‘He can do magical things’: McDavid era finally arrives at its expected destination

‘He can do magical things’: McDavid era finally arrives at its expected destination

SUNRISE, Fla. — Paul Coffey knew Connor McDavid before any of us. Long before McDavid was born, even.

Back then, his name was Wayne Gretzky.

“I still remember when the Islanders beat us four straight (in the 1983 Final). Wayne had just finished with 196 points, we’re leaving the dressing room, and Wayne is just feeling down. I say, ‘Hey, we’ll be back.’

“And he says, ‘I’ll never be a great, like Bryan Trottier and Guy Lafleur, unless I win a Cup.’”

That first crack at the Cup came in Gretzky’s fifth NHL season. He would win his first of four Cups a year later, at age 23.

This is the 27-year-old McDavid’s ninth NHL season, and on Monday night in Sunrise, Fla., he will play a game that could end with the Stanley Cup in his hands for the first time.

Like an Air Canada flight, the McDavid era has finally arrived at its expected destination. Just later than scheduled, is all.

He has waited longer than either Sid Crosby or Mario Lemieux to get here, but nowhere near the 12 years it took Steve Yzerman to qualify for a Stanley Cup Final — or the 14 seasons it took to finally win one.

On Monday, however, a hockey fan will get that rare opportunity to watch the game’s greatest player in the game’s greatest game. Connor McDavid, charged with raising his level to highest possible peak, in search of his finest moment: hoisting his first ever Stanley Cup.

The crossroads here demarks hockey heaven, 60 minutes of hockey seen perhaps only once per generation — and that’s before we even raise the stakes with the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs comparison.

Is he up to the task?

Well, here’s some more Coffey, who was asked in a TV interview earlier in this playoff run by his old buddy Gretzky, “Do you still get nervous going to the rink?”

“I said, ‘Absolutely. ‘Til I walk in here and see Connor. Then it’s all good.”

McDavid is as important today as Gretzky was back then. It’s just a little bit different in 2024.

“Look, we weren’t angels back then,” Coffey admitted. “But we always knew, if we got (Gretzky) to bed by midnight, we had a chance. And that’s the truth.”

There are elements of the game that transcend the sport, from the beer leagues to Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final: The tactical, physical and psychological edge a team has when they have the best player, and everybody on both benches knows that to be a fact.

No matter what Florida’s stars do — as well as the smooth Sasha Barkov operates, if Sergei Bobrovsky finds the game he has misplaced — if you gave 1,000 people a $100 bill, told them McDavid was going to play the best game of his life on Monday, and pointed them to the betting site, the payout would end up being about $100.50 on an Oilers win.

“He can do magical things at any point in the game,” Corey Perry said. “It’s not a switch he flips, but all of a sudden he’s dancing through three or four guys, like he did the other night here.”

We’ve learned over the years that McDavid’s verbiage is most economical when speaking about himself. But he was coerced into this quote when our Elliotte Friedman asked him who he was when he was a kid, scoring that Game 7 winner on Kelly and Brian’s driveway back in Newmarket.

“I guess Sid,” McDavid began. “You always dreamt of yourself playing in that game and scoring that big goal or whatever. You’re not sure you’re ever going to get that opportunity, and here we are with that opportunity.

“We’re excited about it.”

The beauty of Gretzky’s teams, of course, was that they were well armed to win whether or not The Great One was the game’s first star.

Well, don’t look now, but these Oilers — a full 40 years after Gretzky won his first Cup — have become so much more well-rounded than they are given credit for.

“Every game we go into, we know we have the best player in the world on our side,” began one of the best Robins any Batman has ever had, Leon Draisaitl. “But this league is really, really hard to just go through with one, or two, or three players. You need a whole team, and … over the last couple of years, we’ve taken big steps.

“You can see how big, for example, our penalty kill is. We’ve won so many games on this run strictly because of our penalty kill. It’s not so much our power play or our offensive guys, it’s our depth and our penalty kill that wins us hockey games. But certainly it’s a great feeling to have the best player in the world on your side.”

McDavid provided four-point games in Games 4 and 5, to pull his team into a place where they could taste a night like Monday. And in Game 6, when a rare Philip Broberg giveaway occured, who was it that was hauling down Barkov just as he was ready to deposit a puck into an open net?

“It was a turnover off the wall, they get a chance, and Connor is right there,” Perry said. “It pretty much goes in the empty net if Connor doesn’t slash him or whatever the call was (hooking). That just shows you where he is mentally, how present he is.”

Oh, he’s present, this young-ish superstar who has a date with Gary Bettman in his sights.

And before a game as momentous as this one, this we know for sure:

He will be in bed well before midnight.

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