Connor McDavid and the Greatest Shortened-Season Performances of All-Time

McDavid is scoring at a rate not seen in a quarter century. His 2020-21 is arguably the best season ever by a player in a league-abbreviated season, but who are the other contenders?
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Connor McDavid can say reaching 100 points in a 56-game season doesn’t matter, that it’s just a number. He can pick any quip from the Team-First Clichés 101 manual. It’s cute. He isn’t fooling anyone. He doesn’t have to get 100 in 56, but it certainly would be a remarkable accomplishment, a nice round number. No player has scored 100 points in the first 56 games of a season since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did it in 1995-96.

McDavid needs 13 points in his final seven regular-season games to hit the century mark. He’s tallied 13 points in a seven-game stretch 18 times already this season, so it would be unwise to bet against him. That said, whether he hits the milestone or not, it’s remarkable that he’s even in the conversation to do what Lemieux and Jagr did 25 years ago. The NHL averaged 6.28 goals per game that season, the highest park of the past 26 seasons. The league sits at 5.84 for the 2020-21 campaign. McDavid is producing points at the rate that two all-time great superstars did when the game had far more scoring. It further cements McDavid as an all-time great superstar in his own right, whether he finishes with 100 points or 99 or even his current mark of 87. At the season’s conclusion, he’ll join Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe as the only players to win the scoring title three times before turning 25.

McDavid’s 2020-21 campaign will go down as one of the greatest individual efforts in NHL history – or at least of this millennium. He currently leads teammate Leon Draisaitl by 16 points. The biggest margin of victory by a scoring champ this millennium is 17 points, shared by 2015-16 Patrick Kane and 2013-14 Sidney Crosby, but they did it in full seasons, and McDavid still has seven games left to widen his lead to 18 or more. Whatever happens, his season is the most dominant regular-season effort we’ve ever seen in a shortened NHL campaign, regardless of how anyone feels about the degree of difficulty in the North Division.

Are there any challengers for “best short-season performance” to rival McDavid’s? By “short season,” I mean seasons in which external factors shrunk the league-wide schedule. If we judge by any season in which players logged fewer than 70 games, for instance, pre-modern efforts like Joe Malone’s 44 goals in 20 games would dominate. Mario Lemieux’s 1992-93 campaign coming back from cancer is arguably the greatest single-season performance in hockey history, but it doesn’t qualify for this list, nor does his post-retirement magic in 2000-01 or Andrew Hammond’s wild run in net as a late-season recall in 2014-15.

Let’s define the criterion as: “best performances during seasons in which the player would’ve played most or all of his teams games if the league played a full schedule,” Do any measure up to McDavid’s 2020-21? Here are few standouts from campaigns abbreviated by lockouts or COVID-19.

Eric Lindros, 1994-95

Years of hype for Lindros, from his junior career to refusing to report to the Quebec Nordiques, culminated in an MVP lockout season. Lindros exploded for 70 points in 46 games, during which the ‘Legion of Doom’ line with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg was born. Efforts like this one are why Lindros deservedly earned a Hall of Fame induction despite playing just 760 games. The blend of brute strength, intimidation and sublime skill Lindros displayed at his peak were like nothing the league had seen before. He was Shaq on skates.

Dominik Hasek, 1994-95

Hasek’s .930 save percentage in 1994-95 was .013 better than the next-best netminder’s mark in 1994-95. Unbelievable. For every 1,000 shots faced that season, the second-best goalie in the league allowed 13 more goals than Hasek. He took home his second straight Vezina Trophy and ended up winning six in an eight-year stretch. Long live the Goalie G.O.A.T.

Martin St-Louis, 2012-13

So Sidney Crosby would’ve actually won the scoring crown had he not broken his jaw late in the year. It was still amazing to see St-Louis become the oldest scoring champion in NHL history at 37. The next oldest Art Ross winner is Howe at 34.

Leon Draisaitl, 2019-20

Draisaitl became the first German to win the Art Ross and Hart Trophies. With teammate McDavid missing time due to injury, Draisaitl won the scoring title by 13 points with 110 in 71 games. His 1.55 points per game was the second highest average this millennium among those who played 70 or more games.

Auston Matthews, 2020-21

With a jaw-dropping 38 goals in 47 games, Matthews is averaging 0.81 goals per game, putting him on a 66-goal pace for an 82-game schedule. The only player in the last 75 years to score 40 or more goals and play 56 or fewer games in season is Cam Neely in 1993-94. Matthews is two goals away from joining him.

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