Even in the best of situations, projecting a player's production over the course of a contract is difficult. In McDavid's case, the projection is based on the 127 NHL games he has played and covers the next nine seasons, including this final season of the three-year, entry-level contract he signed on July 3, 2015. This projection begins from the level of an Art Ross winner at age 20, must encompass the rise to his prime, and the start of his decline by age 29.
One way to accomplish this goal is to look through NHL history for players with similar statistics at that same age, adjust those numbers to the modern-day standard, and then base a projection on the average performance of that group from ages 21 to 29.
The process of comparing players from different seasons isn't as easy as it first appears to be, because the game has changed over the years. For example, scoring 100 points in today's NHL, when there is an average of 5.54 goals scored per game, is a lot different than doing so in 1981-82, when the average was 8.02.
Here is statistical projection of Connor McDavid's scoring throughout the duration of his new contract, based on the actual, era-adjusted scoring on his closest historical peers:
Adjusted points can be used to account for the different scoring levels. Defined by Dan Diamond in 1999's "Total Hockey," adjusted points are calculated by dividing a player's points by the League average goals per game that season and multiplying it by the modern standard.
In fairness, scoring rates aren't the only things that have changed over time. Goaltending equipment and strategies have changed, the average number of power-play opportunities has varied, and the red line was removed for purposes of two-line passes in 2005-06, to name a few differences. However, adjusted points should be effective enough to get an impression of what to expect from McDavid over the next nine seasons.
In McDavid's case, the real challenge in building this kind of projection is finding similar players, because so few have achieved his level of scoring at this early age.
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McDavid has 148 points (46 goals, 102 assists) in those 127 games, an average of 1.17 points per game. Once the adjustment for era is made, two players have scored at least 1.17 adjusted points per game through their age-20 season since the 1967-68 expansion: Wayne Gretzky of the Oilers, with 1.35; and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, with 1.28.
Because a projection based on two players is statistically tenuous, the four other players who are above 1.0 adjusted points per 60 minutes will be added: Alex Ovechkin, 1.16; Mario Lemieux, 1.11; Eric Lindros, 1.10; and Evgeni Malkin, 1.01. Using six players creates a group with an average of 1.17 adjusted points per 60 minutes, just like McDavid.
At first glance, it might seem premature to base McDavid's projection on those players, but his scoring rate has been that exceptional. At even strength, McDavid has averaged 2.82 points per 60 minutes, according to Hockey Analysis. Over the past two seasons, no other player has scored more than McDavid and Crosby (2.60; minimum 500 minutes played).
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Basing McDavid's projection on the average era-adjusted performance of those six players in their age 21 through age 29 seasons, McDavid would have 992 points in 751 games by the time the contract expires in 2026. That result assumes McDavid would miss 114 games over the next nine seasons, about 13 per season.
Missing 114 games makes sense when you consider that four of the six players sustained at least one serious injury in his 20s. Up until age 29, Malkin missed 142 games, Lindros missed 151, Crosby missed 168, and Lemieux missed 209. Ovechkin and Gretzky missed 26 and 33 games, respectively.
Given that four of the six highest-scoring forwards in recent history missed significant time with injury, it is possible the same thing will happen to McDavid. He already missed 37 games with a fractured collarbone in 2015-16.
For purposes of this projection, let's assume better luck for McDavid. If it is recalculated under the arbitrary assumption that Malkin, Lindros, Crosby and Lemieux missed one-quarter as many games as they did, then McDavid could miss as few as 36 games and would accumulate 1,095 points in 829 games by age 29.
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McDavid's scoring won't be as consistent as shown here, because this projection is based on six players who averaged out each other's highs and lows. In reality, McDavid's single-season peak could reach more than 120 points, and there may be seasons in his prime when he fails to score 100.
But the general trend is valid, as are the final totals. Like his peers, McDavid will reach his peak around age 22 or 23 before starting a gradual decline that becomes more noticeable in his late 20s, ending with about an 84 point-season when the contract expires in 2026.
Beyond the potential for injury, there are other factors that were ignored for this projection: who his linemates might be, what kind of role he will be assigned, and how NHL scoring levels might change over the next nine seasons.
However, there is sufficient evidence that 1,000 points is within McDavid's reach, and why a $100 million contract could prove to be a sound investment.
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