Lets make the sure the numbers match the narrative when it comes to comparing McDavid to Barkov

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You will not catch me arguing that big Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers is anything but an elite 2-way NHL player, perhaps THE most elite 2-way performer in the game. I have a lot of respect for his skill, grit, and strength.

But I believe his potential impact against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the fast-approaching Stanley Cup Final is being overblown.

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Even my friend and colleague at The Cult of Hockey David Staples has said that McDavid & Draisaitl “have to out-Barkov Barkov.”

Wait a minute…really?

The two players who many consider the absolute best in the game need to change their game to a defensive structure like Barkov’s?

I beg to differ.

David went further: “There has been many a goal (in the playoffs) where they (McDavid and Draisaitl) have been the culprit.”

Well, I am already on record as saying that David was over stating that view. Have they been responsible for some of the mistakes on goals against? Absolutely, they have. But “many a goal”? Hmmm.

Both David and our mutual colleague Bruce McCurdy put a tremendous amount of meticulous and thoughtful work into their Grade A Scoring Chances project at The Cult of Hockey. Over the years, I have seen a mountain of evidence that their data is highly predictive of the outcome of a game. It is “good science.” I firmly believe you should take it seriously. And to be 100% fair to David, many people have his take. It is hardly just him.

But I might suggest that some context is missing from the friendly argument that David and I are having. So, lets go back to the Dallas series and use the data available from Natural Stat Trick to compare the defensive performances of McDavid and Draisaitl to the Stars two most dangerous offensive performers, Jason Robertson, and Wyatt Johnson. Both terrific players, agree? The best the Stars (who were favored by many, prior to the series) could ice.

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In terms of High Danger Scoring Chances against 5v5 per 60, both McDavid and Draisaitl finished at 8.7. Jason Robertson was strong in this respect. His rating was a sparking 7.0. But Wyatt Johnson got scorched by the Oilers 5v5. His rating was 14.8. So, the Oilers two best offensive players were significantly better overall than Dallas’ two best when it came to defending. Add in the fact that the Oilers duo played way more (5v5 TOI’s of 117:40 for McDavid and 111:36 for Draisaitl, versus 94:30 for Robertson and 97.58 for Johnson). Anyone will tell you that the longer you spend on the ice, the greater you are exposed to error…be it through fatigue, bad luck, or the simple fact that you engage in more plays. Yet, that did not happen. Then, just for good measure, consider that McDavid and Draisaitl generally faced tougher competition than the Dallas duo. Meanwhile, McDavid and Draisaitl also out-performed Robertson and Johnson in terms of High Dangers For at 5v5, by a margin of 46-31. Oh yeah, and Edmonton won the series. If you do not think the comparison of these four specific players is fair? Hey, I just picked the two top producing players from each squad and looked at their defence.

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Part of my view here is this: Yes, you do want all of your players to bring their best defensive efforts at this time of year. But do you really want your two best offensive players to sacrifice the one clear advantage that Edmonton clearly has over any of their oppositions including Florida in an effort to be the next Bob Gainey or Doug Jarvis? I would argue…emphatically…no. Keep in mind that Barkov was on the ice for one, single 5v5 goal in the New York series. One.

Then, there is the perception of Aleksander Barkov and the existential threat he apparently poses to McDavid and Draisaitl. Well…

In the Rangers series, most often facing New York’s best, Barkov was excellent. But…he was only on the ice for one, single High Danger Scoring Chance Against 5v5 fewer than Connor McDavid was, and on for the exact same 16 HDSC’s against that Leon Draisaitl was on for. And all this was while Barkov was playing significantly fewer 5v5 minutes (96:45) than either of the two Oilers players. Barkov’s HDSC’s Against 5v5 per 60 was 9.9. Good…but below where both McDavid and Draisaitl performed at (8.7).

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Now…is comparing one series to the other in some ways apples to oranges? Fair enough. But it nonetheless illustrates that while Barkov did indeed perform at an elite level against the Rangers, in terms of his defence? It was not statistically “better” than how McDavid/Draisaitl did against Dallas.

Further, can we agree that as good as Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin sure are, those two Rangers skaters are not perennial MVP candidates like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are. Barkov was not facing the two best players in the world. He will be in the Cup Final.

Look: Over a 7-game series perhaps Aleksander Barkov will prove David Staples right and me wrong. The proof will be in the pudding.

All I am saying is that we should make sure the narrative matches the numbers.

Then, let the players decide this debate on the ice.

Now on Threads @kleavins. Also, find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins, Instagram at LeavinsOnHockey, and Mastodon at [email protected].

This article is not AI generated.

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