With the way we measure time as hockey fans, anything that happened before the draft, before the seemingly interminable off-season, before the pre-season came to a merciful close and the regular season arrived once again, feels like it was a lifetime ago. That said, you’ll surely recall the endless debate surrounding the 2017-18 Hart Trophy, particularly concerning Connor McDavid’s candidacy.
There were two defined camps. One believed firmly in voting for the award by its very definition, which is that the Hart is to be awarded to “the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.” The other believed that while McDavid was, almost unquestionably, the most valuable player in the NHL, he shouldn’t garner much Hart support given Edmonton’s shortcomings as a team. Put another way: no playoffs for the Oilers, no MVP for McDavid. Simple as that.
One of Team McDavid’s strongest arguments, however, pertained to offensive impact, in this case measured by the amount of the Oilers’ offense that McDavid had factored in on. And McDavid’s impact was no doubt significant as he registered a point on 47.2 percent of Edmonton’s 229 goals during the 2017-18 campaign. That’s very nearly one of every two goals the Oilers scored throughout the entirety of the past season. By comparison, the next-highest percentage was Claude Giroux’s 41 percent for the Philadelphia Flyers. No other player cracked the 40-percent plateau. McDavid had been that good.
Turns out last season’s impact may have been the warmup for the real show, though, because on Tuesday night, McDavid set an NHL record when it comes to an individual player driving a team’s offense.
Having already registered a point on the first five goals the Oilers had scored to start the season, McDavid went out on Tuesday night in Winnipeg and put on a show against the Jets in Edmonton’s come-from-behind overtime victory. On all four of the Oilers’ regulation goals, McDavid registered a point, meaning he had found the scoresheet on each one of Edmonton’s first nine goals to begin the campaign. In doing so, McDavid surpassed Adam Oates’ mark of points on seven straight Detroit Red Wings’ goals to begin the 1986-87 campaign.
And in breaking that 32-year-old record, one can’t help but wonder if a second all-time mark that has stood for three decades isn’t in McDavid’s sights.
You see, as eye-popping as McDavid’s contributions to 47.2 percent of Edmonton’s total offense was last season, it doesn’t come all that close to matching some of the all-time best percentages. In fact, it doesn’t even crack the top five in Oilers’ history. Those five best seasons are all held by Wayne Gretzky, who broke the 50-percent barrier on four separate occasions (1980-81, ’81-82, ’84-85, ’85-86) and chipped in on 49.2 percent of Edmonton’s goal total in 1986-87, his penultimate season with the franchise. But even Gretzky’s highest-contributing seasons fall well short of the post-expansion record held by Mario Lemieux.
Although it could easily be argued that Lemieux basically was the Penguins’ offense for the better part of his first decade in the NHL, it was never more apparent than during the 1988-89 season. On the heels of winning his first Hart and the Art Ross Trophy thanks to a 70-goal, 168-point season, Lemieux’s encore was even more awe-inspiring. In 76 games, ‘Super Mario’ scored a league-best 85 goals and 199 points in a campaign in which the Penguins scored a total of 347 goals. Quick math tells us that Lemieux factored in on 57.3 percent of Pittsburgh’s total offense.
To this date, Lemieux’s percentage of team points is the highest single-season total in the post-expansion era and the record has remained untouched since. Truth be told, no one has really come close. The best anyone has done was the 1998-99 campaign when Jaromir Jagr chipped in 127 points in a season the Penguins scored 242 goals, meaning he registered a point on 52.5 percent of Pittsburgh’s total offense.
But that brings us back to McDavid. Admittedly, it’s still incredibly early in the campaign, only two weeks since the puck dropped on the 2018-19 season, but it’s hard not to get swept up in how McDavid has driven the offense for the Oilers this season. His nine points on Edmonton’s 10 goals puts him at a 90-percent contribution rate through four games. And yes, of course, that’s going to dip as the season moves forward, but it’s worth wondering how much. Almost every pundit to a person has picked McDavid to better what was a career-best 108 points last season, and The Hockey News’ 2018-19 Pool Guide projected McDavid to score 114 points by season’s end. And if we use that as a guideline — and boy, does that feel more than reasonable — it might not be all that far-fetched to suggest McDavid could break Lemieux’s modern-era record.
In order for McDavid to snap Lemieux’s record with a 114-point season, the Oilers would need to score no more than 199 goals. And while that might seem to be an incredibly low total for Edmonton, particularly given they scored 234 last season, it’s not as though it hasn’t happened to other teams in recent seasons. In the past five seasons, there are 27 instances of teams scoring 199 goals or fewer in a single season, including the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 Oilers. That’s not to mention that Edmonton saw a decrease of 13 goals from the 2016-17 to 2017-18 campaigns, which doesn’t exactly portray the Oilers as a team prepared to take a massive leap forward offensively.
Is it a difficult record to break? Absolutely. Is it a record McDavid would want? If his post-game comments about the nine-goal record are any indication, probably not. But if there is any player in any organization that can be as responsible for his team’s offensive success as Lemieux was during the 1988-89 season, it’s McDavid. And if he manages to break or match Lemieux’s mark, let’s just hope McDavid can make the Oilers a playoff team, too. We don’t want to have to go through the whole Hart debate again.