The early season struggles of Connor McDavid

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Sunil Agnihotri
8 months ago
A lot has gone wrong this season for the Edmonton Oilers, with plenty of issues waiting for ownership, management and the coaching staff to address. The team’s goaltending problems and defensive play are certainly getting plenty of attention. And so is the overall roster construction and the team’s cap situation, which Ken Holland has badly mishandled since his arrival as general manager in 2019.
But one issue that might be flying under the radar is how Connor McDavid’s play has been negatively affecting the team’s overall performance and could be dragging down his personal and the team’s overall results. He’s clearly been injured since the start of the regular season, as his numbers have been poor before and after his injury against Winnipeg in the fifth game of the year. It’s a tough situation for him and the team, as he needs time to recover from whatever bothers him. But because the roster has been constructed so poorly and because there’s so much pressure on the Oilers to compete for a championship, it’s difficult to shut down the superstar player.
The one area we know McDavid excels at is his ability to tilt the ice in favour of the Oilers when it comes to generating shots and chances, specifically at even-strength (5v5). His unique talent increases the odds of the Oilers out-scoring opponents as the team consistently creates more high-quality shots from higher-scoring probability areas. This is reflected in his strong on-ice share of expected goals, which factor in shot type and location to determine the probability of shots becoming goals. The Oilers have always done better at creating these chances with McDavid on the ice than without him, and he was supposed to continue being his dominant self this season.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case in the first ten games of the season.
McDavid (5v5)
Expected goals for/60Expected goals against/60Expected goals for%Expected goals for% – Rel
Last three years3.422.4458.34+9.41
% change-12.0%12.7%-10.5%
McDavid’s on-ice share of expected goals is 10.5 percent lower this season than the last three seasons, currently sitting at 52.22 percent – the fourth lowest on the Oilers among forwards. Offensively, the Oilers have seen a drop in their rate of chances with McDavid on the ice, going from 3.42 expected goals per hour to 3.01 – a 12.0 percent decrease. And defensively, the team’s rate of expected goals against has increased by almost 13 percent with McDavid on the ice. Again – this is way out of expected ranges for McDavid and can negatively impact the Oilers’ odds of out-scoring opponents and winning games.
What’s especially alarming is how his numbers compare to his teammates. Historically, the team sees a major spike with McDavid on the ice, with the expected goals for percentage increasing by close to 10. It’s the opposite this season, with the expected goals share decreasing by 8.29 with McDavid deployed, indicating that having McDavid on the ice is a bit of a liability. And opponents are taking full advantage of the situation, outscoring the Oilers 8-5 when McDavid has been deployed this season at even-strength.
The graph below shows McDavid’s on-ice shot-share metrics relative to his team over the course of his career with some lulls here and there thanks to the different coaches and the player deployment and tactics implemented. But when McDavid is healthy, the team always does better with him than without him, especially when it comes to controlling the share of quality chances (as reflected by the blue bars). Unfortunately, in the first ten games of this season, his expected goal-share relative to his team sticks out like a sore thumb.
At an individual level, we’ve also seen a drop in McDavid’s ability to create and finish chances this season, with his own rate of shots per hour dropping by 34.0% compared to his previous three seasons and his rate of points per hour falling by 42.1% from 2.90 to 1.68 per hour. Put another way – McDavid has gone from a consistent superstar game-breaker to more of a third-line producer – a major issue considering the high levels of competition he regularly faces. The team spends less time with the puck, as reflected by his on-ice shot-share numbers. He’s not shooting as often as he does. And he’s nowhere near his scoring levels.
McDavid (5v5)
Last three years9.1513.392.90
% change-34.0%-53.3%-47.9%
Again, these numbers have been poor all season, not just after returning from his injury against Winnipeg. Perhaps the team’s championship aspirations and the pressure of appearing in the NHL’s outdoor marketing game have forced him into action this season. But considering his production is way off, and that he’s having almost zero influence on games, it’s probably a good idea to let McDavid rest up and come back when he can make the high-level impact we expect of him.
Data: Natural Stat Trick

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