The Edmonton Oilers battled their way to a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames on May 22. There were many takeaways from the game — from Evander Kane’s natural hat trick to Milan Lucic hitting Mike Smith behind the net. However, there were also takeaways from the postgame interviews, the most significant soundbite was from Flames’ forward Matthew Tkachuk. He said, “They’ve got one player that plays half the game and is playing some great hockey right now.”
Tkachuk’s comment caused a stir. He’s obviously talking about Connor McDavid, who has tallied an astonishing 23 points in 10 postseason games, but he also could be insinuating that the Oilers are a one-man team. TSN broadcaster Farhan Lalji chimed in on the action thereafter, tweeting, “That one guy is everything. The rest are nobody’s without him. He gets into everyone’s head, he’s the complete focus of everyone’s attention, and makes everyone around him better by merely existing. He might be the best player ever. Without him, the Oilers aren’t a playoff team.”
McDavid has upped his level of play to a new level of greatness this postseason. He’s also in contention for the Hart Trophy for the most valuable player to his team in the regular season. It’s tough to say whether the Oilers would’ve snuck into the playoffs or not without him, yet it’s an inaccurate take to call the rest of his Oiler teammates “nobody’s” without him.
McDavid’s Teammates Were Instrumental in Game 3
Every hockey fan in the world would agree that McDavid is the greatest player on the planet right now, whether you’re an Oilers fan or not. He single-handedly willed his team to victory in the last series against the Los Angeles Kings, with big performances in elimination games in Game 6 and Game 7. He’s continued his dominance into the series with the Flames, with a ridiculous nine points in three games.
Still, hockey may be one of the truest team sports, and you simply can’t have one superstar win every game for you, like basketball. An example is NBA superstar, Lebron James, who has reached the NBA Finals 10 out of the 19 seasons he’s been in the league. Hockey, on the other hand, requires a team effort. Sure, we’ve seen McDavid dance around five NHL players and make goaltenders look foolish to score a highlight-reel goal, but he’s not able to repeat that play every single shift. When all six players (including the goaltender) touch the ice, each person has their responsibilities.
Goaltenders need to make a big save to keep their teams in the game. Defensemen need to shut down opposing teams and transition the puck to generate offense. Bottom-six players need to play hard, hit and block shots to generate momentum for their teams. Again, hockey requires every single player on the ice to contribute in a significant way.
Since Lalji’s comments were tweeted after Game 3, let’s take a look at some significant stats in that game alone, to illustrate that McDavid’s teammates certainly aren’t just a bunch of nobodies. Firstly, Tkachuk alluded to McDavid playing half the game, but in actuality, he played 20:08 minutes and was actually fourth in forwards in time on ice, with Zach Hyman leading the way with 23:03 minutes and scoring a goal in that span. The captain was “only” second in points on the night for the Oilers, with three assists, behind Leon Draisaitl’s four helpers. In fact, in the process, Draisaitl set an NHL playoff record for most assists in a period.
Evander Kane potted a natural hat trick in the second period, with McDavid recording two primary assists on two 2-on-1 goals. Yes, the captain was the offensive catalyst in both plays, but a team still needs someone to put the puck in the net. Kane finished off the plays with a scorer’s touch and chased Jacob Markstrom, who is a Vezina Trophy finalist, from the net, to start the third period.
Additionally, at the other end of the ice, Smith had a pivotal stop on Andrew Mangiapane at the five-minute mark of the first period on a partial breakaway to keep the game tied. All in all, I would suggest the win over the Flames in Game 3 was truly a team effort, not simply a one-man show.
Even Wayne Gretzky Needed a Strong Supporting Cast
That said, McDavid is without a doubt adding to his legacy this postseason. He’s the first player in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to open a postseason run with nine multi-point outings in his first 10 games. Also, he’s already surpassed the scoring leaders from the entire 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2019 postseason. Moreover, on the TNT broadcast, hockey analyst Paul Bissonnette stated that the way McDavid is playing, “We’re seeing another Wayne Gretzky.”
For now, McDavid is behind only Gretzky for the best points-per-game in a single playoff year, with 2.30, in comparison to Gretzky’s 2.61. He’s also the fastest to reach the 20-point mark in the postseason in 30 years. But in comparing McDavid to “The Great One,” who won four Stanley Cups with the Oilers in the ’80s, even he couldn’t single-handedly win a Cup. Gretzky needed a scorer like Jari Kurri to finish his plays, he needed a Mark Messier to be a vocal leader, he needed a Glenn Anderson to score timely goals and he needed a Grant Fuhr to make the big save. Every player from the dominant ’80s Oiler teams had a role that contributed to winning, much like the current cast of Oilers.
Hockey Canada revealed that the odds of going from minor hockey and making the NHL are one in 4,000 or 0.025 percent. Essentially, if you’re playing in the NHL, you’ve beaten the odds, and you’re a “somebody.” Having said this, calling the rest of the Oilers aside from McDavid “nobodies,” especially with the likes of Draisaitl (who has won an Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy, and Ted Lindsay Trophy in 2020), and Duncan Keith (who has won a Conn Smythe Trophy, two Norris Trophies, and three Stanley Cups), in the lineup, is a miscalculated take. Instead of saying they’re ”nobody’s without him,” they should be saying that he’s becoming one of the greats, with an amazing supporting cast surrounding him.
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He’s the first ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – He’s been featured on CBC Radio providing hockey analysis for the Edmonton Oilers – He’s a freelance writer and Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.