Everyone knows that after his 105-point-in-a-56-game season that Connor McDavid is the best player in the world. But what my book presupposes is... maybe he isn’t? (an old joke, and I’ve come to have no use for Wes Anderson over the years and you likely have to, but it’s still a good one).
Nathan MacKinnon is churning the St. Louis Blues into pink slime, and they are helpless to stop it. Last night he poured in a hat trick and an assist, topping his Game 1 performance of two goals and an assist. That’s seven points in just two games, as the Avs have mostly toyed with the far outgunned Blues, aside from a Kadri-inspired death rattle last night from St. Louis that MacKinnon himself urinated on to put out.
And he’s doing it in all sorts of ways. When you normally think of a MacKinnon goal, it looks a lot like a McDavid goal. Speeding through the neutral zone at an ungodly speed, around defenders who look stationary enough that you wonder if they weren’t the victims of Mafia-provided cement shoes, and unleashing that Bruce Lee One Inch Punch of a release that he has. Here he is finding space and receiving a pass, which he puts that release on, and Jordan Binnington has little to no idea what happened. This one from last night is on the power play, and it’s so effortless to be insulting. He just passes this into the shortside almost dismissively. His second goal last night is what might separate him from McDavid, in that the Avs’ system has MacKinnon come out high in the offensive zone a lot to get away from defenders. Eighty percent of the defensemen in the league aren’t as skilled at getting their shot through from the blue line as MacKinnon is, like this. His assist on Joonas Donskoi’s second goal of the night was the same story, moving a defender at the blue line to get a wrister to the net.
The metrics back up MacKinnon’s work as well, as the Avs are getting 62 percent of the expected goals when Mac K has been on the ice in the first two games of the series.
MacKinnon’s work in the playoffs over his whole career has him hanging out in the same cafe with the game’s giants. His 1.42 points-per-game in 42 career playoff games ranks fourth all-time, behind Gretzky, Lemieux, and something named Barry Pederson (cue some angry Canadian that assuredly a Letterkenny character is based off of who lives in a place with a two-word name firing off an angry letter about how Pederson really did the work along the boards and was great in the room). And MacKinnon obviously didn’t play in the wide open eras that Gretzky and Lemieux did.
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McDavid, of course, has only had one go at the playoffs, and not really a chance to cement his legacy. The grenades that will be lobbed at MacKinnon is that his numbers have only been piled up in the first two rounds of the playoffs, as the Avs haven’t seen the conference finals since 2002.
Which is strange, because hockey loves nothing more than to dismiss the stars’ contributions to a playoff run or Cup win and credit it to whatever fourth-line grunt that writer happened to get drunk with one night. In the NBA, championships are seen as the final triumph of a leading light. It’s LeBron’s win, or Kawhi’s, or Stef’s, or Durant’s (that one’s utter bullshit but I’ll save that for another time), or Kobe’s, or Shaq’s, or MJ’s. It’s their definitive mark.
In hockey, somehow, it’s always about Pat Fucking Maroon or Nick Bonino. Nevermind that those players would be golfing by tax day if it wasn’t for the Crosbys, Malkins, Kucherovs of the world, but it certainly wouldn’t be the same if reversed. Hockey pundits are desperate to be those guys to tell you that really it’s Kraftwerk that influenced Nine Inch Nails and you shouldn’t bother with the latter, ignoring the fact that no one really likes listening to Kraftwerk nearly as much as saying they do.
Stars run the league and are responsible just as much for teams’ success as anywhere else, and until you have them, you’re pissing in the wind as an organization.
This certainly feels like it’s shaping up to be MacKinnon’s spring, and the dream scenario is an Avs run that goes through Vegas and some combo of Toronto and Tampa to provide hockey that goes plaid for all of the playoffs. Or the type of NBA-like showdown with McDavid down the line that crusty hockey men hate because it doesn’t pay enough attention to the one hit Zach Kassian’s dead ass manages, but could draw some new eyeballs to the league.
This being hockey, Barry Trotz and the Islanders will assuredly ruin all those dreams.
But for now, we should just enjoy the supernova on ice that MacKinnon is.