Simply after 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 154 points over an entire season in 82 games. His 1.87 points per. Match was the best rate seen in 25 years. It came with the caveat of the unique planning where McDavid faced only six other opponents. And it can be argued that only one of them was really any good -Toronto Maple Leafs, and they still did not play much defense. The questions that were asked in the whole by some were whether McDavid would have been able to continue that pace with the extra journey, the greater variety of opponents and the longer schedule if it had been a normal season?
Maybe what we should have asked, could he have had more?
McDavid certainly thinks so, especially when it comes to the playoffs, when the Winnipeg Jets cattle felt / bumped him in four games, while the men in the striped shirts stared blankly, as if trying to decode an absurdist painting. And really, throughout the regular season and for many more before, the NHL has never figured out how many penalties its referees should call vs. how many they actually do. There was a time, after the Great Bettman Lockout II in 2005, when the NHL was willing to let games have 10-12 power play or more when it hit down on obstruction and interference and tried to move on from the Dead Puck Era. It hesitates to go back there. McDavid thinks they should, and he’s not mistaken.
Last season, McDavid finished second in the league for penalty kicks, which were drawn by 22 (all statistics from NaturalStatTrick.com). Let’s think about it for a moment. In 56 games, the best player on the planet with unmatched speed and power was able to get his team a powerplay … less than once every other game? And it was here that the schedule should have helped his cause, for we have all seen the blue lines for Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. They are not good. And McDavid could only call once every 42.5 minutes he was on the ice with steady strength, usually against shaved monkeys and confused wildebeest?
If you think it’s bad, it was actually an improvement. The year before, when McDavid played 64 games and spent 1055 minutes on the ice with steady strength, he pulled 19 penalties. It’s one for 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 of even strength. It’s complete madness. Yes, McDavid is so fast and so powerful on his skates at full speed that he “skates through” a fair number of violations. He just muscles through attempts on hooks or teams, and judges let it go because he has moved into the open space anyway. But so much so that he can not get a call more than once a week?
McDavid is not alone. Nathan MacKinnon, the league’s most devastating skater if McDavid is not, pulled 19 penalties the last two seasons and 32 the year before. And 32 is a lot in this NHL! It’s still less than one every other match. Nikita Kucherov drew 19 in his MVP season Patrick Kane, perhaps the league’s most changing player, has never drawn more than 27 in a season and no more than 20 in the last eight seasons. He pulled four last season. Fire. It’s about one a month.
This is yet another case where the NHL is afraid of how much its core fans will not be anything like basketball (for completely non-racist reasons I am sure) where it is perceived that the best players in the league are babied by refs. The NBA’s popularity is also light years ahead of the NHLs, and these things are not independent. And the real crime is that we know how much worse these numbers will be for the playoffs. Kucherov has been able to pull off 16 penalties in 48 playoff games the last two seasons en route to the Lightning Championships. Again, less than one every other match. McDavid has famously not drawn one in either the bubble game or the series against Winnipeg last year. And I had to watch every game on the Hawks team that beat the McDavids Oilers in 2020, and let me tell you, they sucked eggs and he should have had four power plays per game. Fight alone. Nathan MacKinnon has drawn nine in 25 playoff games in the last two years. Mark Stone, perhaps the toughest forward to play against, has drawn nine in 39 playoff games the past two seasons.
This is clearly ridiculous, and the NHL says it will hit hard on cross-checks in the coming season as it has cut and held in the last few seasons. They definitely need to make the ice more open to the players that fans want to see the most. And judging by these numbers, they have a long way to go.
We wondered about McDavid’s 105 points. Maybe we should start wondering why 150 or more in 82 games is not the norm. Really, we know why, and those are the numbers above. Unleash your stars, NHL.