It’s hardly news that Connor McDavid is the best player in the NHL. And perhaps it shouldn’t be news that McDavid is one of the greatest players of all time. And yet, due to his being tucked away in Edmonton, and hockey’s general struggle to cut out a foothold in the general sporting consciousness, it feels like that has to be stressed from time to time.
McDavid is currently putting on his greatest performance ever, and has a chance at a pretty neat landmark given the parameters of this season. In a 56-game year, McDavid has a chance at 100 points. He’s currently on pace for 99 with seven games to go, so merely staying at his normal rate with an empty-netter thrown in, or a lucky bounce, will see him there.
A 100-point season in a normal 82-game campaign isn’t as common as you’d think. Only one player did it last year in a 71-game season, and it happened to be McDavid’s teammate, Leon Draisaitl, with 110. The last full season, 2018-2019, saw only six players do it. Only three the year before. Only one the season before that, which was McDavid again. So in a 56-game season, this is simply bonkers given the environment the game is played in today.
McDavid is averaging 1.77 points per game, which is a 145-point season over the full slate. Only nine players have ever managed 145 points or more in a season. Two you know right away, Gretzky and Lemieux. The others are Phil Esposito, Mike Bossy, Pat LaFontaine, Jaromír Jágr, Bernie Nicholls, and Steve Yzerman. For the most part, those names constitute the Mt. Olympus of the NHL (and if anyone is going to point at Nicholls’ name let me just tell you there won’t be any Pumper-slander here, boyo!)
Another aspect is that all of those previous 1.77 points-per-game seasons were long in the past. The last was 25 years ago with Lemieux (and we don’t seriously talk about Mario’s 160 points in 60 games of ’92-’93. At least we wouldn’t if Mario weren’t in reality a pretty big ghoul). Quite simply, this kind of scoring doesn’t happen in the NHL now.
It’s a rough way of calculating, but the Oilers as a whole, average 3.22 goals per game, meaning McDavid has a hand — scoring or assisting — in 55 percent of them. When Lemieux put up that 160 points in 60 games, the Penguins averaged 4.37 goals per game. If McDavid played on a team averaging 4.37 goals per game, he’d be on a 193-point pace for an 82-game season.
Digging for the impetus to McDavid’s ascension to a higher plane is a little harder to pin down. His metrics do show career-highs across the board, but not aggressively so. Still, the Oilers share of both attempts and chances when McDavid is on the ice is far higher than it’s ever been before (54.7 Corsi-percentage, 56.6 expected-goals percentage according to NaturalStatTrick.com). Some of it is the maturation of Darnell Nurse on the blue line behind him, who has been much better at getting the puck out of the defensive zone and up to McDavid and friends. Some of it has been the emergence of Jesse Puljujärvi with 12 goals and a career-high in shooting-percentage. And that’s the one jump in McDavid’s numbers, his first-assists per game. Having set linemates certainly has helped.
There has to be a small touch applied to the brakes here, of course. Given the schedule makeup, McDavid has gotten to feast on the North Division. The All-Canadian crew only contains one good team, Toronto, and some really bad ones (Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa) and then Montreal and Winnipeg are on either side of “meh.” Vancouver, Ottawa, and Winnipeg are also woeful defensively. The only goalies from the North Division that are in the top-20 in save-percentage are McDavid’s teammate Mike Smith (what?) and Connor Hellebuyck. And Hellebuyck plays behind that defensively-decrepit Winnipeg team.
McDavid has utterly bludgeoned Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Calgary, with 61 points in 27 games. He’s been, well, at least comprehensible against Montreal and Toronto, the only two useful teams he’s seen all year, with 18 points in 16 games. He has five games left with Vancouver, who are both awful and disinterested, so he’s probably going to cross that 100-point threshold. That is if Tippett doesn’t just wrap McDavid in cotton wool and wait for the playoffs. The Oilers are entrenched in second place, won’t catch the Leafs, and won’t be caught by the Jets. The only reason to play McDavid is to let him chase these benchmarks that don’t really mean anything.
We’ll get a better handle on whether McDavid has become the newest hockey demigod next season when the schedule is normal again. Chances are, we’ll find out it’s a definite yes.