Transcript: 2024 NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Conference Call

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Transcript: 2024 NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Conference Call

ESPN Commentators Sean McDonough, Ray Ferraro, Mark Messier and P.K. Subban

Today, ESPN NHL commentators Sean McDonough, Ray Ferraro, Mark Messier and P.K. Subban were joined by media for a preview discussion on the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Saturday, June 8, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC, ESPN+ and ESPN Deportes.

ESPN’s NHL studio show, The Point, will serve as a lead-in to the game at 7 p.m. ET, ahead of the Game 1 in Sunrise, Fla.

A TRANSCRIPT OF THE CONVERSATION IS BELOW:

THE MODERATOR: Good morning or good afternoon, if you’re on the East Coast. I’m Andrea DiCristoforo with ESPN Communications. Thank you so much for joining us.

Today we have Sean McDonough, Ray Ferraro, Mark Messier will be joining us, and P.K. Subban, to preview the Stanley Cup Final beginning this Saturday, June 8th, at 8 p.m. ET across ABC, ESPN+, and ESPN Deportes. In fact, every Stanley Cup game will take place in primetime at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC, ESPN+, and ESPN Deportes.

We also have breaking news before we get to questions. We’re excited to share we reached a multi-year contract extension with Mark Messier. Mark’s insights and perspectives have been an invaluable addition to our coverage, and we look forward to his contributions to the incoming Cup Final and the years ahead.

With that, we’ll start off with a question for each of our commentators to weigh in on.

With the Cup Final returning to ESPN/ABC for the second time since the new rights deal, how, if at all, has your approach to covering the NHL evolved or changed over the past few years, and what are you most looking forward to with the upcoming matchup between the Oilers and Panthers? Sean, I’ll have you go first.

SEAN MCDONOUGH: Thanks, Andrea. Thanks to everybody for being on here. The second time around is just going to be easier for all of us given that we have done this before. We’ve now worked together for three years. I think we know all the people involved. We know where the booths are. Ray knew that stuff already anyway because he’d been involved in it continuously with his work up in Canada.

I’m super excited for the series. I think it’s a really compelling matchup. You have the best defensive team in the league in Florida, defense first as they say, and we’ve seen that in full effect during those playoffs, against, to me, one of the great players of all time leading the way for Edmonton in Connor McDavid. That will be fascinating to watch as we go.

Two great environments, the story line of Edmonton trying to be the first Canadian-based team to win the Stanley Cup in 31 years. I think the coaches are very interesting stories, Paul Maurice kind of a lifer who’s won a ton of games but never won the Stanley Cup, more wins than anybody without it, and the job he’s done in Florida. And the job that Kris Knoblauch has done coming out of nowhere for many people, they’ve had the best record in the league since he was the coach.

A lot of great story lines. One of the issues with hockey, as we know, there’s not always a lot of time to tell the stories, but we’ll do the best we can. I just think it’s going to be a scintillating final.

RAY FERRARO: For me, as Sean said, it’s easier the second time to know what to expect. The Final is different. There’s just more of everything in and around the games. Yet when the puck hits the ice, it’s like, from my perspective, it’s just the game – what I see, what we’re able to relate, what we’re able to show back, can we do it quick enough and efficient enough to get the best looks and the best replays and the best as many stories as we can that are of interest.

For all these story lines coming in, the Panthers return and McDavid and Draisaitl’s first Final, all the ones that we anticipate, there’s going to be a whole bunch that get told as the game goes on, as the series goes on.

For me I’m really interested to see how physically Florida can play against a power play that looks like it’s almost an automatic. They score 37% of the time, so you’ve got to be pretty careful when you’re being physical that you’re not sending the Oilers’ big guns out there three and four and five times a night. That doesn’t seem like a good plan.

I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to get started. I will say this before somebody asks about Edmonton being Canada’s team and everybody in Canada cheering for them, that’s not the case. In Canada, it’s the same as in the U.S. If the Yankees are in the World Series, nobody in Kansas City is cheering for the Yankees. I live in Vancouver. There’s nobody in Vancouver cheering for the Oilers just because we all live in Canada.

Edmonton is Edmonton’s team, and it is a source of pride. We’d like to get, I’m sure, in this country a Stanley Cup Champion again, but it is city by city, I would say, is the way they cheer.

MARK MESSIER: It feels three years ago is a lifetime ago or ten lifetimes ago. It’s incredible how much I’ve learned about the industry. My own self-analysis, I go home kicking myself every night that I didn’t say this or didn’t say that or I missed something. It’s almost like being a player again, after a game and disappointed that you didn’t do better or sometimes it felt great.

For me over the last three years, I’ve really learned a lot. I feel more comfortable now in the position. I understand the position much better than I did three years ago.

So I’m looking forward to covering The Finals again, which obviously is more focused in on the games, more eyeballs, and a great chance to shed some light on what the players may be going through or what the significance of the moment is or whatever. So that’s exciting for me.

The matchup, myself, I picked the Rangers-Oilers to meet in the Finals. Part of it was the emotional pick obviously because of Edmonton and New York, but also both teams legitimately had a chance to get there. Unfortunately, Rangers got up against a team in Florida that was just unrelenting in their pressure that they put on the Rangers, and they never let the Rangers get to their game. They got them down early, and they held them down and never let them off the mat.

It doesn’t surprise me the Panthers are there. It doesn’t surprise me the Oilers are there. Fascinating matchup for a lot of reasons. For me, I guess, starting with the Oilers, hard to bet against the two best players in the game or two best offensive players in the game right now that are both just as hungry to win a Stanley Cup. Edmonton probably surrounded them with more depth than they’ve ever had. They got some size.

And there’s special teams, which we always talk about every game going into a series, it’s going to come down to special teams. The Oilers have led the way in special teams both in power play and penalty killing. It’s a fascinating matchup from that perspective because, as we know, Florida likes to play a heavy game.

One thing I was impressed about Florida in the last series is how disciplined they were. They stayed incredibly disciplined. There wasn’t, one, a lot of after-whistle pushing and shoving. They really kind of focused in on not allowing the Rangers into the series by giving them unwarranted chances on the power play, which the Rangers lived on all year long.

Of course, we all know what Edmonton can do if Florida gets caught taking too many minor penalties. So from that perspective, I can see the Panthers being incredibly disciplined in this series, but just as hard as they’ve been, just as unrelenting in their pursuit on the forecheck. We know that going into this series, they’re going to try everything they can to put the pressure on Edmonton’s defense and keep the puck in Edmonton’s zone as long as they can.

Now, the other flip side of that is that they’re also very aggressive in the neutral zone. If someone is out of position and they play that aggressive game in the neutral zone, it’s going to give Oilers some odd-man rushes, which we saw against the Rangers. We saw some breakaways early in the series, defense getting caught a little bit out of position. Forwards not marking their man.

So that transition game through the neutral zone is going to be critical for the Florida not only to get on the forecheck, but that neutral zone, they are going to have to be airtight because that’s where the Oilers live, especially when McDavid and Draisaitl are on the ice. If they get opportunities with odd-man rushes and some room through the neutral zone, that could be a difference maker as well.

P.K. SUBBAN: I wasn’t here a few years ago, but retiring and stepping into this job, I think I echo kind of what Mess had said, that in a lot of ways you feel like a player again. I think being able to give a perspective as someone who just played only a few years ago and still knows the players somewhat personally and their style of play and their type of game and also their history – when I played, a lot of the star players in the game now were just coming into the league.

Watching their growth and development, for example, a guy like Matthew Tkachuk, who has basically put the Florida Panthers on the world-class stage again coming over from Calgary. I remember, when he came into the league, I don’t know if anybody saw that type of potential in Matthew Tkachuk.

So, to be able to see that growth now on a Final stage and be able to necessarily put myself on the ice and paint that picture for the audience of what’s going on, I think there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility that goes into it.

I think it being my first Final and understanding the microscope that’s on the game is very similar to like when you played. This is the best product that I’ve seen in the NHL. I never wanted to watch hockey as much as I do right now. The only time I got this excited to watch games is when Don Cherry was on the air if I’m being honest.

Now they really want to rise to the forefront. I think, if I can continue to chime in during the intermissions and give a perspective that highlights the players and the platform that they’re playing on and where the game’s at now, then fantastic.

I think that’s the plan, is to bring the audience into seeing one of the best teams we’ve seen in a long time in the hockey league that really exude every characteristic that you want in a team, and I’m talking about the Florida Panthers, versus a guy like Connor McDavid that is a superstar and a marquee talent.

To be able to have guys like Mess, who’s won at every level, who’s won everything in this game, and to have guys like Ray who have the experience and Sean that are able to kind of help and support, I think we really have the best team in hockey.

And I think that’s what makes the broadcast great, is whether it’s me, Mess, or Levy, it’s being thrown to Ray or Sean, who do a great job, I think continuing to just highlight the product on the ice, and that’s the players, but also painting that clear image for the audience that’s watching.

I think when it comes to the matchup of Edmonton and Florida, I think that, like Mess had said, Florida was very aggressive in the neutral zone. I’m interested to see because Paul Maurice, you have to give him a lot of credit with his experience.

He’s made adjustments every round. I’ve seen the Florida Panthers make tweaks on the fly in game by game. And there’s no panic with them. They’re very patient. The only times I’ve ever seen Paul Maurice kind of get uncomfortable, I’ve seen the team respond. We saw that in the Rangers series when their back was against the wall, and they responded.

I think, like Mess had said, if they’re going to be aggressive in that neutral zone, Edmonton is going to get odd-man rushes with guys like Evander Kane and guys that have that sleepy, sneaky kind of offense, those guys can beat Bobrovsky, no matter how good he’s playing.

I think that for Florida it’s going to be a key to control the middle of the ice once again and make sure that they’re making those adjustments.

So I think that’s going to be the story of it, is just Florida and how they play, how they contain Edmonton 5-on-5. But I really believe they’re going to do that. I don’t see it. As great as Connor McDavid is, it’s going to take magic for him to beat this team 5-on-5.

I trust in Forsling, I trust in Barkov. I trust in those guys’ commitment to playing defense first. I think they’re going to make it really, really difficult on Edmonton.

Also, the special teams, like you guys had said, the special teams are hugely, hugely key in the playoffs, and Florida’s been really disciplined. They’ve been disciplined throughout the playoff, and I think that’s a huge, huge factor is how disciplined they’ve been.

I think that shows their growth as a team to play on the edge with that physicality, and I think everybody is on the same page. When Matthew Tkachuk says they’ve all bought in, you can see they’ve all bought in. No one’s taking stupid penalties. Everyone knows what their goal is.

I think the Edmonton Oilers are going to have to play a perfect game to beat the Florida Panthers. I think their defense is going to be under pressure, but Edmonton has proven all the doubters wrong all season, and I think Coach Knoblauch, like you had said, Ray, when you were talking earlier, he’s done a phenomenal job since he’s come in. They’ve had the best record since he’s come in.

I think it’s going to be a tremendous back-and-forth series. I think it’s going to be longer than people think. I think people are thinking it’s going to be shorter for Florida. It’s going six or seven games. The special teams in the middle of the ice are going to be the key.

If Florida can control the middle of the ice 5-on-5, Edmonton is only going to have to rely on their power play, and we saw Florida shut it down. Florida takes away the middle of the ice everywhere — 5-on-5, power play, it doesn’t matter. I thought the way they killed against the Rangers demoralized them, demoralized them offensively, and I think they can do the same to the Edmonton Oilers.

If McDavid isn’t getting any looks and Draisaitl, like we’ve seen during the season where their power play is a struggle sometimes, I think Florida can really frustrate them.

That’s kind of the story for me. It’s going to be the special teams in the middle of the ice.

Q. This is for P.K. Just in terms of the league, how important is it having Connor McDavid have this kind of showcase for maybe casual fans who aren’t paying attention during the year and don’t know quite what we’re dealing with here?

P.K. SUBBAN: I’d like to say it’s not that important because there’s so many great, talented players in the game, but I really believe it is important. Any time you have your best player or your best players on a world-class stage like the Stanley Cup Final, it’s the epitome of what the league wants. That’s what you want. You want to have your best players in the final.

For ESPN to have the Finals this year and to have Connor McDavid in it is a massive deal for the NHL. Make no doubt about it, he is the most talented player that I’ve ever seen play the game, that I’ve ever played against. He really is.

And now he has the opportunity to really do something that, outside of the people in Edmonton, I think that everybody looks at the numbers and the stats, this is a series that Florida – I don’t think you can consider Florida the underdog in the series with the way their team has played and where their team is at right now.

That says a lot, considering that Edmonton might have the two best players in the game right now in Draisaitl and McDavid.

So, I think it’s a huge deal for the league to have Connor McDavid on this stage. Outside of us highlighting how great he has been throughout his career and the great things that he’ll do in this series, he’s got to do that himself, and I think he’s going to show the world how great he is, just like he did at the All-Star Game when people were doubting whether he was still the best player in the world right now. I can’t believe people still doubt that, but he is great. I think it’s a huge deal for the NHL having him there.

Q. I know Ray is talking about how the Oilers are not Canada’s team, when you wanted it in the ’80s and ’90s, most of the roster was Canadian. Most of the Oilers’ roster is made up of Canadian players. What does it mean for fans across Canada? Obviously they’re cheering for other teams, but there’s so many Canadian-born players on this Oilers team.

MARK MESSIER: I don’t really think about it in that perspective much anymore. I think we’ve seen in the NHL how it’s a diversified league now. Players from all over the world and players are coming from all over the world. Some of the best players in the game are from areas that aren’t traditional hockey areas, which is incredible news for the NHL that the growth of the game is moving to scenarios that we never expected when I first started in the late ’70s. From that perspective, it’s great.

As being a Canadian and a Canadian team in the Finals for the first time since 1993, I believe, it’s incredibly exciting. We, as Canadians, have always had a lot of pride at the international level. Growing up a young boy in western Canada watching the great Montreal Canadiens, I was a Bobby Orr fan and Parry Sound and going back forever.

The stories are rich with great Canadian players that have played the game, and it’s nice to see we’re going to be celebrating some of them again this year.

But I don’t look at it as American or Canadian or Swedes or Finns or Czechs or Russians or Slovaks and all the others I’m missing. I just look at us as hockey players now.

At the same time, of course we’re proud of the Canadian guys that have made their way to this point.

Q. This is for Ray and Sean. How is it working for you two being on separate levels of stadiums across the NHL, and why has that become maybe your preferred method of calling a game for the broadcast?

RAY FERRARO: I like being on the ice. I think that’s why it’s become the preferred method. I can see more from where I am. I certainly see details on the ice that I couldn’t see from above. You miss some stuff because you’re not above.

To me in balance, I prefer being between the benches. I think I’m more connected to the game. I certainly see and hear more than I would if I’m up top.

As far as working together at different levels, I will say it’s – when we started, we could have been standing on each other’s feet, and we’d never worked together. So there had to be a growth period of when are you going to lay out? When am I going to stop? That would have been the same had we been shoulder to shoulder as, I guess, most of the broadcast teams are.

So more comfortable for sure for me, not even a question about that.

SEAN MCDONOUGH: Jeff, I would mostly echo that. The first Game 2 seasons ago when we worked together, the first few games we did, we worked together in the booth. Then Ray mentioned to Mike McQuade, one of our bosses, and Jeff Dufine, our producer, that in a lot of his experience in Canada, he had worked between the benches and really preferred it. Our consensus was let’s try it and see how it goes.

I think it worked really, really well for reasons that Ray said. He does see and hear a lot of things up there that he wouldn’t see where we are. The reality is where I am in a lot of these places is the worst seat in the arena. If you go back in the upper deck and then look up and further back, that’s where we are. It’s very hard to tell sometimes exactly what’s going on, especially when the puck’s right around the net.

Some of these booths are also really small, so I kind of enjoyed the additional space. When Ray and I did a couple of games together shoulder to shoulder, you’re still going to step on each other. But I think we found a rhythm now. I think Ray kind of understands in the flow of the action, if there’s a little bit of a pause where some defenseman is standing behind his own net and not being pressured or the puck is kind of in center ice and the teams are changing lines and it’s pretty obvious that nothing is going to happen immediately, I pause for a second or two to see if Ray wants to come in, and if he doesn’t, I pick it back up.

So, there’s kind of a little natural flow to it that we have developed anyway. I think it’s worked really well. I do think it kind of maximizes our opportunities to be in the right place to do the best job we can.

Q. Anybody can answer this question, but I’d be particularly interested in how Sean sees this. Broadcasters of course have no control over viewership. Personally, like I think this is a very fascinating series, but historically it is a very tough sell to get a mass of U.S. television viewers to watch a Canadian team unless that opponent is from a big U.S. hockey market. Where does your thought sit as to whether this series can be different and break that kind of viewership precedent?

SEAN MCDONOUGH: It’s a good question, and I’m not the expert on what the ratings might have been if some other team was in there instead of Edmonton or if the Rangers were in instead of Florida. Obviously if you have the Rangers, you have the huge media market.

My understanding of the way ratings work is usually the national rating gets a huge bump by the two American teams, if there are two American teams that are in there, that we’re going to do a huge rating in both of them. Obviously we don’t have the advantage of that with Edmonton.

That having been said, I do think we’ve seen in the growth of the ratings again this year that the interest level in hockey is growing, in the NHL is growing regardless of who’s playing in the games.

I do think the fact that it’s going to be McDavid and Draisaitl and a very good – I didn’t mean in my first comment to just mention McDavid. They have a very talented team around them. As Mess mentioned, they have a lot of depth, and Ken Holland has done a tremendous job too.

I think people are excited to see McDavid and Draisaitl and the rest of that team. There is the storyline of a Canadian team winning. Whether people in Canada are cheering for them or not, I yield to Ray because he lives in there and knows.

I do know the atmosphere, watching the final game of that series, the atmosphere was remarkable. The noise was coming right through the TV set. I’m looking forward to being up there and experiencing that firsthand.

So, I think the matchup is fabulous. You have this great defensive team that also has plenty of players who are offensively very skilled and capable against, to me, one of the great players of all time, McDavid. He’s already established that to me, and P.K. played against him.

I think the rating will be high. I’m not an expert. Like I said, might it have been higher if it were some other matchup? Yes. But I don’t care. I really don’t. I think this is a tremendous matchup with a million story lines, great atmosphere in both places, two very deserving teams to be there. I don’t think it’s a surprise that either one of them is there. The rating is going to be what it’s going to be.

Q. It’s been alluded to a little bit the McDavid factor and the significance of this moment with the league having its biggest star on its biggest stage. Do you think that this is an opportunity for McDavid to – I mean, we’ve all been familiar with him. Everyone on this call has been familiar with him for a long time, but I think there’s a lot of sports fans in the U.S. who don’t really know much about him. Do you think that could change as a result of him being on this stage?

RAY FERRARO: I’ll take the first swipe at it. Yes, because of – I think this is part of the reach and the appeal of ESPN having the sport is that you’re going to see McDavid do something great in this series that people would not normally have seen, A, if he’s not in it, of course, or B, if it’s on somewhere else.

The goal he scored the other night against Dallas, he turns around Miro Heiskanen, who’s one of the best defensemen in the game, and he does something that literally nobody else in the game can do. If you never see it, how would you know that it even occurred?

It’s almost like, Mess played for years with Gretz, with Wayne Gretzky. People would always find a way to say it seemed that, “oh, yeah, but Wayne did this, but”. Because you couldn’t almost accept the greatness of his play.

I think it’s the same thing with Connor. People always want to seem to find a way to kick somebody in the shins, but when you watch him and it becomes so obvious how great a player he is, what he does that other people can’t do – you’re not talking about minor sports here. You’re talking about the best players in the world, and there’s a guy that does something that nobody else can do.

I think eventually when you see it and you get a chance to see it on the highlights, and SVP will have it on his show all the time, well, of course you’re going to take note of it.

Then there’s your hook. Then you watch him again. You watch him maybe a little longer next time. Then you watch him do something else. He’s just a phenomenal, phenomenal athlete. He’s the most evolved hockey player of all time.

P.K. SUBBAN: Ray, that was really well said. I think my confidence specifically to Connor McDavid on our broadcast and the way that we see him, that’s going to reflect the experience that first Mess and Ray have from playing against some of the game’s greatest players and also some of the sport’s greatest athletes. When you played against Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux and all these guys, they have that comparison to draw from in comparison to the things that McDavid is doing on the ice.

For me, seeing Crosby and Ovechkin and some of these current guys that have come through the league and been in war against them and battle against them and playoffs in these situations, like Ray had said, to see McDavid execute a goal like that in such a big game around such a marquee player is an example of exactly what this guy can do.

I think what’s special about our broadcast is we have the people that can actually break that down and discuss what he’s actually doing out there and deliver that to the audience in a way that they can understand it.

It resonates to all of their athletes, whether it was a guy like Michael Jordan or LeBron James or other athletes in different sports. I think that for new fans that come into the game, it’s important to also understand that perspective. Usually hockey fans – sports fans are sports fans. So, to put it in perspective, what McDavid is doing is on the same level as all the all-time greats in any other sport that I’ve seen in terms of talent and skill level and his ability to execute certain plays against the world’s greatest players.

He does that on a nightly basis. So, there’s no question he’ll have his moments in the Finals, and I’m confident we’ve got the team to project that to the audience in the way that they can really understand it and wrap their head around it.

I think that’s the goal. Like I said, we’re promoting the game’s best players. We don’t have to sell Connor McDavid. We just have to take what he does and put it in English for the audience and for people that are new viewers seeing him for the first time.

MARK MESSIER: I get back to the saying all the time that you make your money during the regular season and you make your name during the playoffs. Whoever isn’t aware of Connor McDavid at this point will certainly be aware of him after the series for all the obvious reasons.

What really fascinates me and what interests me is watching the young players go through the journey of learning how to win. If you’ve watched Edmonton the last few years and their wins and losses in the playoffs, they’re a much more mature team now, both as individuals and as a team. We don’t see them take the undisciplined penalties we’ve seen them take, thinking they can outscore their mistakes. We’ve seen miscoverages, bad defensive play in the past, which has gotten much better at this point.

That journey for a player like McDavid to suffer the defeats that really sting, especially when you’re exposed to making the mistake, is a hard one to live with all summer.

So here they are now back for the first time in a Stanley Cup Final having learned some of those lessons about what it takes to win. You can really see last series there how well they buckled down defensively to a man. They were a completely different team than we’ve seen over the last four or five or actually the last nine years with McDavid at the helm of the Oilers.

When you start adding all that up, coming into the year, McDavid said it was Cup or bust for them. They expected to win this year. They were putting that kind of pressure on themselves to win, which is good.

I think that having that kind of mindset going into a year that everybody, if they’re not pulling their weight, if they’re not dedicating themselves, if they’re not focusing on what the areas that they need to be focused in on in order for a team to win, then it has to be dealt with. That’s what a good captain and good leadership on a team will do. It will hold everybody accountable.

The Oilers have seemed to have caught that mindset going into this year’s playoffs, and I think it really came to – it had to have come to a head in the Vancouver series where they’re really pushed hard physically and then against a good Dallas team that’s had a lot of depth. They knew they had to defend, and they did. They defended as well as anybody in the league, and their special teams were great.

McDavid will be at the forefront of it all, once again, as any star player will be once you get to The Finals.

SEAN MCDONOUGH: First of all, Alex, you and a few of your colleagues have thanked us for doing this. Thank you to you and everybody else who’s on here. We appreciate you being on here and helping us promote a series that we’re really, really excited about as you can tell from what everybody has said.

When it comes to McDavid, we were at the All-Star Game almost a year and a half ago now down in Sunrise, Florida, where we’ll be this weekend. The day before the game, we were at the hotel, and they were bringing in players for interviews and sound bites, I talked to Nathan MacKinnon, the great star of the Colorado Avalanche about McDavid, and he said, Everybody is here and they’re an All-Star, but McDavid is in his own league. He’s better, much better than everybody else. And that’s coming from a guy who could probably make the claim he’s the second-best player in the world this year in particular. He had a phenomenal year.

I think our challenge in the time that we have is for these guys to explain what makes him that. I remember talking to Jon Cooper, the Tampa Bay coach, about Brayden Point and telling him how he was kind of – I had more and more appreciation for him the more I watched him play. He said one of the things that makes him special is there are very few guys who can skate at top speed and have possession of the puck and not slow down.

McDavid is the greatest skater. When he has the puck on his stick, he’s still flying. It’s not just in the open ice. As we saw in the play these guys referenced, the goal the other night was incredible quickness and agility with the puck and short area quickness, but in a relatively small space.

I think the challenge for our group when we have the opportunity is to explain to those, particularly those who don’t always watch hockey, what exactly it is about him that makes him a cut above.

Q. One quick follow-up because Ray mentioned Gretzky in his response and Mess having played with him. It seems like more than 20 years after his retirement, Gretzky is still the name that everyone knows associated with hockey, whether you’re a fan or not. Connor is arguably the best player since Gretzky retired. Do you think that he can ever achieve that celebrity status?

RAY FERRARO: I was just going to say, if you’re sitting at the top of the leaderboard when it’s all said and done, then that gives you a claim to all of it. Everybody’s ascending or trying to ascend to a level of – I don’t know how many records Gretz has, 100 or something like that, and Connor is about the only guy that’s got a chance to do it. It’s a long race for him still. Nine years is a long time, but it’s not a very long time considering how long Connor is going to play.

P.K. SUBBAN: I would simply say no, though. For me, I have Wayne Gretzky as not just one of the greatest hockey players ever, but one of the greatest athletes ever, maybe the greatest. So, I would compare that to Michael Jordan and other athletes, and I think it’s not about comparing guys to that. I think ultimately when your career is over, that’s when you’ll talk about it and the impact on the game.

But what Wayne did for the game, you could talk to Mess and Ray about this, but what he did for the game, he changed the game and helped grow the game in ways that I don’t know we’ve seen players that have come into the league do. I think it’s not just on the numbers. I think that also Wayne has an image that with his father and the relationship with Walter and the impact, personally, for me, how I see Wayne Gretzky is I see him as the greatest athlete to ever be in sports, right there with Michael Jordan.

Everybody knows how I feel about Connor McDavid. I think he definitely has an opportunity to be in that conversation, but I don’t know if I’ll ever compare anybody to Wayne Gretzky. I don’t know if I’ll ever do that.

MARK MESSIER: It’s a tough one always comparing players of different generations. So, I don’t try to do that. I look at what they did to their peers in their generation. When you look at what Bobby Orr was able to do and how he separated himself from everybody else in his era.

Of course, Wayne and the records in his era speaks for themselves, statistically the greatest athlete that ever played. The separation between him and everybody else was — I mean, it’s not — it’s incomparable.

Now we come to McDavid, who Ray said probably the best engineered player of all time. Having said that, he’s still got players that are – Kucherov and MacKinnon and other players in the stratosphere with him. He hasn’t separated himself the way some other players have. That doesn’t mean he’s not great and he may be the greatest technically gifted player ever physically.

We’re talking about how a player will be defined when he’s done. Gretz will tell you that his sole purpose obviously was to smash every record and do that. He was on a mission to do that. More important than that there, he realized that without championships, he would never be regarded as someone that went down as one of the greatest players ever. He said it himself very early on, I remember having the conversations with him. He knew he had to win.

He was geared in his whole career and his competitiveness and his hunger to be a Stanley Cup champion is what drove him. Game 81 with nothing to play for, and if he was on the ice, he was trying to score his fifth goal. There was never a moment in the 60 minutes that he was unrelenting in the pursuit of greatness, but that’s also what drove him to be the champion that he ultimately became.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that for me I look at players in their own time periods and how they were able to separate themselves from their competition, and I don’t think anybody in sports history has been able to do it to the degree that Wayne has done it.

Q. Sean, apologies for leaving you out of this question. I’d like to ask the three other guys, I’ve been so impressed by Florida’s style of play, so relentless. All three series now. They will have done it for two months. So if you can reflect on how does Paul Maurice sell that, and what is the challenge on the players’ side to accept it? I can tell it’s brutalizing. Ray, if you would start because, if I could add one on here, I’m showing my grumpy old man side here, but I’m complaining about the noise from the second I walk in the building. I have to believe in the position you’re in, which I’m envious of being down there, the sound must be a challenge beyond imagination. I’m wondering if that’s the case.

RAY FERRARO: I’ll start with the sound. Sometimes it is so loud – I like to have one earpiece so I can hear anything the players are saying to each other right in front of me. Sometimes it’s so loud I can’t use that earpiece. I’ve got to use double because I can’t hear myself. I don’t know what I’m saying. I can’t even hear myself.

Sean will say something, and I’ll be like, I think that’s what he said, but I’m kind of guessing along. The noise is that sometimes I’ve got to kill it and put two earpieces on because I can’t hear.

The thing about the Panthers I’ll take really quick is this starts above Paul Maurice. This starts with the way the vision, the desire to build a team when Bill Zito took over as the general manager. They already had one of the highest scoring teams in the last 20 years. They went out and engineered the Tkachuk trade and traded Jonathan Huberdeau, the players they brought in, if you happened to be standing beside that team, it’s like a team of linebackers.

Evan Rodrigues is the only guy about my size, and he’s taller than me, which is no great shakes. But they’re bloody enormous. Guy to guy to guy to guy. They’re brought in to play a specific style. As the team was already a lot formed with Barkov and such, the players that they had drafted, Ekblad, that were there, they target shopped players that fit what they want to do.

I’ll give you one example as a fourth line guy is Kevin Stenlund. They wanted a guy to kill penalties for them. They needed a centerman. They got a 6’5″ guy, like another guy. So everybody is brought in to play in a role and a form that they can fit.

When Paul left the Jets, in large part he thought he was done. This opportunity came up in Florida, and I just see this enthusiasm, the love of his team, the way that they play, that the sale is easy to be bought by the players that Bill Zito has brought in.

It’s not a sell job to sell something that the players already believe in. And the fact that they lost last year, this year must have been the easiest sell job of all time. Guys, we were that close, and we got nothing. Now we have a chance to go do it again.

He had a line. Paul Maurice, in the middle of the year Sean and I were doing a game, they had a bunch of injuries, he said, I’m concerned, but I’m not worried. And I think that is a fabulous line to somebody that views we’re a team that can be there at the end. There’s lots of bumps and valleys in the year, but this is our goal, this is our vision. I think, as much as the Oilers said Cup or bust, for Florida, it was the same thing.

P.K. SUBBAN: I think for Florida, I think a lot of it had to do with the fact of the season, Matthew Tkachuk coming over, really putting his fingerprint on this team, and their identity, right away it just flipped. As Ray said after the trade, kind of shifting the culture in that locker room, these guys started to believe.

When Paul Maurice says it’s on the players now, as a player, there’s nothing better than getting a taste of the Stanley Cup Finals. You get a taste of that, and it’s almost like you go into your summer, you’re right back into the gym, you’re right back training.

I’ll never forget when I was in Nashville, and the first year I was there, we sort of put together this kind of sub-par season, kind of .500 up and down, just trying to figure it out. The latter part of the season, we put together a helluva stretch, ended up sweeping Chicago in the first round.

We go to the Cup Final, and we lose in the Cup Final. I remember in the locker room, the pain we felt in the locker room was nothing even close to the pain that we felt the year after as the Presidents Trophy team losing to Winnipeg in the second game. Guys are shattered because it’s nothing like we knew the year before when we got to the Final that it wasn’t easy, it was difficult, but we thought we had a better team that next year. We thought that that was our year that we were in a better position to do it.

We just met a really good team that had a hot goaltender and a little bit better than us, and it didn’t happen.

For Florida, you could just tell all year no matter what injuries they had, no matter what guys — I’ll never forget the game I was watching. I was away on vacation, and I watched them play the Rangers. I think they were missing Barkov. They might have been missing Lundell. They were missing regulars. It took the Rangers into overtime and shootout to beat them. I remember nobody was talking about the Florida Panthers. Everybody was talking about Winnipeg.

You could see this team, just like Ray had said, Connor McDavid had come out and said it’s Cup or bust, I really believe that Florida quietly went about their business, and their only goal was we know that we’re going to be back in that Stanley Cup Final. That’s our goal.

It starts with Paul Maurice. He’s given — he’s passed the gavel to the players to police themselves and to show the discipline within the structure of what winning hockey looks like. They’ve all bought into that.

Like Ray had said, it’s not difficult. Like Mess had said, it’s not difficult to go there and buy in because everybody’s committed to one thing. I think that winning the Stanley Cup, I’ve gotten close – and, Mess, feel free to weigh in on this – but winning the Stanley Cup is awesome not because you get a trophy that you’ve seen a lot of guys and greats raise, it’s awesome because you form a bond with your teammates for a lifetime that’s completely different than anything else you’ll ever accomplish. You set out on a journey with your teammates to do something that you’ve dreamt about, that you’ve all dreamt about, no matter where you’re from, whether you’re from Europe, the U.S., Canada, and it comes together, and you do that.

I think that there has to be something said, win or lose, for teams that commit and buy in to playing that style of hockey. And I think that’s why, as an ex-player, I just have a soft spot for the Florida Panthers because I believe the commitment they made to playing that brand of hockey takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice. You can see it. It’s paying dividends, and you want to see that.

I think that, when it comes to the Florida Panthers, they’re right where they’re expected to be. I think that, as a hockey player, a guy who played, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t expect them to be in this situation as well with how they’ve played.

MARK MESSIER: A couple things. First of all, I think I mentioned pretty much all year that Florida is one of my favorite teams to watch. The way they play the game, the style they play. They are very direct in their intentions. They don’t hide what their intentions are, and then they have enough belief in what their intentions are to go out and execute it. They’ve seen it all the way from the latter part of last year into the playoffs. I think they probably felt that they missed one with the injuries they had last year.

What’s really funny about the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Stanley Cup winning team, as everybody else seems to shrink away and get tired and fatigued, it always seems the Stanley Cup-winning team seems to get stronger. We see it every year. They’re able to withstand, to stay away from injuries and serious injuries, or they seem to have the belief that energizes them this time of year. Instead of getting beaten down in the war of attrition physically, it seems to embolden them. Instead of being worn down by the war of attrition mentally, they seem to be sharper and having more fun.

Nobody exemplifies that more than Matthew Tkachuk. The accommodating personality to the media, the way he embraced what’s going on has to be infectious within the team and the locker room that why wouldn’t we be having a great time while we’re doing this?

From my experience as a whole, it was always that feeling that we’re having a great time right now. Where else would we rather be than right here, right now? I think that becomes, like I said, incredibly infectious.

There’s a deeper spirituality that happens when a team starts to come closer together and the trust that is required in order to win a Stanley Cup. You are tested in every way, and that trust and belief becomes incredibly powerful that I know the guy that’s sitting beside me is doing everything in his power to be the best that he can be on every given night, and anything less than that won’t be good enough.

When you have that kind of loyalty to the task, that is another empowering element to a team. I think Florida has really exemplified that. You can look at a lot of teams that maybe did, and most of the Stanley Cups found it somehow or another. You can look at Edmonton the same way. They’ve been through a lot the last nine years. A lot of people have kind of rode them pretty hard.

Then of course this year with the changes, having to build themselves back up. And somehow or another their leadership has grown and matured to the point where they realize they need people around them to be successful. They can’t do it on their own. They can’t win alone. They can’t outscore their mistakes. They have to unify the players around them. They have to embolden the players around them. They have to give players around them responsibilities.

So, when I watch it from afar, because I know what I’m looking for, because I’ve experienced it, that’s what I’ve seen both from Florida and from Edmonton, and it’s really awesome to see. That’s why, when you win a Stanley Cup where you get in that kind of arena, it changes you as a person, but more importantly, it changes you as a player because you ultimately have to understand what it means to be a real teammate. A teammate’s not just about coming to the rink at 7:00 at night and showing up for the game, it encompasses a lot more than that.

When you see the culmination of the work that’s been put in by both teams, it’s really kind of exciting to see. Now here we are getting ready on the precipice of Game 1 with all the work that’s gone into it and all that strategy and all that mentorship and all that leadership and all the failings and all that, and here we are with a chance to kind of do something you’ve never done before, it’s pretty incredible to be a part of.

SEAN MCDONOUGH: I know Dupes didn’t want my input because we’ve known each other a long time, and that’s understandable. The only thing I would add is Paul Maurice has said this. The difference between last year and this year, last year they had to really go all out at the end of the season just to make the playoffs. They make the playoffs by a point, and they spent a lot of physical and emotional energy.

He said after that first series against Boston last year, they were really wiped out and beat up. It was almost to the point where everything they did after that was kind of, I don’t want to say pleasant surprise, but he used the word with Ray and me and Emily last week, it’s an accomplishment.

That’s not the case anymore. They’re much healthier. Obviously they’ve had some rest in between. I think they’re a lot fresher, and therefore they’ll be better able to kind of finish the job, at least from a physical, emotional, mental standpoint.

Q. This next question is actually just for P.K. I know he spoke a little earlier about the opportunity of being an analyst and working the Stanley Cup Final. I was just more curious, P.K., we know about your impact as a player, in particular with persons of color who have gone into the game watching you play and being fans of yours, what does it mean for you to still have an impact on the game as a broadcaster and have it lead to this point to work with ESPN and be on First Take and talk with Stephen A. Smith and also work with ESPN during their Stanley Cup Final broadcast?

P.K. SUBBAN: The first thing that comes to mind is a tremendous responsibility. ESPN is a massive platform, but the NHL is a game that’s given back to me and my family so much. So, to be able to step out of the game and instantly be put in a position to help grow the game and celebrate the players and the product on the ice, I think that’s the most important thing is that you understand really quickly that what’s best for the game is understanding that you aren’t the product anymore. People aren’t paying to watch you play. They’re paying to watch Connor McDavid and these guys play. So, they’re the product.

As a player, what I would want is the guys sitting in the booth analyzing the game, A, calling it the way that they see it, but also to celebrate the players. I think as an analyst, especially an ex-player, you want to grow the game. Well, you’re helping to sell the product to the fan base, and I think that’s what I wanted to bring.

More importantly, to be in a position to be on ABC and ESPN on the biggest — at the biggest desk in hockey or sports and be able to give my input is a huge responsibility. I think none bigger than the Stanley Cup Final with the whole world watching.

My number one thing is I always want to — I’m an ex-player, so I want to celebrate the players. I’m there to help promote them and promote the game, but also be accountable, accountable to the game and what it is and continuing to bring the best and paint the best picture that I possibly can for both new fans and current fans so that they can learn about the game. It’s about educating people too.

So, to bring in new fans, you’ve got to educate them. There are a lot of sports fans out there, but there’s a lot of people that want to learn about the game. There’s an entertainment side to it to keep people engaged and people want to be entertained, but there’s an educational side to it.

I think I’m very lucky to have stepped into this job and have the team around me that I have. Having someone like Mess and Levy, who’s been in this business now for 30 years, Sean McDonough, Ray Ferraro, to be able to have these back-channel conversations, which I know we will have and share information, have that team to be able to bounce things off of has definitely helped me and I know will continue to help me.

I think I’m also in a position to learn, learn about this job and this craft, but I also respect the job. I think you realize that right away when you do it. You have to watch games. You have to pay attention. You have to take that player hat off for a bit and be a teacher, which isn’t always easy to be.

Coming out of the game so recently makes it a lot easier to be able to express how I feel about the game, knowing the players. I think, when it comes to growing the game, it’s about making it educational and as easy for people to understand the game as possible. People aren’t comfortable with what they don’t understand. For a lot of people with hockey, they’re not fans, and if they’re not fans, it’s because they don’t understand the game. So I guess the best thing I can bring is to try to paint that most current picture for them of what’s going on, on the ice.

But I love it. It’s really stimulating. When you get compliments from players, current players, ex-players, and people are happy with what you’re doing and what you’re bringing to the broadcast, that’s the most important to me at the end of the day is being able to have people respect what we all do. No bigger stage, like I said, than the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s been great. It’s been exciting. For me, just continuing to just be myself and have fun and learn.


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CONTACTS:

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Danny Chi | [email protected] | 213-405-4400
Andrea DiCristoforo | [email protected] | 603-759-7670

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Andrea DiCristoforo

Based out of the Los Angeles Production Center in LA, California, Andrea DiCristoforo is a Senior Publicist focusing on the NHL, X Games and Action Spots. Prior to joining ESPN in 2022, Andrea worked in Olympic Sports. She is also a proud graduate from the University of New Hampshire.
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