SIMMONS SAYS: McDavid’s amazing goal truly one of a kind


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Maybe Bobby Orr could have scored a goal like that. Maybe Mario Lemieux. Maybe even Pavel Bure at his flying best.

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But the 1-on-4 goal that Connor McDavid scored on Friday night — you could argue it was 1-on-5 if you include the goaltender — was right there among the best goals hockey has ever seen.

He shifted one way, then other, weaving through four New York Rangers’ players as though they were practice pylons, with Orr-like speed, with Lemieux-like hands, scoring a goal we may never forget.

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That is the magic of McDavid, who somehow doesn’t lead the NHL in scoring, being one point behind his teammate, Leon Draisaitl. He can do what no one has ever done before. He can do it at a speed that no one has ever skated before. He can do it with beauty and charm and elegance that maybe a handful of players before him can claim something even similar.

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Orr brought a new speed to hockey, which changed his position and changed the game. Paul Coffey later skated with similar speed, but McDavid seems faster, looks faster even in a much faster league.

Nobody could control the puck and walk around players the way Lemieux once did. He was long and lithe and graceful and skilled beyond anyone who came before him.

Bure, at his best, was spectacular. And he could combine speed and shot and original dance, and score highlight-reel goals that could match.

There is no mention of Wayne Gretzky here because that’s not what Gretzky did. He wasn’t end-to-end. He wasn’t individual, even though his physically overwhelming numbers may look that way. He was a creator like no one has ever created in hockey.

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Gretzky rarely took your breath away the way McDavid managed to on Friday night. The NFL doesn’t have a Gale Sayers right now. The NBA doesn’t have a Magic Johnson. Baseball doesn’t have a Willie Mays, but the youngsters in that game are on their way.

Hockey is fortunate to have McDavid. It’s like having a great piece of art: You can look at it all the time, see it differently and just appreciate it day after day for everything it can be.

THIS AND THAT

Where do you rank the McDavid goal? Is it the best you’ve ever seen? It’s close for me, but I do love the goal in which Lemieux undresses Raymond Bourque, a virtual best-on-best competition … At what point does the test for Jack Campbell as a No. 1 goalie became a reality for the Leafs? He’s 22-5-3 since the start of last season with a 2.16 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. In a shorter period of time, those are better numbers than Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour, the best Leafs goaltenders since Mike Palmateer, had in Toronto … An NHL general manager on the Leafs dangling some defencemen, maybe Justin Holl and Travis Dermott, in the trade market: “Why would I have any interest in a defenceman the Leafs don’t want?” … Stat of the day: TSN’s Dave Poulin is fifth all-time in short-handed goals, behind an impressive list: Gretzky, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman and Lemieux … Would you put Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the Canadian Olympic team? I wouldn’t — but he’s right there among scoring leaders for Canadians, tied with McDavid with 14 assists to lead the NHL. And that means tied as top Canadian setup man … About all those ‘Ken Holland has lost it’ shriekers: Never mind … This could actually happen, an opening round playoff series between McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel’s Vegas Golden Knights … I like Alex Tuch as a player, I see him as an annual 25-30 goal scorer for the Buffalo Sabres, maybe a 50-point guy. But I see Eichel as a 90-point player annually if he returns with good health. Love the Vegas approach to their team — if there’s a great player out there, be it Alex Pietrangelo in free agency or Eichel on the trade market, they’re going to find an unconventional way to get the deal done. Impressive work again by George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon.

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HEAR AND THERE

It isn’t often an athlete’s death brings me to tears but I am crying now upon learning of the passing of Angelo Mosca. He was as great a hero, a friend, a character, and a villain as the Canadian Football League has ever known. He was a piece of our history and loved being central to everything that was the CFL. His wrestling nickname was King Kong Mosca and that was perfect, because he was large and larger than life. And I’m so glad I got to know him, spend time with him, listen to his stories. He won’t just be missed — the huge man can’t be replaced … And I wonder: Is there a single player in the CFL today who would be recognized on the streets the way Angelo Mosca was? And if so, who would that be? … When Kyle Dubas had Mike Babcock as head coach, he had a built-in replacement if needed in Sheldon Keefe. But he doesn’t have the same organizational insulation now. If he ever has to replace Keefe, he’d have to look elsewhere for a new coach … Just how bad a season was it for Toronto FC? The Reds gave up 63 goals against heading into the final game of the season. The 12 teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings averaged 42 goals against … I may be alone in this, but I miss OUA football on television on Saturday afternoons … I understand why Donald Fehr should be gone as head of the NHL Players’ Association. I don’t really understand all those calling for Gary Bettman’s head. And believe me, I’ve called for it on more than one occasion.

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SCENE AND HEARD

I don’t want Aaron Rodgers giving medical advice just as I don’t want Dr. Isaac Bogoch playing quarterback for my football team … Among the gifts left behind in Toronto by World Series champion Alex Anthopoulos and his former Blue Jays staff: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Jordan Romano, Tim Mayza, Danny Jansen and pitching coach Pete Walker. Anthopoulos will always be attached to the Blue Jays because of the Guerrero signing and because he’s so proud of his Canadian roots … In fairness, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins haven’t won anything yet, but haven’t done half bad in trading for Teoscar Hernandez and Jose Berrios, signing Lourdes Gurriel Jr. out of Cuba, signing George Springer, Hyun-jin Ryu, Robbie Ray, Marcus Semien and Steven Matz as free agents and drafting Alek Manoah in the first round of 2019 … And now a winter to try and figure out how to replace Ray, Semien and Matz and not take a step backwards … Anthopoulos tested positive for COVID-19. So did Rodgers, the Green Bay quarterback. So did Penguins and Team USA coach Mike Sullivan. All within days of each other. And I wonder: Does Auston Matthews still believe his privacy was violated when it was reported he tested positive for COVID? … Just about every team and every league in pro sports today has a driver program available for its athletes. If they need a lift anywhere, or need a lift home, all they have to do is call. That makes the story of Henry Ruggs III all the more disturbing and tragic. His promising football career is over before it barely began. And a woman has been killed in the drunk driving accident. And all Ruggs had to do, knowing he was going out, was pick up the phone and order a lift.

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AND ANOTHER THING

The best Canadian athlete hardly anyone talks about: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder … Not sure what the Raptors are doing with Goran Dragic, other than waiting for the right time to trade him … Not much to show thus far from the Kyle Lowry deal. Precious Achiuwa might be fine if he learns to calm down and play at a more reasonable pace. And nothing game-wise from the veteran Dragic to date … I like his game, but I hate typing Svi Mykhailiuk’s name. It reminds me of Joe Nieuwendyk. I never get it right the first time … I have a checkup scheduled for Monday: It’s a virtual appointment with Dr. Joe Rogan … Darryl Sutter is a great hockey coach. That doesn’t get mentioned often enough … Why is it companies in the communications business seem to be terrible at internal communications? … Buster Posey was a model athlete and a big-league pleasure. His career with the San Francisco Giants should land him in the Baseball Hall of Fame … Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif must have lost something off his fastball in his year away from the Kansas City Chiefs. With a so-so offensive line, the Chiefs traded the great Canadian doctor, who accepted a deal to the New York Jets … Has the NFL figured out Patrick Mahomes, who looked like the next great thing? Or is this just a case of the Kansas City Chiefs team trying to win without much of a defence and not much of an offensive line … Happy birthday to Ricky Romero (37), Dalano Banton (21), Buck Martinez (73), Jim Kaat (83), Sam Reinhart (26), Alejandro Kirk (23), Joni Mitchell (78) and John Candelaria (68), the only pitcher in major league history to win games in all four of Canada’s big league parks … And hey, whatever became of Mike Timlin?

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CULTURE CHANGE NEEDED IN EVERY SPORT

People who only cover hockey or follow hockey sometimes can’t see beyond their own vision at times. They’re often blinded by their love or attraction to the game and the honest belief that hockey’s troubles belong to hockey alone.

The disgraceful story of the Chicago Blackhawks and the abuse of Kyle Beach is fresh and difficult and a more-than-definitive black mark for all involved with the Blackhawks and the NHL Players’ Association, and has hit raw nerves across North America.

But this story comes in a week in which the National Football League is refusing to release a report about the behaviour of the Washington Football Team and the NBA is now investigating the owner of the Phoenix Suns, who is being accused of racism and misogyny and operating a team in a toxic environment, while the Portland Trailblazers have hired a law firm to investigate themselves.

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And at the same time, the National Women’s Soccer League has launched an independent investigation into its handing of cases of abuse, sexual coercion and harassment against a coach of one of their franchises. And the coach of Andre DeGrasse, the great Canadian gold-medal winner, Rana Reider, is being investigated for sexual misconduct allegations involving some of his female athletes.

This is all in a seven-day period of the news cycle, so much of sport polluted by a culture of silence, by people in power using and abusing their power for reasons that remain difficult to comprehend.

It’s time for hockey to change, the screamers scream, because it’s convenient and because sometimes they don’t know better.

The truth: It’s time for all of sport to change. The problems are almost everywhere.

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GREAT 8 CHASES THE GREAT ONE

Alex Ovechkin was the first pick in the 2004 NHL draft. Since then, he has scored 740 goals, which by itself is an incredible number, but by comparison to his draft class is absolutely overwhelming.

Evgeni Malkin was the second pick in that draft and he is second in goals scored, with 316 fewer goals than Ovechkin. And he’s going to the Hall of Fame.

Blake Wheeler of Winnipeg was the fifth pick and he ranks in third in scoring from that draft class and he’s 461 goals behind Ovechkin.

It’s hard to know what is most impressive about Ovechkin’s totals. His annual consistency? The fact he has scored at record levels through a period when it has never been more difficult to score in the NHL? His shot? The fact he lines up in precisely the same place on the power play most nights and is now second all-time in power-play goals? By next week, he could be first, ahead of the surprising Dave Andreychuk.

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The countdown, of course, has already begun for the Ovechkin march to become hockey’s leading all-time goal scorer. Once upon a time, no one was going to catch Wayne Gretzky and his 894 goals. But here is Ovechkin, in his 17th NHL season, at the age of 36, off to a start with 10 goals in 10 games with the Washington Capitals. This coming after what seemed to be an off-year in a shortened season, just scoring 24 goals in 45 games, which equated to only 43-goal pace.

He needs 154 goals to catch Gretzky. He would need at least three more seasons of 40 goals to catch Gretzky after this season. That would mean 20 seasons of Ovechkin, and playing to almost the age of 40.

That still seems so improbable, but with Ovechkin impossible became possible a long time ago.

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YOU CAN’T NOT LIKE THE RAPTORS

In every season except one under Masai Ujiri’s stewardship — the season played in Tampa without home games — there has been something wonderfully attractive about the Toronto Raptors.

They have been a team, most seasons, you can’t help but enjoy. They’ve won more games than they should have, they’ve made home games a memorable experience, and they provide a degree of hope that is seemingly the basis of what sport at its best is about.

This is an in-between year for the Raptors, but what a fine beginning this has been. The much-doubted rookie Scottie Barnes has been the talk of the NBA in his first few weeks on the job. If this is the beginning, you can’t wait to see what he will grow into.

And the Raptors’ internal development, not just with coach Nick Nurse but with the entire organization, is evident as well. When you watch what OG Anunoby is turning into. When you witness the calm leadership of the unlikely Fred VanVleet. When you weren’t really sure who Gary Trent Jr. was and would be, and you watch him play now and he’s becoming more than anyone thought possible.

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And all this is happening without Pascal Siakam, the apparent star, who will returning to the lineup Sunday.

This could complicate some things for Nurse, with finding places in the rotation for Siakam and Barnes and Anunoby, not necessarily all at the same time.

But give the Raptors credit: They have found a place for Khem Birch to be comfortable, they have fit in lightly regarded Svi Mykhailiuk into a role of competence, they have mixed and matched parts, even if they occasionally blow a game like they did on Friday night.

If your team can’t win, and by that I mean a championship, you still want a team you can like. This is yet another likeable Raptors team.

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