It’s no secret Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid are dominating the sport, but if we adjust their numbers based on this low-scoring era, they’re even better.
If you hate the superstar hype machine, look away.
The contrarian fan viewpoint of rolling one’s eyes at every mention of Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan or LeBron James or Clayton Kershaw has always perplexed me. Shouldn’t we relish witnessing eras of greatness in sports? In Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, we’re seeing two such eras overlap each other right now.
Crosby, nearing the end of his prime in theory, is enjoying a banner calendar year, with a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a World Cup and a World Cup MVP. After a concussion scare to start the 2016-17 season, he’s sniped a ridiculous 15 goals in 16 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins thus far. McDavid, just 19, leads the NHL in scoring with 29 points in 23 games.
The star haters might pipe up right about now. Why keep talking about Crosby and McDavid? Why keep putting them on the cover of our magazines? What else is there to say about them?
Well, believe it or not, we media members might be underselling what No. 87 and No. 97 have done so far this season. They’re doing statistically historic work in different ways. How good have they been? And how should we expect them to finish the season? Let’s dig into the numbers.
CROSBY: 15 goals, 16 games
Crosby continues to fill the net at an absurd rate. He’s scored a goal in 11 different games and hasn’t gone consecutive games without finding the twine. He’s averaging an unbelievable 0.93 goals per contest, which would rank as the highest number since Mario Lemieux’s 0.99 in the 1995-96 season. In the modern era, only, Gretzky, Lemieux, Brett Hull, Maurice Richard, Cam Neely, Alexander Mogilny, Phil Esposito and Jari Kurri have topped 0.93 goals per game. Crosby obviously can’t keep up his pace, of course. He’s scored on 25.4 percent of his shots, and his career accuracy sits at 14.7 percent. Still, even if ‘Sid the Kid’ regresses to his norms over Pittsburgh’s final 60 games, he has a real shot at a career-best effort.
Crosby’s career shots per game: 3.32 (2,400 shots in 723 games)
Crosby’s career shooting percentage: 0.147 (353 goals on 2,400 shots)
Crosby’s remaining games in 2016-17: 60
Shots per game x shooting percentage x 60 – 29.2 goals
That projects Crosby to finish with 44 goals in 76 games (he missed six already to start the season). That number looks even more impressive if we factor in how much goal scoring continues to crater. The league average has reached its lowest number since 2003-04, a.k.a. the peak (low point?) of Dead Puck Era hockey. Hockey-reference.com produces era-adjusted stats, which tailor every player’s numbers to an all-time league average accounting for different roster sizes, schedule lengths and scoring environments over the NHL’s history. The numbers are applied to an 82-game schedule with a maximum roster size of 18 players and league averages of six goals per game and 1.67 assists per goal. Here’s the full explanation. If we apply the hockey-ref formula to Sid’s 2016-17, we get 64 goals, which would be the highest adjusted total of his career. It wouldn’t sniff Brett Hull’s 78 adjusted goals in 1990-91, which rank first all-time, nor Alex Ovechkin’s 72 in 2007-08, but 64 remains an absurdly good number for Crosby. Even if he regresses, we may see him finish with his best goal-scoring season, pound for pound.
MCDAVID: 29 points, 23 games
McDavid’s numbers are eye-popping regardless of era. Per quanthockey.com, his 1.26 points per game rank as the fifth-highest rate ever for a player in his age-19 season, trailing only Gretzky (2.05 in 1980-81), Crosby (1.52 in 2006-07), Lemieux (1.37 in 1984-85) and Jimmy Carson (1.34 in 1987-88). McDavid averaged north of a point per game as a rookie, and his shooting percentage is almost identical to last year’s, so he doesn’t seem like a guy playing over his head by any means. We can expect McDavid to produce like this for the rest of the season.
If we adjust his and the other 19-year-old wunderkinds’ numbers for era using hockey-ref, where does McDavid rank all-time relative to age? His real-life 2016-17 pace puts him at 103 points, but the era adjustment corrects him to 118. The five 19-year-old leaders if we apply the formula to each of them:
Gretzky, 1980-81: 127 adjusted points
Crosby, 2006-07: 122 adjusted points
McDavid, 2016-17: 118 adjusted points
Carson, 1987-88: 89 points
Lemieux, 1984-85: 79 points
McDavid has to finish his season, of course, but the fact he’s right there with Gretzky and Crosby in terms of production by age, adjusted to era, gives us a hint of how special this kid is. We don’t throw the term “generational talent” around lightly. McDavid is the real thing, just as Crosby was before him.
Now, haters out there, stop complaining about all the Crosby/McDavid coverage and start enjoying the fact we get to witness this level of greatness. Park yourself in front of a screen and watch some YouTube highlights.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin