That McDavid/Matthews debate over the last week is silly, and it’s nothing new.
I’m not one to be like, “Ah well, until so and so does such and such, he can’t be the best.” You don’t need to win Cups, you don’t need to be on a good team, you don’t necessarily even need to score 100 points. But in the case of Auston Matthews versus Connor McDavid, let’s just keep in mind that Matthews had 16 fewer points in his first two seasons despite playing 17 more games, and with a lot more help.
The people driving this discussion, shockingly all based out of Toronto, are careful to say they’re not trying to make it a discussion, but rather a discussion about whether there should be a discussion. Which is BS semantics. Given what McDavid did in his team’s first four games of the season — scoring or assisting on all of Edmonton’s nine goals before an OT game-winner ruined the streak — it honestly shouldn’t even be a discussion about having a conversation about having a dialogue about having a talk.
Keep your schedules clear: Connor McDavid is almost certainly going to be the best player in the world for the next decade unless there’s some kid scoring 14 points a game in peewee hockey that I don’t know about.
But the fact that someone took five or six games of data on Auston Matthews — who’s definitely a top-five player, don’t get me wrong — and looked at 150 or so of McDavid’s and said, “This is something we can talk about now, right?” is what’s wild to me. I wrote about this four years ago when all sane analysis dictated that Sid Crosby was the no-questions-asked best player alive, and many in the hockey media said, “Ah but what about [clearly inferior player who had three good months?]”
The thinking at the time was that Drew Doughty was arguably the best player in the 2014 Olympics and was a dominant part of another Kings Cup run, so likely he was the Best Player In The World. This after Sidney Crosby was probably the second-best player at the Olympics, put up 104 points in 80 games — 17 more than the next-closest player — but crashed out of the playoffs in part because he shot 2.6 percent over two rounds.
And that came after lots of extraordinarily dim people tried to make cases for other Best Players In The World, including Jonathan Toews(???), Henrik Lundqvist, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Pavel Datsyuk, Claude Giroux, Alex Ovechkin, and Patrick Kane. There are probably some others I’m forgetting.
To be fair, Crosby had to assume all those indignities because he was so much better than even the second-best player in the world but couldn’t stay healthy for a long stretch. People might have still be questioning his credentials in full at that time because before that 2013-14 season, he’d played just 99 games over three seasons (and scored 159 points, but who’s counting?) which opened the door for speculation. Staying healthy is, to some extent, a skill as well.
The Toronto-based accelerationism around Matthews isn’t much of a surprise when seen through this light. It’s not that McDavid isn’t a workhorse; he’s played the full 82 each of the last two seasons and takes on almost as many minutes as a first-pair defenseman (he entered Thursday’s games 27th among all players in TOI per night). But because he’s out west and his games start at 9 eastern time, and because his team stinks, and because he’s specifically not on the Maple Leafs, there are some obvious advantages he gives away to Matthews.
I get why the discussion about the discussion is being made for all those reasons, but the more interesting question to me is why people in this sport feel the need to bring it up every six months. I guess it’s important to have that self-reflection, and certainly even someone as perfect at their sport as LeBron James isn’t totally immune to it. At least a few years ago, there were the occasional “What about Curry?” or “What about Durant?” questions posed, but for the most part they were shot down by everyone except the freaks who were for some reason still mad about The Decision. Now, fortunately, it’s a settled matter and everyone accepts it.
But if Crosby couldn’t go eight months without some dope saying, “Have we considered this other guy?” and McDavid didn’t even make it a year as the undisputed best in the world (once Crosby stopped winning back-to-back Cups) then there’s something deeply wrong with the thinking in hockey. People really wanted to parse the crap out of what “value” meant to deny him a league MVP award, due to the fact that his team was as well-constructed as a house of cards being assembled by someone with essential tremors.
And if that’s the kind of brain-genius galactic thought that goes into awards voting, I guess it makes sense that a guy who is, again, an elite talent shooting 50 percent for five games got into the World’s Best Player convo. Hockey is built on a team-first ethos to an idiotic extent, so pundits couldn’t possibly accept that someone is The Best for more than a little while, just because they are, have been, and by any reasonable measure will continue to be for years to come.
McDavid’s great and all, but if the sport constantly tells him he’s the best and accepts that as fact, maybe next time he gets in on nine of Edmonton’s 10 goals to start the season, he might actually say something other than “I’m not overly proud of it.”
As a community, we simply cannot let him become that kind of diva.
All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.