Connor McDavid’s historic NHL season, explained

Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Why Connor McDavid’s 100-point attempt is so record-shatteringly amazing Connor McDavid has managed to turn a Covid-shortened NHL season into one of the greatest single seasons in the modern history of the NHL. Now he’s on a six-game mission to complete what is seemingly impossible: Record a 100 point season in just 56 games.
McDavid finished with two goals and two assists Monday night in a 5-3 win over the Canucks that clenched Edmonton’s second straight playoff berth. It raised McDavid’s season total to 91 points through his first 50 games. Averaging 2.8 points over his last five games, McDavid can hit the magical 100 mark by hitting just over half of his average. That is astounding.
The 100-point season in the modern NHL is a rarity, even taking a 82 game season into consideration. Changes in goalie athleticism, lower average ice time for skaters, and changes in both offensive and defensive strategy have made triple digit points a feat. From 2000 to 2020 an average of 2.15 players achieved the mark each season. Now McDavid is on the verge of achieving it in 26 fewer games.

If we were to extrapolate out McDavid’s numbers to a full 82 game season, he would finish with 149 points. The last time a player scored that many was Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux in 1995-96. The idea anyone would hit the 140+ mark again after that was preposterous. Only five players have reached 120+ since 2000, and nobody has reached 130+ in the same time span.
This brings us back to McDavid, who is truly having a Gretzky-esque season, finally fitting a former No. 1 overall pick who evoked mention of the The Great One. Numerous players have been compared to Gretzky entering the draft, to varying degrees of success, but McDavid seems like the guy to actually do it.
It’s difficult to make a true one-for-one comparison between the two. Hockey has changed a lot, as I mentioned before, but also ice time has really shrunk. Average Time On Ice (ATOI) wasn’t an officially tracked stat in in 1980s, though it’s been speculated that Gretzky averaged an ATOI of 25+ over the first 800 games of his career.
If we assume this is accurate, and make Gretzky’s ATOI a flat 25:00, it makes his history-making 215 point season in 1985-86 equate to 0.11 points-per-minute (PPM) of ice time. McDavid has a 22:35 ATOI the season, putting him at a 0.08 PPM. When we’re talking about being that close to the greatest individual season in NHL history more people really should be paying attention, even if they’re not die-hard hockey fans.
Also of note, again comparing to that 85-86 Gretzky season, is that McDavid is shooting better. Gretzky finished with 52 goals on 350 shots for a conversion rate of 14.9 percent. McDavid has 31 goals on 180 shots, for a conversion rate of 17.2 percent.
Is it labored to compare McDavid’s 20-21 season with Gretzky’s 85-86? Yeah, maybe a little. I’m definitely not saying that McDavid is having the greatest individual season in NHL history, but I am saying that the numbers are close enough that we’re having this conversation — and that alone is absolutely ridiculous. Made even more surreal that nobody outside of Canada and the hockey faithful are really discussing it.
I’m here to say that if you consider yourself a sports fan then you need be watching McDavid closely. Both in his final push for a 100 pt season, and the Oilers into the playoffs. When Gretzky was doing his thing he caught the imagination of the sports world, and became a household name. McDavid deserve so, so much more recognition than what he’s getting right now.
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