Connor McDavid’s 100-assist season elevates already legendary NHL career

It’s time for a serious conversation about Connor McDavid and one of the most important bar debates in sports.

His latest remarkable feat, recording 100 assists in a season, supports the argument that he has already earned a place on hockey’s Mount Rushmore at 27 years old.

McDavid just achieved the 14th season in NHL history with 100 assists — and the first since Wayne Gretzky’s 11th in 1990-91 — thanks to an assist on Zach Hyman’s second-period goal in a 9-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks on Monday. He gets there just ahead of Nikita Kucherov. The Tampa Bay Lightning winger, who has played five more games than McDavid this season, recorded his 99th assist on Monday and has one game remaining to reach that milestone.

McDavid joins Gretzky (11 times), Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr as the only players on this club.

Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr are on almost everyone’s Mount Rushmore list. A year after winning his first Rocket Richard Trophy with 64 goals – the most since 2007-08 when Alex Ovechkin had 65 until Auston Matthews this season – McDavid’s penchant for the game made him part of this crew exclusive and strengthened the Mount Rushmore case that he has been building since entering the NHL.

We didn’t get to experience McDavid’s true greatness during his rookie season when he fractured his collarbone following a controversial hit by Brandon Manning.

McDavid had 48 points in 45 games that season, a pace of 87 points. For reference, 87 points would have placed McDavid third in the 2015-16 scoring race, sandwiched between Jamie Benn and Sidney Crosby.

It wasn’t enough to win the Calder Trophy, but it more than made up for it in terms of collecting awards. McDavid has won the Art Ross Trophy five times in the seven completed seasons since his debut campaign and finished second twice.

McDavid was once again in the heart of the goal race this season. Despite a terrible start by his standards – he had 10 points in his first 11 games – McDavid returned to prominence and took his first lead on March 30. A sixth victory for Art Ross, who would tie Lemieux and Gordie Howe for second place. behind Gretzky (10), will have to wait after McDavid sat out last week with a lower-body injury. But he’s already in rarefied air – on par with the greats Phil Esposito and Jaromir Jagr.

It should be noted that McDavid’s has always played with at least 30 teams in the NHL. This represents a minimum of 600 active skaters he fights with and against. With all due respect to those greats before him who appeared in shallower pools, it is infinitely more difficult to win scoring championships now. For McDavid, already being in the inner circle for career titles in this era is anything but an unfathomable accomplishment.

He’s also closing in on 1,000 career points, just 18 points after a goal and assist against the Sharks, and he could become the third-fastest player to do so. Gretzky and Lemieux, who had their best seasons in the NHL when the offense was at its peak, reached that mark in 424 and 513 games respectively. Next is Mike Bossy with 656 games.

McDavid has played 644 games, meaning he has 11 games left to beat Bossy. Given that McDavid has scored at 1.82 points per game over the last two seasons – and has 122 points in his last 64 games since the Oilers coaching change on November 12 – he has a good chance of doing so.

The term “generational gamer” is handed out like candy on Halloween these days. McDavid is the standard that others fail to meet. He’s already won the Hart Trophy three times – tied with Ovechkin and one ahead of Crosby in terms of contemporaries – which ties him for fourth all-time. The last two times he received this award, only one first place vote was not cast in his favor.

McDavid will definitely be in the running for another Hart this season. The fact that his production is somehow considered mediocre given the decline in goals and not being the clear scoring leader shows his genius.

As for his overall legacy at this point, detractors will surely point to the one major trophy missing from his mantle: the Stanley Cup.

McDavid is the first to acknowledge that he shouldn’t be considered one of the greatest players of all time without winning one. He repeatedly said the focus this season was not on individual accolades but rather on raising the silver chalice in June.

Whether this spring or later, it seems unimaginable that McDavid won’t win the Stanley Cup at least once at the end of his career. Of course, many great players have retired without their names etched. McDavid is a step or two above everyone else.

A Cup (or two or three) in the next decade would undoubtedly put him closer to a lock on Mount Rushmore. The Oilers are in their competitive window and should be the favorites to win it all this season.

It says here that he doesn’t even need that type of team success to be considered a face of league history.

As with marquee titles, winning the Stanley Cup is more difficult than ever in NHL history. There are no more six teams now. The World Hockey Association has yet to destroy several organizations today. There aren’t multiple franchises with shoestring budgets like there were before the advent of the salary cap.

The parity of this era means that almost all 16 teams in the playoffs have a chance to win it all. The Western Conference this season, for example, is filled with strong teams that could all reach the Finals.

The Oilers could lose early in the game, which would be a huge disappointment for the team and its captain. If that happened, it certainly wouldn’t be McDavid’s fault. Look no further than his last two playoff sessions as an indicator.

McDavid had 53 points in 28 games over five series and was the Oilers’ best player, just ahead of Leon Draisaitl. He showed up in key moments, including late in the Los Angeles-Calgary matchups in 2022. He is fourth in playoff points per game in NHL history, just behind Draisaitl.

So let’s put team success aside for now. McDavid has proven time and time again that he is one of the best players the NHL has ever seen.

If Gretzky and Lemieux are the benchmarks of the game – and with Orr there too – the list of those vying for fourth place on Mount Rushmore is not short. Crosby, Ovechkin, Howe and Richard point this out — and that’s before even considering defensemen or goaltenders.

McDavid’s latest achievement already merits consideration. I bet he’ll be the better choice by the time he hangs them up.

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(Photo by Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman: Paul Swanson/NHLI via Getty Images)

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