40 Games Later: Oilers vs. Maple Leafs Top-Four Forwards Debate

Back at the start of December 2022, there was a debate regarding the top four forwards on both the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs. A question posed by the Tim and Friends show asked about the Maple Leafs’ core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander: “Is there a better group of 4 forwards in the NHL right now? If so, who?” The Edmonton Oilers were quick to respond, “McDavid, Draisaitl, Hyman & Nugent-Hopkins have 31 more points this season…”

The question drew quite a debate and at the time I wrote a comparison piece. In it, I mentioned, “It’s an embarrassment of riches regardless of which four you have, but it seems clear to this writer that the Oilers are starting to run away with things and should win the race by a wide margin when the season comes to a close.” Just under 40 games later, the gap has widened as predicted and the Oilers’ top four is crushing the top four on the Leafs.

The Points Total Margin is Not Close

While conceding that Toronto Maple Leafs have more points so far in the campaign than the Oilers do (84 to Edmonton’s 78), the total production for the top players on each team is heavily leaning toward the Oilers. When you look at just point totals for each player, it’s as follows:

Maple Leafs’ Top 4Oilers’ Top 4
Auston Matthews (61)Connor McDavid (124)
Mitch Marner (77)Leon Draisaitl (96)
John Tavares (62)Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (78)
William Nylander (74)Zach Hyman (72)

In total, the Leafs’ top four has 264 points on the season compared to the Oilers’ top four with 370. That’s over 100 points separating the two groups and Edmonton’s core is only getting better, whereas there’s been some debate about how well the old guard is clicking with the new guard in Toronto where GM Kyle Dubas added multiple new pieces at the trade deadline.

At the time I first wrote the comparison piece in December, the Oilers core was only ahead by 54 points.

The Salary Cap Situation

Considering the trade deadline has come and gone and both teams were busy, it’s fair to examine the cap hits of the team’s respective top four and ask if those salaries affected the organization’s ability to make moves to improve their overall rosters. Moreover, did the moves each team make actually help their respective core four?

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom of the Calgary Flames makes a save against Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

For the Maple Leafs, Dubas was arguably the busiest GM in the league, adding six new key pieces and changing over a good chunk of his roster. He didn’t touch his top four, but he moved some auxiliary pieces that play alongside some of the key producers and there’s always a chance that messes with team chemistry. Meanwhile, the Oilers moved out a key power play producer in Tyson Barrie but did little to mess with their top two forward lines.

Dubas was able to add key pieces while the Oilers had to toy with the league’s best power play to make the moves they did due to the cap. On the surface, it feels like a wash and early returns or Edmonton are solid as Evan Bouchard has stepped up and played over 20 minutes per game while adding three points in three games since the trade. He’s got nine shots on goal and he seems to be fitting right in quarterbacking the Oilers’ man advantage which is still clicking at close to 31% since the deadline.

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The Leafs haven’t quite clicked since the deadline, losing games to Edmonton and Vancouver and injuries have already struck.

The Most Dynamic Players in the Game

Perhaps most noticeable statisic since the first time I examined this debate is how far the gap has widened between the team’s top two respective stars. Since that December 22nd article, McDavid has 59 points to Matthews’ 23 points. Ouch. Meanwhile, Draisaitl has 43 points in that same time span to Marner’s 39. The top stars on the Oilers are outplaying the top stars on the Maple Leafs and the reality is, that’s key in determining the success of either team this season.

If Matthews and Marner aren’t at their best, the Maple Leafs don’t stand a chance. The same goes for the Oilers if McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t going. Both of these teams are loaded offensively, but it’s their respective stars that will be the game-changers. Over the last 40 games, the Oilers have had the edge there too.

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