At the age of six, Connor McDavid was already special – not just talented, but driven and determined. His parents tried to get him into a competitive league for kids a year older, but he was denied. So they found a solution. They put him in a house league – with nine-year-olds. McDavid played up. He did it again when he joined the Ontario Hockey League at 15, and when he joined Team Canada’s World Juniors team at 16. After that, of course, was the NHL.
Which is, technically speaking, as high as he can go. The thing is, McDavid is still ready to play up – he just can’t. So, instead, he puts up seasons like this one, which include months like March. On the 14th, McDavid hit 129 points on the season, the highest single-season point total among all active NHL players. On the same day, the next highest points-earner on the year (as it has been all season) was McDavid’s teammate, Leon Draisaitl, with 100 – 29 points behind. If you only took McDavid’s assists into consideration, he’d still rank in the Top 20 overall points leaders on the year. On 22 March, McDavid notched his 60th goal of the season in just 72 games (Auston Matthews hit 60 in 73 games last season).
The last player to hit 60 goals in a season faster than McDavid did this year was Mario Lemieux, who did it in 70 games in 1987-88. This is McDavid’s sixth season with at least 100 points, unsurprisingly putting him in a league of his own. The only other active NHL player with six 100-point seasons is Sidney Crosby, who’s currently in his 18th year; McDavid’s been in the league for just eight. Lemieux, who played 17 NHL seasons, managed to break the 100-point barrier 10 times. Wayne Gretzky notched 15 100-point seasons in 20 years. If McDavid keeps it up, he may surpass 150 points on the year, something nobody’s done since, well, you guessed it, Lemieux (1995-96) and Gretzky (1990-91).
In other words, when it comes to pure scoring ability, McDavid is on pace with the greatest to ever play.
But it’s not just that he can score and put up assists – which others can, too. What makes McDavid special, still, is the way in which he does it. Often on the level of some kind of sorcery. Like that time he danced through four New York Rangers to score, and then two weeks later did he same thing against Winnipeg. And it’s not just that he’s fast (which he is), what’s key is his speed transitions, like when he shifted gears and embarrassed the Leafs’ Morgan Reilly in 2020.
And then there’s the hands.
When McDavid was a child, his mom asked him, “What do you want from this?” – meaning hockey, generally. McDavid had a list. Hitting the OHL at 15 was one, along with winning a Memorial Cup. He wanted to be a first overall NHL draft pick, win a Stanley Cup, and get Hockey Hall of Fame induction. With a Hall of Fame career already after only eight seasons, McDavid is only missing the hardware. The Memorial Cup got away from him in 2015. Which just leaves Lord Stanley’s Cup, the only level up that remains.
Top Cheese: Appreciation for Patrice Bergeron
Per a tweet from Boston sports radio reporter Ty Anderson, Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said in March that there have “been a lot of times this season where he’s gone to talk to a player about how they’re doing mentally and asking where they’re at and that player says, ‘Patrice actually already talked to me about this, so I’m feeling better already.’” Just one reason, probably, that Montgomery considers Patrice Bergeron to be “the best captain in sports.”
Bergeron is no stranger to compliments for a reason: he has a long track record of being the nicest guy in the league. “He would be, in my opinion, one of the best human beings I’ve ever played with,” former Bruin Shawn Thornton told Sportsnet in 2018. Earlier this season, just before facing-off against the Sabres, Bergeron asked Buffalo’s Tage Thompson how his wife, who’d had a cancerous mass removed from her leg in 2019, is doing. “It’s just the kind of guy he is,” Thompson said later. “He’s just a genuine guy, cares about other people.”
A study released last summer based on interviews with former professional hockey players (including many from the NHL) found that players feel pressured to keep issues like pain, concussions, addictions, and mental health to themselves. Even though players are aware of resources made available by their teams, the researchers found that “no one is willing to use it out of fear” that personal disclosures won’t stay confidential. The lead researcher told CTV News that the players they interviewed said “there was a lot of talk in the industry but not much changing systematically.”
In an environment like that, empathy like Bergeron’s goes a long way.
In March, the Bruins became the first team to clinch a 2023 playoff spot (in just 64 games, the third-fastest to do so since 1995-96) – but also lost to the Oilers, Red Wings, and Blackhawks. Reading too much into those losses be a mistake, but they’re notable nevertheless, for a team whose previous loss was way back on 11 February.
Carolina will be without key forward Andrei Svechnikov through the playoffs. Svechnikov suffered a torn ACL during a game on 13 March against Las Vegas when he appeared to catch the toe of his skate blade in the ice – a potentially devastating blow for the team’s playoff hopes. Elsewhere in the East, all but three playoff spots are now locked in.
Meanwhile, out West, the Seattle Kraken are sitting in a (wildcard) playoff spot – a significant upgrade from their inaugural season, which saw them finish last in the Pacific. Unlike the East, however, as of the final week of March all the Western playoff spots are still un-clinched – it’ll be a race to the finish.
Despite not technically being the worst team in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks tanked hard enough recently to be the first team officially eliminated from playoff contention this season. At the same time, the Sharks’ recent form has propelled them upwards among the list of teams likeliest to secure the first overall draft pick (ie: Connor Bedard). While Columbus still hold the top spot on that ranking, with a 25% chance at securing the first pick, the Sharks have moved into second, with a 13.5% chance, according to Tankathon.
While they aren’t really in the chase for Bedard, after high pre-season expectations, the Ottawa Senators are poised to miss the playoffs. But they may get a new owner. Actor/businessman Ryan Reynolds has recently expressed interest in buying a stake in the team. In March T-Mobile announced a $1.35bn purchase of Ka’ena Corporation, including its subsidiary Mint Mobile – the wireless firm of which Reynolds owns a majority stake. Meanwhile, Senators winger Tim Stützle has registered 51 points (24 goals and 27 assists) since 1 January – quite the pace.
Clip of the month
Down 2-0 in Seattle, Anaheim were looking for something to help get them back into the game as the second period began. Less than a minute in, Trevor Zegras gave it a try.
Not bad. But could he do it in heels and a dress? TNT commentator Jennifer Botterill did (and broke the TV studio in the process).
Elsewhere in the league (and beyond)
San Jose, Chicago, and Sunrise: The trend of players and teams refusing to wear Pride-themed warmup jerseys continues. San Jose goaltender James Reimer and Florida Panthers’ brothers Marc and Eric Staal all claimed wearing Pride jerseys conflicts with their faith – while at the same time suggesting, inaccurately, that being LGBTQ+ is a choice (one wonders when they chose to be straight!). When reporters pointed out to Eric Staal that he wore a Pride jersey as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, he reportedly denied it – despite there being photographic evidence. Meanwhile, the Chicago Blackhawks decided as an organization that none of their players would wear Pride jerseys, apparently out of concern for Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ “propaganda” laws, which ban promoting “non-traditional sexual relations.” (Multiple other Russian-born players, including Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Bobrovsky, have worn the jerseys without incident.)
Philadelphia: The Flyers parted ways with their GM, Chuck Fletcher in March, replacing him (temporarily, for now) with former Flyer Daniel Briere, who was almost immediately embroiled in a scandal created by his son, Carson, who was seen tossing a woman’s wheelchair down a flight of stairs at a nightclub in Eire, Pennsylvania. Briere The Younger has been suspended from his university, Mercyhurst. Daniel Briere said Carson’s actions were “inexcusable.” Carson Briere was later charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
Minneapolis: Shout-out to the Mahtomedi Zephyrs, who won the Class A division of the annual state-wide high school hockey tournament that wrapped up on 10 March. The Zephyrs pulled off a thrilling double-OT victory in front of a packed house at the Xcel Energy Center, which is usually home to the Wild (check out the mayhem below). The Class AA championship went to the Minnetonka Skippers. Hockey continues to be alive and well in Minnesota – not to mention some superb hockey hair.