“I’m not really here to discuss optics issues”
That was part of Connor McDavid’s response during a press conference when being asked about the rumours that the Edmonton Oilers were pursuing Evander Kane.
It’s a very McDavid response. In fact the entire press conference was. Not known for his hot takes or stances on anything, Connor McDavid was put in a difficult position where he doesn’t really have much of a choice but to take the traditional hockey player route and toe the organizational line. Don’t stand out, don’t make a scene, don’t criticize the team/organization/situation. This was not a scenario in which anyone would openly criticize their employer and the decisions being made by publicly trash talking a potential future teammate as the captain of the team.
His response then makes sense and fits in with what we know of the public persona of Connor McDavid and hockey players in general.
That does not mean that the entire thing, from rumoured signing to the press conferences given by McDavid and Oilers GM Ken Holland, completely missed the mark. It came across as incredibly dismissive of very real issues and potential future issues, dismisses the fan and public opinion, and did nothing but perpetuate the longstanding NHL culture and practice of “he’s good at hockey so I don’t care what he is or does as a person”.
Ultimately Connor McDavid does not make the decisions for the Oilers. But given his status and sway within the organization, there is no doubt that Ken Holland consulted McDavid and got the go ahead before seriously pursuing Evander Kane.
This puts McDavid in a position where he has to expect to be asked and held accountable for the optics issues he was quick to dismiss. Maybe this is not the time and place, sure, since the contract hasn’t even been signed yet. If you’re in that situation you have to expect that once the news drops you are going to be asked about it regardless of context.
Instead he took the approach of saying “If fans don’t like it or the media doesn’t like it or whatever . . . it is what it is”. There was an opportunity here, many different opportunities actually, to give better answers. Ones that don’t completely disregard the disgusting behaviour shown by Evander Kane as recently as the end of December.
McDavid could have taken a public stand and said as much. Not very likely given hockey interview best practices and training but technically a possibility. McDavid could have acknowledged the past behaviour. Made a pledge that Kane would be held to strict conduct guidelines and be receiving professional help behind the scenes. Maybe that would come after the actual contract would have been signed. Or, he could have even stopped the entire thing from the beginning and told Ken Holland “No.”.
This, unfortunately, is where the “he’s good at hockey so I don’t care” trait of hockey culture comes into play. We saw McDavid basically say as much in this press conference. When McDavid says “We’re here to win games and try to put together a good team on the ice and Kenny thinks that’s what [Kane] can do then that’s what he can do” he is verbally confirming that trait’s existence. They don’t care much about what Kane is as a person or even the trail of burned bridges he has left behind in his past. McDavid, Holland, and the Oilers organization only care about someone who can help them win games.
Ken Holland himself, in an earlier press conference, said “I believe in second chances”, adding that we all make mistakes of varying degrees because no one is perfect. Great life advice, Ken, thanks. Now, with Evander Kane, are we sure we are still on a second chance? Because I feel at this point he’s closer to like a tenth chance, at least.
If you want to give someone another chance to turn things around, that’s fine. We all need those chances. But that chance needs to come after a person has done the work to learn and better themselves from the mistake. There is absolutely no evidence that Kane has done anything of that nature. He continues to find himself in progressively worse situations and repeating mistakes. He has been doing this as recently as the end of December when he (allegedly) flew to Canada while COVID-positive without medical clearance (which he is now under investigation for by the NHL). Don’t forget that Kane was already suspended for 21 games to start this season for forging a COVID vaccination card. So here we are, barely 3 weeks past this latest incident while the investigation is still ongoing, and he already has teams lined up to sign him.
All of the interested teams are perpetuating the problem. It’s just that the Oilers personnel have verbalized it.
Even though McDavid isn’t there to discuss optics issues, he has now created his own optics issue to discuss.