SIMMONS: McDavid and Draisaitl — hockey's greatest, most talented tag team

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SUNRISE, FLA. — Hockey’s highest-scoring, highest-paid, most individually decorated mutual admiration society is ready for the Stanley Cup final.

In fact, all of Canada is ready.

Connor McDavid doesn’t deny anything about this hockey relationship. He just loves Leon Draisaitl. Loves him like a brother, a teammate, a close friend with whom he vacations. Loves the way he plays, the way he leads, the way he makes him laugh.

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“He’s absolutely hilarious,” McDavid said on Friday on media day at the Stanley Cup.

McDavid is not necessarily the funny man in this show. It’s not his way. He’s more dry, subtle, with his words. His eyes sometimes talk louder than his voice. On the ice, he comes to life, dancing in a way you can’t stop watching.

McDavid takes your breath away every game or three. It’s what makes him different and special, and the latest sporting genius in a world boasting too few. On occasion, though, this hockey couple finishes each other’s sentences, sometimes without even knowing it.

It’s part of what makes this Stanley Cup final something of a collector’s item before the first puck is even dropped on Saturday night. McDavid hasn’t been on this bright stage before. Neither has Draisaitl. They have played nine years together with the Edmonton Oilers and all they have done in this time is finish one-two in total regular-season points.

One-two during the season. And then the all-time great playoff numbers to go along with it, which still require a conclusion to this marvellous story. This Stanley Cup final.

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McDavid is scoring 1.58 points a game in his 67-game playoff history without a Stanley Cup. Draisaitl is at 1.56 in the same number of games. The only players in hockey with better all-time numbers? Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

You may remember them.

Now the game belongs to McDavid and Draisaitl. It has, in some ways, for the past nine years. Just not at playoff time for long enough. This is the year when everything can change.

This is the year for this mutual admiration society of two — and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers — to get it done. Not because it matters to Canada. Not because it’s a return to where hockey championships used to be won.

But because these are the two best scorers in hockey. And these two are that deserving, maybe more than anyone else, of starting a new run.

Their run.

The McDavid and Draisaitl run: The best Alberta tag team since the British Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs won numerous belts. This is the first shot for these Oilers, for McDavid, for Draisaitl, for history.

Sometimes, McDavid watches Draisaitl and can’t believe what he sees. How much he puts into the game. How hard he works. How he never stops leading. How much he learns from him.

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Then Draisaitl says — almost word for the word — the same about McDavid.

“I know I’m a great player,” said Draisaitl, who then didn’t finish the sentence. He could have said, “but I’m not him.”

And the answer to that question is: Who is?

“There are certain things at certain moments that only one player in the world can make happen. I think we can agree on that.”

The one player is McDavid.

NHL analyst Craig Simpson understands all he sees in McDavid and Draisaitl. He’s seen this movie before. Decades ago. It was Gretzky and Mark Messier in Edmonton. They needed to lose a championship before they won one. Then they won three more together.

But money sent Gretzky packing to the United States.

“The kind of drive that Gretzky and Messier had, Connor and Leon have,” said Simpson, the former Oiler and current Hockey Night In Canada voice. “I love the respect that Leon gives to Connor and the kind of respect that Connor gives to Leon.

“Messier wanted to be the best player and be the guy every game. Gretz was the guy. It became a healthy push of each other. When the Oilers won their first Cup, Mess won the Conn Smythe Trophy. That didn’t bother (Gretzky) at all. They both had a built-in responsibility to push each other and, by pushing each other, pushed the rest of the team.

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“Neither cared who got the credit. Sometimes I see Leon doing an interview and talk about Connor and it reminds me of Mess talking about Wayne.”

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Ken Holland won his Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, when he had Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman, and later when he had Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in Motown. He understands what it means when your best players are your best leaders and your best leaders are your best players.

He knew what kind of talent Draisaitl and McDavid had when he was working in Detroit. What he didn’t know was what kind of people they were.

“I didn’t know how driven they were, how team-driven, sacrificing, commitment,” said the Edmonton general manager and Hall of Fame. “I saw the points and saw the assists from 3,000 miles away. But to watch them every day and to see how they are, how competitive, how driven. Those are things I didn’t know.”

Things he can’t wait to witness in this Stanley Cup final.

[email protected]

On X: @simmonssteve

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