Top Stories of 2023 – No. 11: Connor McDavid’s early season struggles

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
Checking in at #11 on our countdown of the most read stories of the year is a look at Connor McDavid’s early season struggles that seemed very unMcDavid-like.
It’s weird to think about Connor McDavid ever struggling to produce points in the NHL, but that’s what was happening for our captain early in the season. I mean, he was still rolling at a point-per-game clip which would be a dream come true for most players, but that’s simply not the case for the best player on earth. So, when Sunil Agnihotri dove into the numbers back in early November, traffic flooded into the site as Oilers fans everywhere were looking for answers.
“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.”
That first month of the season was a dark and strange time, friends. Dark days that saw the Oilers battling the weirdest struggles and slumps that I’ve ever seen from a team that’s supposed to be a Cup contender. For a few weeks, it almost felt like the Oilers’ season was done before it had even really began.
“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.”
As McDavid’s struggles went, so too did those of the team. I’m not saying everything that went wrong in those first 15 games were all on McDavid — that’s ridiculous, there were seemingly endless things happening — but it was hard not to notice that he wasn’t quite looking like himself.
“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.”
Of course, all this was before Connor McDavid got healthy and started to go supernova. In his last 15 games before the Christmas break, McDavid put up a remarkable 31 points (8G, 23A) and is a major reason for why the Oilers’ record has started to improve. While there’s still plenty of work to be done, it’s no secret that Connor McDavid will need to be a big part of the solution. Thankfully, he certainly looks like that’s going to be the case here as he’s looking so much more like the league MVP we’re lucky enough to watch every night.
It’s weird to suggest that Connor McDavid was ever struggling, but when you’re the best player in the league, even the slightest dip gets noticed. Thankfully, those days seem to be in the rear view mirror, and I doubt we’ll see anything like that for the rest of the season.

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