Crosby still NHL’s best, but won’t win the MVP

Sidney Crosby posted his first point in three games Tuesday night as the Penguins took down the Vancouver Canucks in Pittsburgh.

That puts his career total at 999 in 756 career games played, with Crosby poised to become the fastest active player to 1000 points by a wide margin. Alex Ovechkin, his closest contemporary, reached the milestone in his 880th career game earlier this season.

Crosby’s near decade long reign as the best player in the NHL has not been without detractors. The Claude Giroux and Jonathan Toews comparisons would be funny now if they weren’t so insulting at the time.

A new generation of players has emerged to challenge Crosby’s throne, and look poised to ascend sooner than later. Americans Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel are duking it out in an cross-border rivalry, leading Tronto and Buffalo respectively. Patrik Laine is reminding Winnipeg fans of the halycon Teemu Selanne era.

None of the young bucks are breathing down Crosby’s neck quite like Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.

He’s nicknamed “McJesus” for a reason.

McDavid leads the NHL in scoring, and could be the second Edmonton Oiler to win a scoring title (the first was a franchise legend you might have heard of named Wayne Gretzky).

McDavid the MVP

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-6-41-32-pm
H/T to Hockey-Reference for the table.

The first thing you might notice about the scoring race is Sidney Crosby sits just two points behind McDavid. The second thing you might notice is he’s played eight fewer games.

Crosby began the season with a concussion scare, but it hasn’t slowed his scoring. Crosby and teammate Evegni Malkin still rank one and two in points per game, and Crosby is on pace to hit 50 goals for the second time in his career.

The Penguins sit comfortably in a playoff spot, and their captain is the undisputed best player in the world. Connor McDavid will just have to be satisfied with the MVP.

Despite Crosby’s superior statistics, it’s almost impossible to quantify what kind of impact McDavid has on the Oilers.

Let’s give it a shot.

player-usage-chart
H/T to Rob Vollman.

When we consult Rob Vollman’s Player Usage Charts, we see McDavid carrying the load for his team. He drives possession (measured by Relative Corsi) at an elite level, and has helped resuscitate linemate Patrick Maroon’s career.

McDavid carries a load against the best units opposing teams have to offer, regularly deployed in high stakes situations rather than being sheltered from defensive responsibility.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-3-42-50-pm
H/T again to Rob Vollman.

The above chart includes McDavid’s season alongside centers from the last five year-end NHL All-Star Teams (there are fewer than ten because Crosby has made the list four times).

McDavid’s usage is right up there with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, both in zone starts and quality of competition. For all the praise Toews receives as a two-player, McDavid drives possession at an even greater rate.

The Oilers sit comfortably ahead of their provincial rivals in Calgary for the third Pacific Division playoff spot. Should Edmonton hang on, it would be their first playoff birth since their miracle Cup run in 2006.

They’ll likely bow out in the first round, a victim of a lack of depth. The triumph for this Oilers team is getting there, and most of the praise there belong to McDavid.

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