This could finally be it. The NHL is starving for its next superstar. Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby’s first-round exits with Washington and Pittsburgh left a void for a television-ratings hockey juggernaut.
Connor McDavid, McJesus around Edmonton, looks primed to finally step into the light.
In die-hard hockey circles, it’s common knowledge that McDavid passed Ovechkin, the greatest pure goal scorer in hockey history, and Crosby, arguably the best pure facilitator since Wayne Gretzky, a few seasons back in terms of current on-ice talent. The 25-year-old Oilers center is now undoubtedly the greatest individual show on ice. McDavid’s tear through this postseason proves it.
Barring a tremendous Edmonton collapse in the Battle for Alberta against Calgary in the Western Conference semifinals, McDavid has a minimum of five more postseason games. He’s already more than halfway to breaking the NHL record for points in one postseason. That record, not suprisingly, is held by Gretzky with 47 during the 1984-85 Oilers’ Stanley Cup run. The Great One also holds spots Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 9 on the all-time playoff ledger.
McDavid’s 25 points (six goals, 19 assists) leads the league with teammates Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane holding second and third right behind with 22 and 15 points, respectively. Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov also has 15 postseason points, leading the Eastern Conference. Every game as part of McDavid’s chase to take down Gretzky’s record is a chance to move him closer to mainstream superstardom. McDavid’s seventh consecutive multi-point game was Tuesday’s Game 4 victory over Calgary. The only player with a longer streak in playoff history is The Great One, shocker, who had eight in 1983.
This has been Ovechkin and Crosby’s league for 16 years. The Western Conference’s star power has dwindled since the Red Wings’ and Avalanche’s run of five championships in seven seasons ended 20 years ago. Now, the tables have the ability to substantially shift with McDavid leading the revival of one of the preeminent dynasties of the past 30 years alongside a powerhouse Colorado team that’s also one victory away from the conference finals.
Crosby and Ovechkin will be a combined 72 years old when the next NHL season begins. Although both still have tremendous skill, and are in the league’s top 10 best players, their hold on being the heartbeat of NHL stardom is weakening. McDavid’s chase of Gretzky’s playoff-points record will draw comparisons to Ovechkin’s own journey to take down the former Oilers’ all-time goals record over the next few seasons. The key difference is we’ll have resolution to McDavid’s chase in a few weeks tops. Ovechkin won’t become hockey’s all-time leading goalscorer until 2024, at the earliest.
While some franchises fade from relevancy, others take their place, and Edmonton is in a phenomenal place to be the biggest void-filler, with a Stanley Cup-ready core similar in depth and make-up to what lifted championships in the Steel City and nation’s capital. The Oilers have multiple stars and All-Star-caliber players in other parts of their lineup. Add in a solid defense and Edmonton is almost there. The only thing missing is a dominant goalie.
McDavid’s larger rise to stardom shifts what the ideal Stanley Cup Final would be for the NHL. The choice from the Eastern Conference is easy. It’s the Rangers, a franchise that has hoisted up a Cup since 1994 and resides in the biggest media market. Carolina doesn’t move the needle in any tangible way, and a three-peat for the Lightning would be boring. While New York likely has the worst squad left still playing in the East, It did even its Eastern Conference semifinal against the Hurricanes Tuesday night.
With the Blues and Flames likely to soon be on the wrong side of series-ending handshake lines, the NHL has two good options to come out of the Western Conference. The Avalanche don’t have a McDavid-level talent but can transcend postseason indifference through Nazem Kadri, whose borderline dirty play combined with his Game 4 composure make him appointment television. And there’s Nathan MacKinnon’s scoring prowess.
Then there’s the McDavid train. What’d be better for his push to stardom than the Oilers first run past the second round since 2006, the rookie year for both Ovechkin and Crosby? It’s simple to see how the closer Edmonton gets to the Stanley Cup, the better McDavid’s chances of a career-making moment happen. Yet, like Ovechkin’s sprawling goal against the Coyotes, that could be all he needs to launch himself to greater heights. The NHL should be favoring New York versus Edmonton in the finals. If nothing else, it would be a chance for Canada to end its 29-year Stanley Cup drought (no North of the Border team has won since the 1993 Canadiens). At best, that superstar mantle will be filled by a fresh talent, long after it needed christening.