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Win or lose, McDavid's legacy has many more chapters

Dave Sandford / National Hockey League / Getty

Imagine doubting Connor McDavid.

There was a time, not that long ago, when there was a fair bit of that going around. Not just from the Miami Herald columnist who called him overrated, a take that should haunt him for the rest of days had it not done exactly what it was intended to do: attract controversy and clicks for days on end.

But beyond that, the question of McDavid's legacy was a common one, especially as his Edmonton Oilers fell into a Stanley Cup Final hole: Did he need to win a Cup to be considered an all-time great? Did McDavid require a championship ring to justify all the McJesus hype?

All of it was nonsense.

To begin with, the notion of evaluating the legacy of a player who is 27 years old makes about as much sense as trying to drive a half-built car. McDavid's been around for a long time, but only because he came straight into the NHL as a teenager and won his first scoring title at 20.

He's lived up to the predraft hype - remember when he and Jack Eichel were considered 1A and 1B by some experts? Since that arrival, McDavid's piled up five scoring titles and three regular-season MVP awards, even if playoff success for his team hadn't truly followed until this season.

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

But that speaks to the main reason why the legacy talk is particularly daft: The Oilers, for all of McDavid's time in northern Alberta, have been a flawed team. They had a grim goaltending duo of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen, which later became a $25-million contract for free agent Jack Campbell, who now plays in the minors. Darnell Nurse, the defenseman with the $74-million contract, was heading toward one of the worst plus-minus ratings in NHL playoff history before turning it around in the Stanley Cup Final as the Oilers stormed back. Jesse Puljujarvi, the forward taken fourth overall in the draft the year after McDavid arrived, didn't work out in Edmonton, and is emblematic of the team's struggles to put scoring talent around its captain, with the obvious exception of Leon Draisaitl and now Zach Hyman.

The McDavid story has never been one of a generational talent failing to deliver in the playoffs, but one of a generational talent not quite able to drag his team past better, more complete rosters. He led the NHL in playoff scoring in 2022, with 33 points in 16 games, when the Oilers were knocked out in the West final by the eventual champion Avalanche. What more could the guy do? Lead the playoffs in scoring by even more? Only 11 players in NHL history have ever scored more than 33 points in a single playoff, and only one of those, Doug Gilmour in 1993, did it without reaching the Cup Final.

The players to exceed that total now includes McDavid himself, with 42 points in 24 playoff games, more than anyone has scored in a single postseason other than some guys named Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. The only player in the last 15 seasons with a total that even approaches McDavid's numbers this year was Nikita Kucherov's 34 points in 2020. Sidney Crosby's career playoff high is 31 points. Nathan MacKinnon's is 25. The best playoff season from Auston Matthews is, um, 11 points.

You want a superstar who rises to the occasion? How about the eight points McDavid delivered in Games 4 and 5 of the Final against the Panthers, when the Oilers were one loss from elimination. You want a player who delivers moments of magic that'll live in Stanley Cup Playoffs lore? Take your pick: McDavid's outrageous dekes of a pair of Dallas players to score in Game 6 of the West final, or his 1-on-4 absurdity against the Panthers in Game 5 that resulted in a tap-in goal for Corey Perry. Those highlights could take their place alongside Lemieux's wonder goal in the 1991 Cup Final, or Bobby Orr flying through the air in 1970.

McDavid's exploits will lose a bit of their shine, of course, if the Oilers can't finish what would be a history-making comeback with a Game 7 win Monday. But that shouldn't detract from anything McDavid has done to lead Edmonton this season, and in his career. He was one of the best prospects the NHL has ever known. And all he's done is prove worthy of all the fuss.

Michael Jordan didn't win his first championship until he was 27. LeBron James was the same age when he won his first. There would be some undeniable symmetry if McDavid became a champion at 27. But whatever happens in Game 7, there's still time.

Connor McDavid's one of the best to ever play hockey. And that isn't overstating anything.

Scott Stinson is a contributing writer for theScore

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