I want to talk about McDavid’s greatness for a moment, if I may. As we prepare for Connor’s 4th season in the league and the buzz around camp indicates that he may have somehow gotten even faster, I think we need to acknowledge that last year he accomplished something that hasn’t been done in 17 years – he repeated as the Art Ross Trophy winner. For all the great players who have been a part of or joined the league since 2001, nobody won the scoring race in back-to-back years since then until our boy Connor did it. Today, we all expect him to make it a three-peat and we should note how incredible that is in the modern era.
From about 1950 onwards, the history of the Art Ross trophy is about its repeat winners. These are snapshots in time for the dominance of a select few superstars. Gordie Howe won it four times in a row in the 50’s. Stan Mikita won it back-to-back times twice in the 60’s. Phil Esposito took it four times in a row to start the 70’s. Guy LaFleur took it three times in a row to close the 70’s.
In the 80’s the game was changed when Wayne Gretzky rewrote the record books and won it seven times in a row. Only Mario Lemieux stopped his streak with his own back-to-back wins. Over the course of Super Mario’s career, he would win the award in consecutive seasons on three different occasions.
During the 90’s the Art Ross trophy was essentially warehoused in Pittsburgh as Jaromir Jagr took the baton from Lemieux and closed out the decade to open the new millennium with his own four consecutive wins, culminating in the 2000-2001 season. The tradition of a select few megastars owning the award lasted roughly 50 years.
And then it stopped.
In my head, the year 2001 isn’t that long ago. God, how could it be? That’s the year I graduated from high school! I’m not that old, am I? Perhaps that’s why it didn’t dawn on me how special McDavid’s accomplishments were before now. 17 years is an eternity in professional sports. 17 years is how long it took for another player to win the scoring race in consecutive years in the NHL.
We have had some incredible players in the league since 2001. Sid the Kid, the Great Eight, Thornton, Malkin, and exactly none of them won the award back-to-back. Hell, the only two-time winners -period- who are still in the league are Crosby, Malkin, and McDavid. The NHL ceased to be dominated by a select few superstars…until 97 was drafted.
The fact that we expect Connor McDavid to continue this trend and lay waste to the scoring race again is a massive change in hockey. The term “Generational” is used almost every year on Draft Day, but the truth is that only McDavid has managed to do something nobody else has in a generation.
And he’s getting faster.
That Connor McDavid won the scoring race at all last year is something of a modern miracle. He was deathly ill for six weeks, behind in the race for a significant portion of the season, and was playing on a team with the 31st ranked Power Play in the league. It quite literally was the worst ever since nobody had ever been 31st before. McDavid himself had just 20 Power Play points last year. That’s less than half what the PP leader (Kessel) had. Sam Reinhart had more PP points.
McDavid had to will himself to 84 even strength points, almost 20 more than Giroux had in second place. You actually have to go back to the early to mid-90’s in order to find players who had more even strength points than McDavid scored in 2017-2018. So, with the beast unleashed and a revamped coaching staff designed to breathe life into a dead power play, the expectations for McDavid have never been higher.
He is the fastest player I have ever seen in every sense of the word. With the puck, without, processing the game, his hands, his feet, his mind – he has all the tools. Preparing myself for another season of McDavid in his prime is unreasonably exciting. The “reasonable expectations” are already unreasonable. We all believe he should be able to three-peat as the NHL’s scoring champion. That this goes unquestioned in the modern era speaks to his already widely accepted greatness.
McDavid by all accounts is faster. After scoring 41 goals a year ago, he worked on his shot because he thought it was weak. He is entering the year knowing who his linemates are going to be and they appear to complement him very well. The cerebral and responsible Nugent-Hopkins and the apparently resurgent Rattie know their roles and seem suited to playing them.
Do not take what McDavid is doing and has already done for granted. We have already witnessed truly generational accomplishments. Just buckle up and try not to blink, because he can change the game faster than anyone we’ve seen in nearly two decades.