Where does Connor McDavid's season rank among NHL's best all time?

It's safe to say Connor McDavid's 2022-23 season is the best we've seen recently, but does it stand up to the best on record?

From the beginning of Connor McDavid's 2022-23 season to the end, it's been clear that what he's doing is special.

The last time someone topped his points total of 153, the Edmonton Oilers superstar wasn't even born yet. Mario Lemieux managed 161 points in 1995-96, but since that time no one's cracked 130.

So, before we try to make historical comparisons its important to acknowledge that McDavid's stellar campaign is utterly unprecedented in recent history.

If you believe the quality of hockey in the NHL has gone up in the last quarter century enough that it's unfair to compare his exploits to players in the 1980s and 1990s, then you already have your answer: this is the best season ever.

That's a defensible position, and comparing players across eras is never easy.

We are largely going to use points and adjusted points here, and that's not the only way to measure the worth of a player's contribution. With McDavid it feels fair, though, considering the primary way he puts his imprint on games is by scoring and setting up goals.

His possession metrics are strong, but far from historic, and he isn't known for driving an elite penalty kill or locking down opposing stars.

If we accept the premise that most of McDavid's greatness — at least from an objective standpoint — comes from his point production, that's the first place to start making historical comparisons.

Connor McDavid just wrapped up one of the best individual seasons in NHL history.
Connor McDavid just wrapped up one of the best individual seasons in NHL history. (Getty Images)

By raw points, the 26-year-old's campaign ranks 15th all-time between Steve Yzerman's 1988-89 and Phil Esposito's 1970-71. That might not seem like a particularly generous characterization of McDavid's work, but to be fair while his 2022-23 point total has been bested 14 times, it's only been done by three players: Yzerman, Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky.

McDavid's season looks slightly better if it's judged by adjusted points, a metric that improves our ability to compare players across hockey history by taking season length, roster size and offensive environment into account. It's not the perfect statistic, but it's a more reliable indicator than points alone.

By that measure, the season we just observed ranks 13th. Interestingly, it's behind his own 2020-21 campaign in which he managed a slightly higher points per game total (1.88) than he did this year (1.87) in a marginally tougher offensive environment.

That said, we're willing to throw that one out. It's more impressive to maintain a stellar pace over 82 games than 56. We're also happy to toss out the three players on the adjusted points leaderboard from the 1920s: Howie Morentz, Cooney Weiland and Frank Boucher.

No disrespect to a trio of hockey pioneers, but the game they played is just too distant from the modern NHL.

That leaves McDavid behind just eight seasons, Lemieux's aforementioned 1995-96 and his 1988-89, plus every Gretzky season from 1981-82 to 1986-87.

The further we get away from Gretzky's brilliance the more tempting it is to see it as a product of its time. The quality of goaltending in the 1980s was far worse than what's on display today and the offence thrived in a way it hasn't since.

Even with that in mind, there's a reason why Gretzky is known as the Great One. If it was so easy to put up 200-point seasons everyone would've done it. Instead, Gretzky won the Art Ross in each of those aforementioned years by ludicrous margins.

Stats via
Stats via

To put that in perspective, the total margin of victory for all five of McDavid's Art Ross Trophy wins combined is 71, a normal single-season total for Gretzky in his prime. McDavid's points were harder to come by but that's still a heck of a gap to bridge.

As mentioned above, there's a subjective case that McDavid's season is the best we've ever seen based on the continually improving quality of NHL hockey — and it has shattered the ceiling of the current era.

Even so, it's probably best described as the best offensive season we've seen outside of Gretzky's prime and Lemieux's best years. In a climate where we love throwing around GOAT labels that may not sound thrilling, but it's a hell of an achievement.