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Handicapping McDavid’s Art Ross Chances

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Before anyone can call me a liar

2018 NHL Awards - Press Room Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, the copper and blue crew, myself included, participated in a preseason roundtable. One of the questions asked us to predict Connor McDavid’s state line for the upcoming season, and I said, like, 110, or something like that, without really thinking about it. I also promised that my real answer would come as a somewhat statsy (not Stastny) post. It’s late, but this is that post.

Before the season started, I placed a friendly wager with my online bookmaker. $100 on Connor McDavid to win the Art Ross trophy at 3.40 (equivalent to +240 or 12/5). These odds suggest an implied probability of 29.4%. This means that if Connor McDavid has greater than a 29.4% probability of winning the Art Ross Trophy this year, I made a smart bet. Of course, ,my bookmaker believes the likelihood is less than that, that why this price was made available, even after a healthy margin was applied on their part.

Who’s right? That’s what I aim to find out.

While it’s true that McDavid has won back-to-back scoring titles, that hardly proves that he’s a shoe-in for this one. One thing that McDavid has had going for him, in his back-to-back scoring title wins, is a clean bill of health. He’s played the full 82 game slate in back to back years, and frankly, it’s hard for me to not pencil him in for a threepeat if he can play a full 82 this year. But, time missed plays a significant role in the supposed 70% of scenarios where McDavid doesn’t outscore the field.

Health

McDavid did miss 34 games in his rookie season to a broken collarbone. Counting that, he has played in 87.3% of all Oilers games since he’s been drafted, including playoffs and the eight games so far this year. If he plays that percentage of the remaining 74 games on the Oilers schedule, that’s 65 more games this year, for a total of 73. Let’s call that a conservative estimate on how many games we can expect from McDavid in a 50th percentile, or average expected season from him. If anything, this may be too pessimistic for a player who’s 21 years old, with over 200 consecutive games played under his belt, and no history of chronic injury. But, We’ll roll with that.

Production at Even Strength

This is an area where McDavid is currently peerless. Since the start of last season, McDavid has 91 even-strength points in 90 games, not to mention another four points which came shorthanded. At this rate, we could pencil Connor in for another 69 points in his remaining games before accounting for the power play. Add that to the seven non-powerplay points that he already has through eight games, and that comes to 76 point between even strength and the penalty kill. Last season, Claude Giroux had the second most non-powerplay points in the league, with 66. That means that without even projecting another step forward for the 21-year-old, McDavid’s 50th percentile season will probably result in about ten points more that the best non-McDavid performance from the field.

(All stats courtesy of hockeyreference.com. This definition of even strength include 3 on 3 overtime, and standard empty net situations.)

The Powerplay

This is the area that I believe is responsible for my favourable expected value on this wager. I assume the bookmaker’s projections were based on McDavid coming off seasons of 100 and 108 points in his last two years, factoring in the risk of missing time, then calculating the probability that a 50th percentile performance from him would exceed the 100th percentile performance that will inevitably come from one of the other contenders in the field.

The oversight, in my opinion, comes from a lack of analysis on where The heavy favourite’s points have been coming from in previous years, and, therefore an underestimation on the likelihood of of a career high all-situations scoring rate coming from said favourite.

Through eight games this season, Connor McDavid had four powerplay goals. That is one more than he had in his Hart Trophy season in 2016-17, and one fewer than he had last year, when, over the course of 82 games, he set a career-high in that statistic. Add in his three assists, and McDavid has seven powerplay point in eight games this season. Last season, despite winning the scoring race by a six point margin, he only managed 20 points with the man-advantage.

Now, I’m not saying that McDavid will average nearly one powerplay point per game this year. I’m not declaring Manny Viveiros the saviour of the long-ridiculed Oilers powerplay. In fact, I haven’t even really loved the look of the Oilers’ powerplay, despite some early postive results thus far. What I am saying, is that even if the newly hired Viveiros can have some positive impact on last season’s embarrassment of a man-advantage. Or even if he can just take some credit while it regresses to the mean, that might mean that there’s no end in sight to McDavid’s strangle hold on the Art Ross Trophy.

Consider this: Excluding Connor McDavid, the other nine players who finished in the top ten in total points last season averaged 36.2 points on the powerplay each. If McDavid puts up the same powerplay points per game average as those nine players did last year for 65 remaining games, that would result in 30 more powerplay points, plus the seven powerplay points he already has, which would make a projected total of 37 powerplay points in a conservative estimate of 73 games played.

Add McDavid’s 37 projected powerplay points to his 76 projected non-powerplay points, and you get a point projection of 113 in 73 games.

For what it’s worth, ESPN fantasy’s projected point total for McDavid this season was 111.

If we assume that projection was predicted on an assumption of 82 games played, and given that he’s already scored 14 points in eight games, scoring at a 111-point 82 game pace for the remaining 74 games would put him at 114 points total.

My projection is a little more aggressive, considering that it would result in an 82-game pace of 126 points (everything’s been rounded to the nearest whole number, for those counting along).

Nevertheless, I didn’t project any leaps forward, with the exception of special teams, which are highly system dependent. One might, considering we’re discussing a 21-year-old. Perhaps he won’t replicate the best even-strength production in the last 20 years. Then again, factoring in nine missed games is probably more conservative than a 50th percentile projection on my part. To me, 113 seems fair, with 126 representing the best season possible, and 100 representing his floor, barring a significant amount of time lost to a major injury.

The Field

Now that I have my 113 point projection for McDavid, the only thing remaining is determining the likelihood that anyone else could compete with it. With a reasonable floor of 100 points, McDavid really doesn’t need to reach a new gear to win the scoring title. 100 points won him the Art Ross by an 11-point margin in 2016-17. As for 113 points, that is equal to the highest point total recorded in the past 10 seasons (Evgeni Malkin in 2008-09).

Based on this, and after trying to cynically account for my bias as much as possible, I think it would be fair to give the field even odds at the very most against McDavid to win the scoring title.

I don’t think this is hyperbole, and although I do acknowledge my Oilers bias, for the sake of transparency, I did shop around for this bet, and found some sites where McDavid’s Art Ross odds were comparable to the Golden State Warriors’ NBA championship odds (currently sitting at around 4/7 or approximately 1.6).

Those odds were for fools, but although props like this are hard to find once the season starts, if you have a friend who’s willing to give you significantly better than even odds on McDavid to win the scoring title, I suggest that you take them up on that.