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Hype: it’s not for everyone. Allow yourself to get too excited about a given player stat or a team’s place in the standings too early in a given season and you’ll be roasted by the #WellActually society.
But we’re reaching a point in the hockey calendar where we can start paying attention to some standout performances and wondering what they’ll look like, from a legacy perspective, by the end of the season if the pace is maintained.
I will arbitrarily say that we have reached this point in the NHL season, about a third of the way through. And we thought last year was special for the attack! It gave us the most points per game in 26 years, but this season said « Hold my beer » to last season. In 2022-23, we see the highest scoring rate since 1993-94, a 29-year high.
As a result, we have some seriously exciting pace stats to sort through. Here are the potential exploits I’m most looking forward to tracking as 2022-23 progresses.
Connor McDavid: the first scorer of 150 points of the millennium
McDavid’s pandemic-shortened 2020-21 period was both breathtaking and disappointing. He tallied a hilarious 105 points in 56 games. Reaching the century mark by game 53, making him the fastest to do so since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96. But, uh, what might McDavid’s total have been in 82 games? He was on pace at 154. Have we been robbed of his stat peak?
Last season he « only » won the goalscoring race with 123 points. Going into his season at 26, was he about to enter his veteran ‘score less, win more’ years? Not yet, turns out. Video game mode remains active. McDavid through 27 games: a comical 24 goals and 52 points. The pace: 73 goals and 158 points. GIDDYUP. The only players in NHL history to score 150 points in a season: Wayne Gretzky (nine times, LOL), Lemieux (four times), Steve Yzerman (once), Phil Esposito (once) and Bernie Nicholls (Once).
Gretzky and Lemieux are the only two to exceed 155. Could McDavid become the third? I wouldn’t bet against McJesus. Even if he doesn’t, he should easily deliver the highest points tally of the salary cap era, surpassing Nikita Kucherov’s 128 from 2018-19. At McDavid’s current pace, he’ll hit that mark in Game 67.
Sidney Crosby: Most Points by Player 35+ in 50+
The good wine analogy doesn’t quite apply here. It’s not like 35-year-old Sidney Crosby is superior to 25-year-old Sidney Crosby. Good wine does not improve with age. But good wine is… cryogenically preserved? Refuse to go wrong?
You had the idea. Most NHL players experience significant decline long before they reach 35. But here comes Crosby, lead the NHL in equal strength points, pacing 47 goals and 110 points over an 82-game schedule, averaging his most points per game in 10 years. The Pens have a 56% chance to score at 5-5 with their captain on the ice.
Then yes. It is good. It’s an all-time great. This is not news. But Crosby is doing historic stuff for his age. Producing at a rate of 110 points is very inconsistent. In fact, only one other beat him at that age. Johnny Bucyk reached 116 in 1970-71, his season at age 35. Only two other players 35 or older have even scored 100 NHL points: Joe Sakic and Gordie Howe. Crosby has a real chance of being fourth.
Jason Robertson and Connor McDavid: scorers of 70 goals
Auston Matthews delivered a thrilling 60-goal season in just 73 games last year. He averaged 0.82 goals per game, the highest rate of any player in 26 years. The full-season pace over 82 games would have given Matthews 67 goals and passed Alex Ovechkin for the most goals by any player this century in a season. And yet, surprisingly, McDavid and Dallas Stars left winger Jason Robertson trail at 0.89 and 0.85 respectively, putting them on pace for 73 and 70 goals.
They would become members 9 and 10 of the 70-goal club, joining Gretzky (four times), Lemieux (twice), Brett Hull (three times), Teemu Selanne (once), Alexander Mogilny (once), Esposito (once). once), Jari Kurri (once) and Nicholls (once). It’s been 30 years since anyone reached 70. Mogilny and (rookie!) Selanne were the last, scoring 76 goals apiece in 1992-93.
So do McDavid and Robertson have a realistic chance of making history? Honestly, no, because the odds are against anyone who scores 70 goals every season, every year. McDavid’s shooting percentage sits well above his career norm at 22.6, so regression looms. Robertson is above his norm at 19.5, but he was already a high percentage shooter, so he seems a little more likely to maintain his pace. Whatever happens, we should just enjoy the ride. Meanwhile, Tage Thompson of the Buffalo Sabers and Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks are aiming for 60-goal campaigns. What a wild season.
Rasmus Dahlin: 100-point defender
Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi was so close last year, and his 96 points are the most points of any D-man since Brian Leetch had 102 in 1991-92. So we’ve reached 30 years without a 100-point defender. A natural guess would be that Cale Makar, the fastest defenseman in NHL history to reach 200 points, would end this drought.
But it’s Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabers who will be the first. It may come as a surprise this season, but before his first overall selection in the 2018 draft, let’s not forget, he was considered the best ‘D’ prospect since Nicklas Lidstrom. So compared to the potential Dahlin has always possessed, it’s not a jaw-dropping shock to see him average the most points per game of any defender since 1994-95. Dahlin scores at a rate of 105 points. The last defenseman to reach 105: Paul Coffey in 1988-89. Amazing.
Incredibly impressive too: the grizzled Erik Karlsson scored 99 points at 32 years old.
Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils: Highest point percentages in the modern era
The Montreal Canadiens dynasty was certainly incredible to watch in the late 1970s, hitting a high of 0.825 percentage points in the 1976-77 season. The 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks, who opened their season 21-0-3? .802 over the year.
Some of the greatest teams of all time, right? Still, they don’t hold a candle to the pace of the 2022-23 Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils, who are currently burning the NHL at .860 and .827, respectively. Both would be the highest marks of the modern era. The 1929-30 Boston Bruins have the all-time high at .875, while the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens hummed at .830.
If you had told us in the offseason that two teams would win at this rate, we would have assumed it was the Colorado Avalanche and maybe the Tampa Bay Lightning? Carolina Hurricanes? New York Rangers? No. An aging and injured Bruins team and a Devils team that missed the playoffs last year. Music to the ears of anyone who loves cap-era parity.
It’s hard to imagine either team maintaining their incredible pace so far, but, at worst, the Bruins and Devils have established themselves as undisputed Stanley Cup contenders.
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