If you happen to be casting your vote for NHL MVP you might want to consider the following: in the entirety of National Hockey League history only four attackers have had more dominant attacking seasons than the one Connor McDavid is now having.
In fact, McDavid is having the most dominant season we have seen from an NHL attacker since Wayne Gretzky had his most dominating season ever in 1986-87. That year, Gretzky scored 183 points, a mind-boggling 69 per per cent more than linemate and second-place point scoring leader Jari Kurri’s 108 points.
How can we define dominance? It’s difficult to compare attacking players between eras, given how different the game and the league has been over time.
In the 1920s, when great attackers like Howie Morenz and Cy Denneny played, the teams only played 24 to 44 games. Few assists were awarded until 1929-30. In the ’30s and ’40s, the NHL moved to 50, then 60, then 70 games. Players regularly won the scoring crown with 50, 60 or 70 point seasons. It was not until the late ’60s that players started to regularly put up 100 points in longer playing seasons, but even then the league moved from high-scoring to low-scoring eras.
One back-of-the-envelope way to compare and rank top attackers from different decades is to look at how they did against their peers.
How did they dominate the NHL presented to them?
How much better were they than their peers? How well did they surmount the challenges presented by defences and rules of the day, as compared to other players of that same time?
In this way of thinking, the player who most dominates his particular era is seen as the most dominant player.
When it comes to attacking, there’s an easy way to measure that, by the percentage difference between the top scorer and the second-place finisher in the scoring race in a given season.
This year McDavid has 102 points, 26 per cent more than second place finisher Leon Draisaitl’s 81 points, a massive gap in a 56 game season.
By this same method, who are the four who rank ahead of McD’s great 2020-21 campaign?
- Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, nine times winner of the Hart Trophy, who had six seasons more dominant than McDavid’s campaign-to-date.
- Bill “Cowboy” Cowley, the Boston Bruins great of the late 1930s and early 1940s, who won two Hart Trophies and retired as the leading scorer in NHL history. He outdid McDavid once, with 64 points in 1940-41, 36 per cent more than Bryan Hextall’s 47 points.
- Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey, who finished in the Top 5 scorers in the league 20 years running, and won six Hart Trophies. In 1952-53, Howe had 95 points, 34 per cent more than linemate Ted Lindsay’s 71.
- Howie Morenz, the Stratford Streak, the Mitchell Meteor, voted the greatest NHLer of the first half to the 20th Century, winner of three Hart Trophies for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1920s and ’30s. In 1927-28, Morenz had 51 points, 31 per cent more than teammate Aurel Joliat’s 39.
That is the only four who have had more dominant point scoring seasons than McDavid so far this year.
Not bad company for McDavid.
But, perhaps, not such bad company for Gretzky, Cowley, Howe and Morenz either.