Connor McDavid is the best forward in the NHL.
That's according to his peers, for two years running. McDavid won that accolade in the NHLPA Players Poll released this week, with 68.3% of the vote from 555 respondents. He won it last season, too, with 63.64% of the vote from 517 respondents. In both seasons, no other player won any category with a greater percentage of the vote.
Connor McDavid is the most exciting player in the NHL.
That's also according to his peers. The NHLPA poll asked a fascinating question: "Of all players past or present, who would you pay to see play?" Wayne Gretzky (31.83%), Bobby Orr (14.99%) and Mario Lemieux (9.24%) were the top three. The fourth choice? McDavid, with 7.80% of the vote from 487 respondents. That's some lofty company.
But his peers had something else to say about McDavid: For all of his offensive flourish, he's not a remarkable defensive player.
The poll asked, "Who is the most complete player?" Sidney Crosby (45.56%), Patrice Bergeron (25.44%), Aleksander Barkov (7.50%) and Ryan O'Reilly (5.33%) comprised the top four. McDavid, despite his other accolades, fell short.
He's the best forward by a country mile. He's the guy current players would pay to see play, like they would Gretzky, Orr and Lemieux.
But he's not a complete player.
Is that fair?
McDavid is 23 years old and has 469 points in his first 351 NHL games. He has two scoring titles and three 100-point seasons. But the highest he has ever finished in the Selke Trophy voting for best defensive forward was 16th in his sophomore season, when he finished ahead of Barkov. And he has gotten dinged for several facets of his defensive game, including his propensity for giving the puck away. Venerable Oilers observers have written things like, "We all know McDavid is the engine that drives the Oiler bus, and he's praised accordingly. Every now and then, he's not good defensively. OK?"
To be that young and that dynamic offensively means McDavid is destined to be underestimated, or outright dismissed, as a defensive player. There's a perception around the league that you can't have a lot of points and also be good defensively. It takes years to shake the rep. Crosby, the most complete player in the NHL? It wasn't until 2016, his 11th season in the league, when Crosby finished in the top 10 for the Selke Trophy.
Of course, reputations are earned. When Crosby entered the NHL as the Next One, his defensive game was criticized, particularly because he couldn't win a faceoff. He won 45.5% of his draws in 2005-06 and then 49.8% the following season. He figured out his flaws, honed his craft and has been above 50 percent on faceoffs in 12 of the past 13 seasons.
McDavid hasn't been over 50 percent on faceoffs in any of his five seasons in the league.
With apologies to Bergeron, faceoffs are hardly the final word on defensive prowess. But there are other metrics that tell us McDavid does, in fact, have an incomplete game at this point in his career.
According to Evolving Hockey's even-strength defense goals above average metric, McDavid ranked 195th out of 198 skaters from 2017-18 to 2019-20 with a minus-0.312 per 60 minutes. In expected goals, he ranks 194th. This season, among 154 players with 1,000 minutes at even strength, he's 148th in even-strength defense goals above replacement per 60 minutes.
According to Natural Stat Trick, McDavid was 22nd (out of 26 total) in expected goals against per 60 minutes (2.78) for forwards who played over 1,000 minutes.
So his peers are right: Connor McDavid isn't one of the most complete players in the NHL. But they're also right in saying he's the league's most dynamic forward, which is sort of the point.
At this stage of his career, McDavid is being asked to score. And score some more. And then score again. He's being asked to cheat defensively to earn odd-man rushes. The Oilers don't need their generational talent to be Patrice Bergeron at 23 years old. Maybe that's a conversation in five years, but not now, when an incomplete Connor McDavid is still completely head-and-shoulders better than any other forward in the league.
Top three discoveries from the NHLPA poll
1. One of the worst aspects of hockey culture is the way it smothers creativity and individuality. Like the "Storm Surge" backlash, or the way goal celebrations have to be sourced from a vetted list of muted merriment. Disheartening, but no surprise, was the fact that 47 percent of players polled were against custom gear on the ice. No bedazzled skates. No airbrushed helmets. Uniformity in the uniforms. So boring. For the record: Of the 53 percent of players in favor of individuality for the skaters -- the goalies already earned it with the portraiture on their masks -- just over 43 percent favored personalized skates.
2. Drew Doughty and Matthew Tkachuk finished fourth in the "NHL's best bromance" category, which means the NHLPA either doesn't understand the concept of "bromance," or actually has a wicked sense of humor.
3. One change we'd like to see in next season's poll: To have the NHLPA respondents vote for the best women's hockey player in the world without a multiple-choice prompt. The players were given a choice of Canadian star Marie-Philip Poulin, who won with 39.92 percent of the vote, Americans Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield or "other." (The leading "other" was Team USA's Emily Matheson, who is married to Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson.) This feels like a case of being overly cautious: Through national teams and All-Star Games and sharing agents and trainers, we're confident NHL players could name and nominate many women's stars.
One of the single greatest Fouls of the 2019-20 season:
This New York Islanders fan's Protest Jersey is superb. It manages to (1) put over the legend of EBUG David Ayers while (2) goofing on Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares for losing to him because (3) Tavares is a traitor who turned his back on New York in favor of Toronto, and his jersey should be vandalized because of it.
A hat trick of Jersey Foul perfection.
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Winners and Losers of the Week
(As we mentioned last week, there aren't going to always be "losers" in this space because of the strange days we're all living in as hockey fans. Oh, but there are a couple this week. Let's get them out of the way first.)
Losers: Teams limiting benefits
There's no single solution to the economic crisis facing businesses right now. Everyone has to adjust, and hopefully it's accordingly. Some NHL teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers have vowed not to reduce staff or salaries during the pause. Other teams have announced temporary layoffs, like the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames this week. Calgary's 60-day layoff starts on April 13 and will continue to give workers full medical benefits through that time period. Delaware North -- owned by the Jacobs family, which also owns the Boston Bruins -- announced it was temporarily laying off more than two-thirds of their company's 3,100 full-time employees while giving them "eight weeks" of benefits. Our hope here: Those benefits are extended in all cases beyond the "temporary" time period for these teams and others. It's horrible enough to suddenly be out of work; to not have medical coverage as this virus peaks in the U.S., or to not have that peace of mind during a global health crisis in general, is even more frightening.
Loser: Tuukka Rask's digestive tract
Zdeno Chara told the media that the Bruins teammate with whom he'd least like to quarantine is goalie Tuukka Rask. "The way he farts ... the smell is awful. He likes his chicken wings. Sometimes I have to sit behind him on the bus and I have to control myself sometimes," said Chara, rather incredibly. With that, "Tootta" Rask was born. The mind races with possible chirps he's going to hear when they return to the ice.
Losers: Non-Miraculous hockey movies
Our friends at The Athletic put together a top 100 sports movies list, and it accomplished its goal of making us nuts about some of their choices. No "Bring It On?" If "Rounders" is a sports movie, shouldn't the classic documentary "King of Kong" qualify? And so on. But our real beef is with "Miracle" at No. 5. Not among hockey movies. Among all sports movies. Which is insane. Yes, the cinematography is incredible and Kurt Russell's Herb Brooks deserved an Oscar nomination. (He did get a nomination for best actor in the "AARP Movies for Grownups Awards," which is a thing that exists.) But it's not better than all but four sports movies ever made. And it's not even the best hockey movie: "Slap Shot" (No. 16) has richer characters and a lot more going on under the hood. As a hockey movie, "Miracle" may not be better than "Goon" (not ranked!) and wasn't as entertaining as "The Mighty Ducks" (No. 60). As blasphemous as this sounds, we might take a documentary about the Soviets ("Red Army") over a movie about the team that upset them.
Winner: Steven Stamkos and the Lightning
Kudos to the Lightning for creating a fund that helps out the part-time employees of the team and Amalie Arena, as well as the donation of 500,000 meals to Feeding Tampa Bay. "There are a lot families that have been economically hit hard in these times, and they count on these meals," said Stamkos. Well done.
Winner: Hockey nerds
The ECHL is stepping up this week to "assist ECHL players and their families suffering a financial hardship following the sudden and unexpected cancellation of the 2019-20 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic." That includes a fund it helped establish with ECHL alum Paul Bissonnette that's already garnering sponsor support. That also includes the proceeds from the league's batch of DC Comics-branded jerseys that are being auctioned in the next two weeks. Look at those Joker jerseys. Bid on those Joker jerseys. Help a good cause.
Winner: Garnet Hathaway
.@GarnetHathaway's #HathsHeroes & @mysuperfd are teaming up to provide meals to first responders— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) March 30, 2020
Garny will match the first $5K in donations & SuperFd will provide a free meal to high-risk individuals w/ every first responder meal purchased
Donate -> https://t.co/OW7jtDbj7i pic.twitter.com/YRSVzd14gH
The Washington Capitals forward announced an initiative this week to provide meals to first responders in Arlington County, Virginia, where the team's training facility is located. Hathaway matched the first $5,000 in donations and got SuperFd Market to match every meal donated with one for a "high-risk individual in the area."
Winner: USA Hockey
Thanks to a USOC mandate, all U.S. sports governing bodies are centralizing their background checking programs. That includes USA Hockey, which recently announced that it's using NCSI as its selected partner in providing background checks for adults that work with athletes under 18. This is a major advancement over the previous system, in which 34 different hockey affiliates could have all been using different systems. For the protection of our young athletes, it's an important move.
As you know, NHL players have been using video conferencing and streaming to communicate with the media and fans during the pandemic. Many have chosen to use a bare wall in their homes for it. Props to Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins for staging his in front of giant reminders of his championship glory:
We'll get through this. 💛🖤 pic.twitter.com/MhAc30PutB— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 28, 2020
And kudos to Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights for staging his in front of giant silver trophies:
No shade! It's what we'd do, too.
The Federal Prospects Hockey League canceled the rest of its regular season in March, which may have been good news for the Battle Creek Rumble Bees, who were [checks standings] 1-45-0-2!
Fare thee well to Eddie Lack in his retirement. The journeyman goalie posted a goodbye message in the form of four progressively weirder "roast" videos that are just delightful.
A hockey arena is being transformed into a new COVID-19 isolation and quarantine site.
Introducing "fantasy" fantasy hockey for those desperate for this sort of thing.
The biggest mascot and jersey blunders in NHL history. In other words, a chance to remember Boomer, the Blue Jackets' ill-conceived cannon.
How is Alex Ovechkin handling this pause in his records chase? "Of course you want to score 50," Ovechkin said. "But right now, the most important thing is to stay safe and make sure this thing is done. It sucks to not score 50 and to not get another milestone, but you have to think about your family, people and the fans to be more safe."
Ranking all the NHL broadcasting teams. The hate for the Bruins' booth has got to be one of the most idiotic notions among fans. Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley bring more passion and insight into their work than half the league does. OMG, they're homers? On a local broadcast? Oh, my stars ... ($)
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
The feel-good stories of the 2019-20 season. We all need a smile these days.