Sometimes players like Connor McDavid have to push back against abuse

Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Prior to that first playoff round, our junior coach walked us into a meeting room with our opponent’s roster written out on the whiteboard. We went through it name by name, with our coach alternately drawing circles and squares where he saw fit.

The squares were “blockheads,” guys that thrived on personal confrontation. We weren’t to so much acknowledge their existence.

The circles, well … whatever the opposite of that is was the order. Hack, whack, slash, whisper terrible things in their ears, hit hit hit hit hit. You don’t want to injure anyone, but hurt? Accidents happen.

Well, the Connor McDavid’s of the world get circled more than a NASCAR track on a nightly basis, which means they take an unnatural of abuse.

Times have changed. Stars have to play more in traffic than in Gretzky’s era, when touching him meant you would get Semenko’d. Because of that, it’s just not feasible to get after every guy who touches your star - think how often Sidney Crosby gets hacked, whacked and pulled down - so those players are being asked to take an awful lot with a smile.

Below are the options for those who’ve been circled.

  • Take the abuse, draw some penalties, make them pay on the power play. That comes with receiving liberties, dealing with the nightly pain, and possibly getting hurt.

  • Crosscheck them in the mouth (or whatever you prefer as your chosen form of retribution). You might take a penalty, but your team will take that penalty if it slows the abuse against you. It also means you have to crosscheck a guy in the mouth, which is pretty violent. Helps personally, but probably doesn’t help your team much.

  • Fight the guy. Whether it be calculated (you wanna take chops at me, well, it isn’t open season), or because you snap, you let people know that they don’t just get free shots. It's fair and person to person, plus, y’know, it’s pretty cathartic.

None of the options are all that awesome. The first one is clearly the best from a pacifist perspective, but “take these lumps for the good of the boys” gets old pretty fast, particularly as they build up day in, day out, people are talking trash at you constantly, and it’s an early season game and OH C’MON I JUST GOT SLASHED THERE 12 SECONDS AGO.

The Connor McDavid situation sucks, because it doesn’t speak to a bigger issue like “should fighting be allowed in hockey?” It doesn’t speak to the way in which Canadian culture shaped a kid (just a boy, they weep) to believe he had to fight. It doesn’t speak to a thing.

Within the current just-fine rules of hockey, McDavid decided to say to hell with this, confronted a guy (it could’ve been any guy, his fuse had to be shortening), and had some bad luck. And again: that sucks.

If you’re trying to be one of the best players on the earth in today’s game, you have to have some bite to your game. McDavid has that, and with “bite” comes some passion and aggression that will occasionally boil over.

It won’t always go bad, but unfortunately, this time it did. And all that does is suck.

Sometimes players like Connor McDavid have to push back against abuse
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