It was announced on Sunday that Connor McDavid would be practising with the Bakersfield Condors during the NHL All Star break. It appears to be a training and conditioning thing agreed to by both McDavid and the Oilers.
This has been a long time coming and most of us have been sure that McDavid was ready to weeks ago but given that he hasn’t played in almost 3 months this makes sense. Since he won’t be playing any games, this isn’t an official conditioning assignment.
Public opinion would argue that Connor McDavid is ready to play and has been ready to play for weeks now. The Oilers’ management and doctors on the other hand seem to disagree with public diagnosis and gave him the full term of 12+ weeks to heal. They have definitely taken the cautious route and have decided to hold off until after the All Star break to bring him back.
In my opinion I believe the Oilers should take this one step further and officially assign him to the AHL for a conditioning stint on February 1st or 2nd. Given that McDavid hasn’t played in three months a 2 week conditioning assignment in Bakersfield wouldn’t be a bad thing and it would help the team when they really need him in 4, 5 or 6 years.
I know the first reaction of most fans is "Are you crazy? You’ve written one too many Oilers’ post games and you’ve finally snapped!" but hear me out on this.
First off I am not arguing that McDavid isn’t healthy or isn’t ready to play hockey. The problem is, he hasn’t played in a NHL game in 3 months he needs to adjust to actual competition. Sure the Oilers just lost Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for what could be the rest of the season and are in desperate need of centre but pushing McDavid right back into the NHL might not be best idea. In the NHL he’ll be facing tough NHL competition and will be expected to carry the team. In the AHL he’ll be facing tough AHL competition which should help him adjust to real NHL competition. Giving him some adjustment time would help him get ready for the NHL competition after such a long break and he’d have a few "practice" games under his belt.
The Bigger Reason (Or Maybe Not, See the Update Below)
February 2nd’s game will be the Oilers 51st game of the season. Including that game the Oilers have 32 games left to play. McDavid was injured on game 13 of the season which means, if he remains healthy for the remainder of the season, he’ll have played 45 games by the end of the season. That would make him eligible for UFA status a year earlier making it more difficult to keep his dollar value relatively low when contract negotiations occur.
The extra year at a cheaper dollar value, not to mention cap hit, will be crucial if the Oilers want McDavid to lead the Oilers to success in the future. If they can save $1M/year or even $500K/year on McDavid’s next contract that can give them the wiggle room needed to acquire a good value defenseman or a good value depth forward.
Can They Do That?
Obviously the first question I had was can the Oilers even do this? So I went to a reliable source for the answer.
That was easy and rather painless. Thanks Bob.
In order to limit McDavid to 39 games on the season, the Oilers would only need him to miss 6 more games. Luckily with the season winding down the Oilers play a more compressed schedule. The first 6 games after the All Star break occur in just over a week, the Oilers play February 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th and 11th. McDavid could be officially assigned to Bakersfield on February 1st and only play 4 games and since he is already in Bakersfield he’d have 4 days off to practice before playing an AHL game.
The Condors don’t play again until February 5th, which also happens to be their first game back after the AHL All Star break. McDavid would only have to play 4 AHL games, February 5th, 6th, 9th and 10th, then could meet the Oilers in Winnipeg for their February 13th game. If this were to happen McDavid would end the season with a maximum of 39 NHL games played and retain his RFA status for one more year.
Like I mentioned before, the 4 games in the AHL would also give McDavid plenty of time to get used to playing against actual competition before being thrown to the wolves in the NHL. More importantly though it would give the Oilers that little bit of leverage that they’ll want and need in the future when it comes to contract negotiations with McDavid and his agent.
We all know how important McDavid is to the Oilers’ success this season but realistically, the Oilers are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs at this point. Sure the Oilers are only 10 points out of a playoff spot today but as of January 26th they are also tied for DFL in the NHL with Columbus and Toronto. Burning a year on McDavid’s restricted free agency in order to salvage this season isn’t worth it no matter how important the playoffs may seem to some fans. McDavid will be more valuable to the Oilers 8 years from now than he is now because of what this team is today. An extra 6 games in 2016 isn’t going to help the Oilers as much as an extra 82 games in 2024 will.
Damn you, CBA. From Article 1:
"Accrued Season" means any League Year during which a Player was on a Club's Active Roster for 40 (30 if the Player is a goalie) or more Regular Season Games, provided that, for the purposes of calculating an Accrued Season under this Agreement, games missed due to a hockey-related injury incurred while on a Club's Active Roster shall count as games played for purposes of calculating an Accrued Season but only during the League Year in which the injury was incurred and a maximum of one additional season.
Games under injury count towards an accrued season and since the Oilers have already played 50 games the issue has already been decided. It was a fun hypothetical though.