Free Connor McDavid (and other stars)

It’s time for the NHL refs to stop hampering its best skaters

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Connor MacDavid is already working the refs.
Connor MacDavid is already working the refs.
Image: Getty Images

Simply by the numbers, Connor McDavid had one of the more incredible seasons in NHL history last year. 105 points in just 56 games, which would have averaged out to 154 points over a full, 82-game season. His 1.87 points-per-game was the best rate seen in 25 years. It came with the caveat of the unique scheduling, where McDavid only faced six other opponents. And it could be argued that only one of them was really any good -the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they didn’t play much defense anyway. The questions asked throughout all of it by some were would McDavid have been able to continue that pace with the added travel, the greater variety of opponents, and the lengthier schedule had it been a normal season?

Maybe what we should have been asking is, could he have had more?

That’s what McDavid certainly thinks, especially when it comes to the playoffs, when the Winnipeg Jets cattle roped/prodded him for four games while the men in the striped shirts stared on blankly as if they were trying to decode an absurdist painting. And really, throughout the regular season, and for many more before, the NHL has never come to terms with how many penalties its refs should be calling vs. how many they actually do. There was one time, post-Great Bettman Lockout II in 2005, where the NHL was willing to let games have 10-12 power plays or more as it cracked down on obstruction and interference and tried to move on from the Dead Puck Era. It’s hesitated to go back there. McDavid thinks they should, and he’s not wrong.


Last season, McDavid finished second in the league for penalties drawn with 22 (all stats from Let’s think about that for a second. In 56 games, the best player on the planet with unmatched speed and power was able to get his team a power play...less than once every two games? And this is where the schedule should have aided his cause, because we’ve all seen the blue lines for Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. They’re not good. And McDavid could only draw a call once for every 42.5 minutes he was on the ice at even-strength, usually against shaved apes and confused wildebeests?

If you think that’s bad, it was actually an improvement. In the year before, when McDavid played 64 games andspent 1055 minutes on the ice at even-strength, he drew 19 penalties. That’s one every 3.3 games, or one every 55 minutes on the ice. In 2018-2019, McDavid drew 22 penalties in 78 games and 1362 minutes at even-strength That’s utter lunacy. Yes, McDavid is so fast and so powerful on his skates at full-speed that he does “skate through” a fair number of infractions. He just muscles through attempted hooks or holds, and refs let it go because he’s moved into open space anyway. But so much that he can’t get a call more than once a week?


McDavid isn’t alone. Nathan MacKinnon, the league’s most devastating skater if McDavid isn’t, drew 19 penalties the past two seasons and 32 the year before that. And 32 is a lot in this NHL! It’s still less than one every two games. Nikita Kucherov, in his MVP season, drew 19. Patrick Kane, perhaps the league’s shiftiest player still, has never drawn more than 27 in a season and not more than 20 in the past eight seasons. He drew four last season. Four. That’s about one per month.

This is yet another instance where the NHL is terrified of how much its core fans don’t want to be anything like basketball (for completely non-racist reasons I’m sure), where it’s perceived that the best players in the league are babied by refs. The NBA’s popularity is also light years ahead of the NHL’s, and these things aren’t unrelated. And the real crime is that we know how much worse these numbers get come the playoffs. Kucherov has been able to draw 16 penalties in 48 playoff games the past two seasons on the way to Lightning championships. Again, less than one every two games. McDavid famously has not drawn one in either the bubble playoffs or the series against Winnipeg last year. And I had to watch every game of that Hawks team that beat McDavid’s Oilers in 2020, and let me tell you they sucked eggs and he should have had four power plays per game on his own. Nathan MacKinnon has drawn nine in 25 playoff games the past two years. Mark Stone, perhaps the toughest forward to play against, has drawn nine in 39 playoff games the past two seasons.


This clearly is ridiculous, and the NHL says it’ll be cracking down on cross-checking this upcoming season, as it has slashing and holding in the past couple seasons. They clearly need to make the ice more open for the players that fans want to see most. And judging by these numbers, they have a long way to go.

We marveled at McDavid’s 105 points. Perhaps we should start wondering why 150 or more in 82 games isn’t the norm. Really, we know why, and it’s the numbers above. Let your stars loose, NHL.