In episode #329 of The 4th Line Hockey Podcast, the boys are discussing Connor McDavid‘s amazing tally of 100 points in this shortened season. Stevie Nick says this:
…would McDavid be putting up this amount of points if he had to play every other team in the league?
It’s a good question, and before the Edmonton fanbase starts waving their pitchforks, we all know that McDavid is absolutely the best player in the league. No argument there. Has he been helped by the fact that he’s only playing against six other teams? We’ll never know the answer for certain, but we can compare his unbelievable numbers against previous seasons and oppositions. It’s a fun thought experiment anyway.
At time of writing, McDavid has 104 points from 55 games. That’s 1.89 points per game. Adjusted for an 82 game season (we’ll assume he played every game), that’s 154.98 points this season, against Canadian teams. This is exceptional for a guy playing in Edmonton, often the home of future obscurity for once promising draft picks.
What we can now do is look at previous seasons and look at his points per game firstly against Canadian opposition, then compare that the American teams. To keep it straight forward, we’re just going to look at McDavid’s average points per game.
|Against Canadian Teams||Against American Teams|
We can plot this as a line chart:
The 2015 top pick’s points per game started out stronger against teams north of the border, but as McDavid has gone from strength-to-strength, he’s gotten much better against the American teams. There’s no clear reason why this is, but it could be suggested that American teams (on the whole) are more difficult to play against and it took longer to find his feet against the Lower 48. Now he’s generally unstoppable below the 49th parallel.
Are some Canadian teams better than others? At least when it comes to not falling at McDavid’s skates? Here are his average points per game against the other teams, aggregated from 2015:
|McDavid’s Points per Game (average)|
I’ll be betting on the Over next time Edmonton visit Toronto in #HiSticking.
Much has been discussed about that the fact that a Canadian team hasn’t lifted the Stanley Cup since 1993, four years before McDavid was born, and that the quality of the Canadian product, at least when measured by Cup wins, hasn’t been great. That changes the question asked above, if McDavid is underperforming against Canadian teams (compared to American teams), why is he on fire this season?
Numbers, famously don’t tell us much, rather add fuel the to the fire of speculation. We can see historically that US teams come off worse compared to their northern counterparts, at least in the short sample size that has been McDavid’s career to date.
If anything these numbers demonstrate that McDavid’s achievement is all the greater as he’s restricted to playing teams that he’s generally poorer against. ‘Poorer’ being a relative term of course. There are many other factors that need to be considered that are much harder to quantify, most notably the longer term effects that Covid-19 has had on opposition, the reduced number of games and time spent travelling. These neither diminish or embellish the stats as chances are they probably cancel out in the grand scheme of things, we’ll only know by playing the same divisions to use a sample benchmark, and we’re looking at business as usual for the NHL next season and a return to the previous setup.
It could well be that 100 different factors have aligned to make this season easier for McDavid and that we’re looking at an outlier. Nobody really knows. For now it’s probably just best to reflect on the unbelievable achievement we’ve witnessed and be thankful that this generational talent is about for us to watch.