There have been few situations in Stanley Cup playoff history where veteran player leadership figures to play such a major role as it should in the days ahead.
Now that the key dates and locations have basically been established, it’s time to think about that, especially in the case of the 2020 Stanley Cup Hub City front-to-finish host Edmonton and the Oilers making the most of that.
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse put an exclamation mark on that Friday when both took the Rexall Place ice, joining recently arrived Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the ice for Phase 2 skating sessions.
They joined Ethan Bear, Matt Benning, Tyler Benson, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Ennis, Zach Kassian, William Lagesson, Kris Russell, Patrick Russell and Stuart Skinner. Approximately 14 players are also at some point in their quarantine here in Edmonton.
That McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Nurse are already here and on the ice spoke volumes as NHL and NHLPA executives effectively settled on the key dates going forward as they worked toward the final agreement of the Stanley Cup playoffs which feature Toronto and Edmonton in the selected Hub Cities and Edmonton to host both Conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final.
The key dates seemed secure as could be in this situation.
Phase 3 (beginning of training camps): July 13.
Phase 4 (arrival of teams in Hub Cities): July 26.
Start of the playoffs: Aug. 1.
Those all could be pushed back a day or two, but the players wouldn’t be here if they weren’t convinced it was going to happen.
Obviously there’s going to be a massive focus on McDavid and Draisaitl when the 24-team ‘play-in’ series begins. But to me it will be about the coming days going through the stages.
It’s a lot to ask two players aged 23 and 24 years old in particular with one year and 13 games each of Stanley Cup playoff experience. But they’ll be instrumental by example.
It’s not just preparing to play a Chicago Blackhawks team that features three-time Stanley Cup champions the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, the core four that joined a team that had missed the playoffs nine of 10 seasons dating back to 1996-97 to winning the three in a span of six seasons from 2009-10 to 2014-15.
This is a bonus distant replay for those Blackhawk anchors to try lead a team that was in the final countdown toward mathematical elimination and ended up in a best-of-five ‘play-in’ and a new life as a result of the league expanding the coronavirus-shortened season.
McDavid, Draisaitl and the Oilers young core group are roughly at the same stage as Toews, Kane and teammates at the time when they started winning Cups. But there’s no comparing of the situations in the middle of THE COVID-19 pandemic.
First of all Toews, Kane & Co. “only” had to win four series to win their Cups. McDavid and Draisaitl will have to win five.
If these Oilers want to be around in the end — and presented with the chance to play in the first Stanley Cup Final on Edmonton ice since 2006 — you’d figure they’d all want to embrace the opportunity more than anything in hockey in their lives. There’s only one team in the entire league that will ever have the chance to play every single game at home in the Stanley Cup playoffs at home, even in an empty arena.
Think about that.
I don’t know if all the Oilers have yet, but we’ve already witnessed enough of the leadership of McDavid and Draisaitl to know that they have.
There’s going to be a focus on this team for all sorts of reasons including Draisaitl and McDavid reaching the prime time years of their careers and finishing 1-2 in league scoring and maybe for the Hart Trophy.
But I suggest there will be a lot of focus on how they lead through the key dates — July 13, July 26 and Aug. 1 ahead leading to the beginning of Stanley Cup play.
When the playoffs start, of course, you need everybody to be functioning in their roles and you need the Fernando Pisani status guys on this team to be come through and become Stanley Cup heroes.
The leadership I’m expecting from the core group is how they approach the next 10 days leading to the now projected July 13 opening of training camp and during the days during that camp.
As they arrive and hit the ice and begin to reform the bonds of the team the focus will have to be on not only the unprecedented hockey challenge of going from zero to playoff warp speed coming out of a training camp. But these are young guys who are going to have to go to exceptional lengths to stay virus free.
It’s to be expected in the coming days, especially with those coming from the USA and Europe involving commercial air travel that some could show up and test positive.
That’s not a big deal. But get to July 13, July 26 and Aug. 1, you need the Oilers to set the standard for the other 11 teams here. It’ll be a study watching them accept that challenge and see how far they can ride with it.
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