One of the weirder recurring ideas that have come up over these last two playoffs exits is the storyline that Connor McDavid needs to have some kind of Steve Yzerman moment if the Oilers are ever going to win. At first glance, you can kind of understand why some of the good old boys would want McDavid to mirror a guy that has won multiple Stanley Cups, but when you really break it down, does that comparison even make sense?
Since this McDavid/Yzerman comparison is making the rounds on Twitter again with the basic premise being that Connor McDavid needs to focus more on defence if he wants to win, just like Steve Yzerman did when he won Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998, and 2002. Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that McDavid couldn’t improve his two-way game — everything we know about him suggests that he’d like to work on all aspects of his play — but I also can’t buy into comparing these two situations without looking at the roster that’s around them. In a team game like hockey, a guy like Connor McDavid only plays about a third of the game so I think it’s unfair to expect that he’s also responsible for the remainder.
Seeing as Detroit’s 2002 Cup win was the most recent with Yzerman as a player, let’s take a peek at the lineup to see how our beloved Oilers compare, shall we? Surely, that Red Wings squad was filled with scrappy players fighting above their weight class and the only reason they won the league’s ultimate prize was because of pure grit, determination, and Steve Yzerman’s selfless transformation. Surely, as I dig into the roster I will find out that we’re so similar to the Red Wings that this ‘McDavid should be Yzerman’ narrative will all start to make sense. Well, as it turns out, the 2001-02 Red Wings went 51-17-10 on their way to the Stanley Cup and boasted arguably one of the best rosters we’ve ever seen outside of a Canadian Olympic team. Don’t remember who was on that squad? You’re in luck — I’m here to help.
In case you don’t want to count, this team had ten Hall of Famers on it. Ten. No offence to Zack Kassian, Gaetan Haas, or Josh Archibald but we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples here, are we? So while it is certainly true that Steve Yzerman finished sixth in team scoring that year — a heroic offensive sacrifice to be sure — it’s ridiculous to ignore the run support surrounding him on all four lines and how that kept the team moving forward even if he couldn’t produce himself. Without the same roster calibre, I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that McDavid changing his entire philosophy would be the thing that pushes the Edmonton Oilers over the top. I mean, unless Ken Holland can surround McDavid and Draisaitl with eight more future Hall of Famers between now and the start of next season, of course. Dare to dream?
I think it’s also worth mentioning that Detroit’s payroll for the 2001-2002 season was $65 million when the average NHL payroll that year was somewhere around $38 million, but I feel like that’s a big part of the picture that’s being left out when some folks throw out the “Steve Yzerman moment” idea like it was the only thing that mattered. That’s like giving credit to the Yankees for being able to spend way more than everyone else and being blown away if they won. Again, I’m not trying to say that Steve Yzerman wasn’t incredible or that he wasn’t a fantastic two-way player — he was one of the best hockey players I’ve ever been able to watch live — but hockey will always be a team game that needs 20 guys to work together as one.
Despite living here my whole life and loving this team the entire time, I never understand how quickly some folks point fingers at the best players while willingly ignoring that many others just weren’t good enough? Then again, we all know that hockey is a solo sport just like golf so it makes sense to point fingers at one or two individuals on a 23-man roster while allowing the others to disappear like ninjas into the night without also being accountable. Can McDavid (and Draisaitl) be better on both sides of the puck? Absolutely he can and I believe that he will be, but I also think it’s hard to build a house when all you’ve got are three nails and a handful of jelly beans, you know?
So let’s stop with the Steve Yzerman comparisons, shall we? The comparison doesn’t work when you look at the big picture, and if you’re trying to make it stick without also acknowledging how good the Red Wings were then it honestly comes off as lazy and silly. At least, that’s my take. Then again, I’ve been wrong plenty of times in my life so maybe there’s something else that I’m missing here. What do you guys think?