Two guys walk into a bar. They’re both dressed to the nines with glamorous accolades and praise, yet they hang their heads low. They sit a few seats apart and order the same drink. The two get to talking.
The first guy says “Man, the higher-ups at my workplace aren’t doing me any favors. I’ve been putting in work for damn near a decade now. I feel like I’ve done my part, but the other people at my branch just constantly drag me down.”
“I feel you.” says guy No. 2. “I just recorded one of the most impressive quarters in recent memory at my company, but we still get blown out of the water by our competitors.”
If you couldn’t tell by the title of this piece, the two men in the allegory above are Mike Trout of MLB’s Los Angeles Angels and Connor McDavid of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers — two bright shining stars in their respective sports, whose careers are being wasted on their respective teams.
Oh, I can feel the heat from the torches and pitchforks already. But before you and your merry band of keyboard warriors decide to call for my head, let’s just open a discussion. Are Mike Trout and Connor McDavid being wasted on their current teams? While most Oilers and Angels fans would likely answer that question with a resounding “NO!”, I’m sure some others would say that since each of their team’s have failed to make a serious splash in the postseason recently, the argument could be made. I would certainly say so. I want to see the best players play on the biggest stages, and the Angels and Oilers have not been able to make that happen.
Both teams seem to fall into the same trap — spending too much at the top of their roster and hoping they can stitch together a championship-caliber team everywhere else with duct tape and bits of scrap metal. It’s infuriating. You can call me an idiot all you want. You can scream things like, “How are they being wasted when they’re both considered the best players in their sports?” Well, both players are chasing GOAT status at the moment, and frankly, a championship (or at least one deep playoff run) is practically a prerequisite for that title. Never mind winning a championship, name one GOAT candidate in the NHL that never made it to a Stanley Cup Final. Marcel Dionne? Sure. He’s an all-time great, but never mentioned in the same breath as guys like Gretzky, Howe, Orr, or even Sidney Crosby (be real with yourself here). How about Major League Baseball? Ernie Banks? Ken Griffey Jr.? OK, Griffey Jr. is considered one of the game’s all-time elite players and I’ve heard him brought up in GOAT conversations. I mean, for goodness sake, he was just three votes shy of being the first ever unanimous MLB Hall of Famer. However, what’s always the knock against Griffey? The fact that he never played in a World Series.
McDavid and Trout don’t deserve knocks like that on their resumes — just like Griffey didn’t. McDavid is on a line with the reigning NHL MVP — Leon Draisaitl — and outshines him almost every night. It’s gotta be tough to have a plus/minus of 21 but an expected plus/minus of -3.7 because of the team around you. Now, to be fair, McDavid has had some unlucky spells over the course of his career. Winnipeg goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played out of his mind during the series against Edmonton. That’s no fault of McDavid or his teammates, but the same stretch of unluckiness can’t be said about the 2020 season, or the season before that, or the season before that, so on and so on. Six years into McDavid’s career, the Oilers have won just eight playoff games. That’s not good.
Outside of McDavid’s line, Oilers forwards produced just 77 5-on-5 points all season. The Oilers have failed to build a good supporting cast around McDavid and because of that failure, only two of the league’s top point-getters were on teams that fared worse when he was off the ice compared to the Oilers when McDavid was off the ice (-17 goal differential). One was Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks (-25). The other was Draisaitl (-22). And what’s crazy is that while McDavid and Draisaitl still somehow managed to drag their team into the playoffs, the Blackhawks missed the postseason by eight points.
As for Trout, the fact that he consistently puts up elite numbers — being the player with the highest WAR of all-time through a player’s age-22, 23, 24, and 26 seasons — yet has just three winning seasons and was unable to win a single playoff game in his twenties, is abominable. Trout can’t help it that his team consistently ranks in the bottom half of the league in ERA.
What’s even more unfortunate for Trout is that he’s stuck in this situation. Even if his contract didn’t have a no-trade clause, it’s unlikely that any trade offer for Trout would be equivalent in worth to what Trout brings to the table. Not to mention, the number of teams that could even afford Trout is minimal.
I’m just worried is all. Worried that we could be witnessing two of the greatest players to ever grace their respective sports, but 20 years from now — after they’ve both retired — they’ll both be ridiculed for their inability to carry their teams on any deep playoff runs. When teams fail to meet expectations, all too often the microscope gets shifted to the team’s superstars. “Maybe they’re not as good as we thought if they can’t carry a team to the postseason.” Because of that unfortunate tendency, Trout and McDavid will likely get glossed over in the annals of history. They deserve much more than to succumb to that fate.