As the surprisingly enjoyable 2016-17 season winds to a close, I’m struck with questions of how historic Connor McDavid’s season is in the context of Oilers history. When people like Mike Comrie were leading the team in scoring, you didn’t really stop to ask about the historic nature of the accomplishment. When your team includes one of the greatest talents in NHL history, you start to ask these kinds of questions.
I’ll be doing a quick series of posts about McDavid’s season in the genre of “blatant NHL history porn”. Today’s post will concentrate on Oilers greats, but future posts will consider league history.
To provide this historical context, we need to adapt Points statistics across years into a common, normalized kind of metric. Now, there are all kinds of ‘adjusted points’ type of metrics out there, but for me, I consider points per game-based metrics to be superior. For one, it doesn’t totally screw over lockout-shortened seasons. For two, why ding a guy for sustaining an injury (spoken like a true Ales Hemsky fan)?
Of course, we can’t just list points per game across different years and pretend that’s enough. We need to put those points per game stats into the context of their eras — the 80s was a fever pitch of offence, but how much of a fever pitch? To do this, I’ve simply calculated the ‘Average Team Offence’ by NHL season — basically the goals per game scored by the average team. Here’s a nice plot of the post-war trends:
At the height of Gretzky mania, the average NHL team was scoring about 4 goals per game. Today, the average team scores roughly 2.75 goals per game.
The metric I created was simple: % of Average Team Offence (%ATO)
%ATO = player’s points per game / average team goals per game
example: 1 point per game / 2.75 average team goals per game = 36.4%
So, this example player’s point output is 36.4% of the average team’s offence. Just so you know, this example is a fairly high historical output.
Ok, so where does McDavid’s current season stack up? Here’s a list of the top 30 single offensive seasons in Oilers history by %ATO:
Not surprisingly, Gretzky’s entire Oilers tenure occupies the top 9 spots, including some of the highest registered seasons in history (imagine scoring 70% of the average team’s offence??).
McDavid’s season ranks 14th overall in Oilers history. Kurri has two seasons ahead of him, Messier’s 1989-90 Hart season is ahead, and Coffey’s 1985-86 peak season also sneaks ahead. Only the four greatest Boys on the Bus put up seasons ahead of what McDavid is doing as a 20 year old. Hell, just think about it — Mark Messier only put up one season more impressive than what McDavid has done the past two years. Crazy.
Other interesting tidbits: Doug Weight’s best seasons are below McDavid’s, including his 104 point 1995-96 campaign. Perhaps surprising is Taylor Hall’s 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, which ranks just below what McDavid is doing now. This really puts Hall’s contribution into context — at least as impressive as Doug Weight, nipping at the very best seasons of the Dynasty Oilers.
What about by age? Let’s consider what a smattering of famous “young” Oilers did in terms of %ATO by age:
This isn’t comprehensive, just meant to show how McDavid stacks up to other notable Oilers who played 19 to 21 year old seasons with the team. In McDavid’s 19yo season, only Gretzky was superior, with Arnott and Hall’s seasons an obvious cut below.
For McDavid’s 20yo season (this year), he’s still 2nd to Gretzky, with Hall and Arnott again sustaining the next cut. What I find interesting is that McDavid only moderately improved this score between last year and this year — very similar to how Gretzky only marginally improved between 19 and 20. But look at what Gretzky did at age 21 — a huge jump up. This step up at 21 seems to be common — the only players who regressed in their 21 year old seasons were Arnott and Ryan Smyth.
Another interesting thing about this chart? Look at Draisatl’s 21 year old season — tracking ahead of everyone except Gretzky and Hall (he would be slightly above Kurri and Anderson, but below what Eberle did at 21). For those people calling Leon this team’s Mark Messier — so far, he’s tracking ahead of what Messier produced at ages 20 and 21.
So what would McDavid have to have done to match Gretzky this year? He’d have to be scoring points at a rate of 1.49 per game, or about 110 points after his 74 games played so far. So while it’s important to understand how good McDavid is relative to other promising young Oilers, he is still clearly tracking behind the greatest player to ever play the game.