Hype: it’s not for everyone. Allow yourself to get overly excited about a given player stat or a team’s place in the standings too early in a given season and you’ll get roasted by the #WellActually society.
But we reach a point in the hockey calendar at which we can start devoting attention to certain standout performances and wondering what they’ll look like, from a legacy perspective, by season’s end if the pace holds up.
I’ll arbitrarily say we’ve reached that point in the NHL season, roughly a third of the way through. And we thought last year was special for offense! It gave us the most scoring per game in 26 years, but this season said: “Hold my beer” to last season. In 2022-23, we’re seeing the highest scoring rate since 1993-94, a 29-year high.
As a result, we have some truly exciting on-pace stats to sort through. Here are the potential feats I’m most excited to track as 2022-23 progresses.
Connor McDavid: The millennium’s first 150-point scorer
McDavid’s pandemic-shortened 2020-21 was simultaneously breathtaking and disappointing. He rattled off a hilarious 105 points in 56 games. Reaching the century mark by Game 53, making him the quickest to get there since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96. But, ugh, what could McDavid’s total have been in 82 games? He was on pace for 154. Had we been robbed of his statistical peak?
Last season, he “only” won the scoring race with 123 points. Entering his age-26 season, was he about to enter his “scoreless, win more” veteran years? Not yet, turns out. The video game mode remains active. McDavid through 27 games: has 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: are 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 point total of the salary cap era, surpassing Nikita Kucherov’s 128 from 2018-19. At McDavid’s current pace, he’ll hit that mark by game 67.
Sidney Crosby: Most points by a player 35 or older in 50+ years
The fine wine analogy doesn’t quite apply here. It’s not like 35-year-old Sidney Crosby is superior to 25-year-old Sidney Crosby. The fine wine isn’t getting better with age. But the fine wine is…cryogenically preserved? Refusing to ever go bad?
You get the idea. Most NHL players experience a significant decline long before they hit 35. But here Crosby is, leading the NHL in even strength points, on pace for 47 goals and 110 points over an 82-game schedule, averaging his most points per game in 10 years. The Pens get 56 percent of the scoring chances at 5-on-5 with their captain on the ice.
So, yes. He’s good. He’s an all-time great. That ain’t news. But Crosby is doing some historic stuff for his age. Producing at a 110-point pace is highly irregular. Only one other has bested it at that age. Johnny Bucyk hit 116 in 1970-71, his age-35 season. Only two other 35-or-older players have even scored 100 points in the NHL: Joe Sakic and Gordie Howe. Crosby has a real chance to be the fourth.
Jason Robertson & Connor McDavid: 70-goal scorers
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’ve given Matthews 67 goals and topped Alex Ovechkin for the most goals by any player this century in one season. And yet, amazingly, McDavid and Dallas Stars left winger Jason Robertson are tracking at 0.89 and 0.85 goals, 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), Jari Kurri (once) and Nicholls (once). It has been 30 years since anyone hit 70. Mogilny and (rookie!) Selanne were the last, scoring 76 goals each in 1992-93.
So do McDavid and Robertson have realistic chances to make history? Honestly, no, because the odds are against anyone scoring 70 goals in every season, every year. McDavid’s shooting percentage sits way 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 bit more likely to sustain his pace. Whatever happens, we should just enjoy the ride. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Sabres’ Tage Thompson and the Vancouver Canucks’ Bo Horvat are tracking for 60-goal campaigns. What a wild season.
Rasmus Dahlin: 100-point defenseman
Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi was so close last year, and his 96 points stand as the most by any D-man since Brian Leetch tallied 102 in 1991-92. So we hit 30 years without a 100-point blueliner. A natural assumption would be that Cale Makar, the fastest defenseman in NHL history to reach 200 points, would end that drought.
But it’s Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres tracking to be the first. It might feel like a surprise this season, but in the leadup to his first-overall selection at the 2018 Draft, lest we forget, he was hyped as the best ‘D’ prospect since Nicklas Lidstrom. So, relative to the potential Dahlin always possessed, it’s not a jaw-dropping shock to see him averaging the most points per game of any defenseman since 1994-95. Dahlin is scoring at a 105-point pace. The last defenseman to hit 105: Paul Coffey in 1988-89. Astounding.
Also incredibly impressive: grizzled Erik Karlsson is tracking for 99 points at 32 years old.
Boston Bruins & New Jersey Devils: highest points percentages of the modern era
The Montreal Canadiens dynasty sure was incredible to watch in the late 1970s, hitting a high watermark of .825 points percentage in the 1976-77 season. The 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks, who opened their season 21-0-3? .802 on the year.
Some of the greatest teams ever, right? Yet they don’t hold a candle to the pace of the 2022-23 Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils, currently scorching 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-era record at .875, while the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens hummed along at .830.
If you told us in the offseason that two teams would be winning at this rate, we would’ve assumed it was the Colorado Avalanche and maybe the Tampa Bay Lightning. Carolina Hurricanes? New York Rangers? Nope. An aging, injury-laden 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 tough to imagine either team sustaining its incredible pace thus far, but, at worst, the Bruins and Devils have established themselves as clear Stanley Cup contenders going forward.