Peter Pocklington was bribed by Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall (who would later go to prison) with $15 million, some players, and three number one draft choices. The official argument for the trade, it would be announced, was that somehow overnight Gretzky had become a “wasting asset”, that he had passed the peak of his abilities at the age of 27, and that Pocklington was getting what he could for him while he still could.

Ironically that would prove to be true, but only because Gretzky was being traded from a championship environment to a horrible one. To be called washed up at 27 when the peak years in a hockey career are usually from 23 to 30 is lying nonsense. But that didn’t stop the trade and the first major blow against the Gretzky legend had already been struck: Unknown to everyone, Gretzky had hoisted the Stanley Cup for the last time. Most of the core of the Oiler team would win the Stanley Cup for a fifth and last time and some of the others would win more Stanley Cups after they were traded elsewhere. But Gretzky, the greatest Oiler in history would only win four Stanley Cups, all with Edmonton.

The choice of Los Angeles as the trading partner was based on the money offered and because McNall was said to be almost the only owner who could afford to pay Gretzky’s contract and bribe Pocklington with enough money to let Gretzky go, and it was a city that supposedly would further Gretzky’s new wife, Janet’s career. In fact Janet would be unfairly blamed as desiring to get out of “small town” Edmonton; at least temporarily until the truth emerged, she became the NHL’s version of Yoko Ono and Linda Eastman.

In acquiring Gretzky, McNall was recognizing the realities of the Los Angeles market. Los Angeles is not a sports city. It is a market where the movie star is the ruler. People are more interested in who gets starring roles, who wins the Oscar, who gets to direct what picture, and which stars are having extra marital affairs with other stars. A few years later, Los Angeles would lose both its NFL teams, the Rams and Raiders and the public merely yawned, put its feet up, and would be content to be without NFL football for 20 years, the greatest humiliation in NFL history.

In Los Angeles, sports are sold by having star players. The sports star can then be passed off as a kind movie star in another field. The Kings already tried to win with Marcel Dionne and now with the acquisition of Gretzky, they were sure they would be over the top. Unfortunately the Kings were so bad, particularly at the ownership and management level, they did know what to do with their prize acquisition. The Kings had long been one of the jokes of the NHL. All through the Dionne years, the best they could do was win one playoff round a year. The best that Gretzky would do in Los Angeles was one random appearance in the Stanley Cup Final where the Kings lost to the Montreal Canadiens.

Management tried various combinations. They even traded with Edmonton to get Gretzky’s old winger, Jari Kurri, in a desperate attempt to make a winner out of the team. Gretzky’s wallet and financial status did well of course, but being in a city where he was just another star, instead of being the main attraction in a true hockey environment was not the same. He continued to pile up a lot of impressive individual scoring statistics and make a lot of money, but the Gretzky legend suffered. At the end of his contract he would be traded to St. Louis and then move on to the New York Rangers. There would be no more Stanley Cups for the Great One.

All it proves is that it is the great team, not the great player that wins Stanley Cups. It would be two decades later, when the Kings had much better ownership and management that they would finally build a team, with much less glamorous players than Gretzky and Dionne that would win two Stanley Cups. The Gretzky and Dionne years in Los Angeles were wasted ones.

The least that the Oilers could have done was to trade Gretzky to a real hockey environment with competent ownership and management that knew what they were doing. Montreal, arch-rival Calgary, or even French speaking Quebec City were the best Canadian hockey teams at the time. Or if it must be an American city, Philadelphia, the New York Islanders, Boston, and Detroit would have been better choices. As to the arguments that Gretzky improved California hockey and was responsible for the birth of two more California teams, that is stretching things. The trade undoubtably helped stir interest in hockey in California, but the NHL had always wanted to return to the Bay area after the disaster of the California Golden Seals, and the creation of the Anaheim Ducks might have more to do with the Mighty Ducks of the movies and Walt Disney, than Wayne Gretzky.

But the real damage was to the intangible, the Gretzky legend and hockey legends in general, things that cannot be bought. For a start it was a betrayal of Gretzky himself, the Oiler organization by its owner, and the city of Edmonton and its fans. Can you imagine Jim Brown in any other uniform but the Cleveland Browns? Or Babe Ruth in anything other than a Yankee uniform? (Ruth would play one half of a disastrous final season with the National League Boston Braves and then be forced to retire. There would be betrayals in that episode too.) At least when the San Francisco 49ers let an aging Joe Montana go to Kansas City, they had Steve Young waiting in the wings.

The Montreal Canadiens at least had a sense of the importance of legends. They kept Maurice Richard in his declining last years. They could not bear to think of him in another uniform even though Richard had said publicly he would not object to playing with another team. And Richard kept winning Stanley Cups until he retired, being part of Montreal’s greatest dynasty from 1956 to 1960. His immortality is at least undiminished.

But the Gretzky trade (which made California hockey?) is actually the start of his decline. There is little after it that really adds to his legend. It was a shameful betrayal, not something to be celebrated. Gretzky would go into the Hall of Fame as an Oiler. That says it all.

 

Gretzky’s Records Can Be Broken

The most significant individual milestone of the past NHL season was set by the already legendary Jaromir Jagr when he passed Mark Messier for second place in the all-time scoring race. Jagr, 45, hopes to play at least five more years until he is 50. He is already boasting that he has passed Gordie Howe for most points scored by a player between 40 and 50 years of age.

Great as Jagr’s achievements are, he is still nearly a staggering 1000 points behind Gretzky’s all time mark. To emphasize how great Gretzky was, Jagr has played over 200 more games than Gretzky to reach his current total. He must know he won’t catch Gretzky – at least in this current phase of his career. But are Gretzky’s records unbreakable? My forecast is that all of his records are on the table and within reach.

Jagr is one of the first athletes that we will see more often in the future, a player who begins his career in his late teens or early twenties and then retires at 50, not 35. Tomorrow’s men and women will be able to do more than their counterparts of today. They will live longer, including staying at a higher health quality for a longer time. Perhaps the average life span will be 100 years, not 80; retirement age will be 80, not 65, and it will be normal to retire from professional sports between 50 and 65.

Last year I wrote two articles on this blog about the chelation remedy, an “alternative medicine” which I took when I was diagnosed with coronary heart disease, with a large amount of heart plaque in an unknown location somewhere near my heart, 9 years ago. It cured me of an official “incurable disease” without an operation and proved that the corrupt “health care” industry – with too many people making money from suffering and death – was using the clinical trial system to conceal legitimate cures from the public; the chelation remedy for sure and possibly many others.

I went on to explain in many articles how coronary heart disease played a significant role in determining who became the Stanley Cup Champion. The eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins were forced to play without Pascal Dupuis who retired because of recurring blood clots. More significantly, the Tampa Bay Lightning, whom the Penguins barely beat in 7 tough games, were forced to play without their best player, Steve Stamkos until the very last game because of the same problems. And tragically, Gordie Howe, who had been suffering from a series of strokes in recent years died during last year’s playoffs. If the chelation remedy had been recognized by the FDA and Health Canada instead of the deliberate attempts to conceal and discredit it, and if the NHL had been using it, none of the above events would have occurred.

But there is another way of looking at what the chelation remedy does. Not only is it a cure for coronary heart disease, it restores the entire circulatory system, from head to toe, to a healthier state. By clearing the plaque from the entire body, the circulatory system is restored to a state that a person had when he/she was much younger. Up to now, attempts to become younger have been external procedures; hair dye, face lifts, breast implants, skin treatments, etc.

The chelation remedy could be said to be the first treatment that restores internal parts of the body to a younger state. You do not have to be officially sick with coronary heart disease to take it. In fact, by taking it occasionally, maybe once every few years, a person can keep heart plaque throughout the entire body to a minimum. No more worrying about eating foods with high cholesterol. You just take the chelation remedy periodically and then eat what you want.

Remedies like chelation will undoubtedly prolong the careers of professional athletes. As more discoveries are made in biochemistry at the cell level, it may be possible to keep muscles and other tissues in top shape for far longer than it is possible now. Careers like Jagr’s which are now an exception will become the rule.

So stretching our imaginations who can beat Wayne Gretzky’s records?

1. Jaromir Jagr

He’s got a head start on everybody else but given the way the health care industry is discrediting and blocking legitimate cures, it is unlikely that anything startling that will prolong and improve the quality of life will appear in the next five years. Right now the best way to get better new health options on the market and to discredit the bad old ones is to try to expose the health care industry for what it is doing. And the public can also take matters into its own hands by trying to ignore the scare tactics that “established medicine” uses to keep patients in line – “We’re not responsible for what happens” – is typical – and try new techniques and remedies like chelation that get banished into the “alternative medicine” category by the FDA and Health Canada. A few years ago, it was reported that 37% of Canadians were willing to try “alternative medicine” and the percentage is increasing. Clearly the public is not happy with the treatments it is getting from “established medicine” and wants something better.

2. Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, and Connor McDavid

Crosby is the direct descendant on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain that goes back to Maurice Richard. This is the Canadian who is the best player of his generation – Canadian, American, European – far above everybody else. Ovechkin is billed as Crosby’s rival and McDavid is considered to be his successor. If their careers last long enough, perhaps new medical discoveries will keep them playing into their 50s.

3. Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux

Who knows? If these three can stay alive for a long time, perhaps new biochemistry discoveries can restore other parts of the body besides the chelation remedy. If Gretzky can hang in there and he can be restored, he may feel that his successors like Crosby and Jagr are getting too close for comfort and he’ll want to resume his career. Can Messier and Lemieux be far behind? And while dwelling on these possibilities, how about bringing back Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, and Guy Lafleur too?

4. Gordie Howe and Maurice Richard

So far only one person in recorded history has managed to defy death both for himself and others. But in theory, if total healing and restoring is taken to its logical conclusion, resurrection is not a far-fetched possibility in this age of new discoveries. Right now it seems a laughable, mad concept but so did air travel and a coronary heart disease cure back in 1800, both of which are now reality. In television shows like “Fabric Of The Cosmos”, futuristic ideas like time travel, the nature of space, multiple universes where clones living the exact same lives as they are on Earth exist, are explored. Nobody knows what dark energy and dark matter is. And how do you explain phenomena like Joan of Arc and Abraham Lincoln’s “dream” where he saw himself lying in state in the White House about 1½ months before it happened? There are a lot of secrets yet to be discovered. Howe himself wanted to take a professional hockey shift when he was over 70. Bring him back and he will be gung-ho to resume his career.

So Gretzky’s records are not unbreakable. Most people think of some new phenomenon yet to be born who will be better than Gretzky who will do the trick. But with new medical discoveries, people of the present and the past, including Gretzky himself still have a chance. Only the concealed secrets and human corruption stand in the way.