Connor McDavid is the NHL’s best player, or is he? The Lightning weighs in

Who is the best player in the NHL? We polled the Lightning players before Connor McDavid comes to town with Edmonton.
Edmonton's Connor McDavid (97) will be in Tampa on Tuesday when the Lightning plays host to the Oilers. [Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP]
Edmonton's Connor McDavid (97) will be in Tampa on Tuesday when the Lightning plays host to the Oilers. [Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP]
Published Nov. 5, 2018|Updated Nov. 7, 2018

TAMPA — McDavid is coming! McDavid is coming!

Connor McDavid is one of those players who brings fans out. He's a special talent that you must see in person. He's in Tampa for the fourth time as Edmonton plays the Lightning on Tuesday.

The NHL doesn't have the same kind of GOAT debate as is fervent in the NBA and NFL. Like in baseball, there's a clear winner — it's unlikely anyone will touch Wayne Gretzky's numbers. The more interesting question is who the best in the league is right now?

Is it still Penguins center Sidney Crosby or has McDavid taken the torch?

McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy (most points in the league) the last two seasons with 108 last year and 100 the year before that. He also won the Ted Lindsay Award (best player voted on by the players association) the past two seasons and the Hart Memorial Trophy (best player as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association) two years ago.

That's a lot of hardware for a 21-year-old.

Not that Crosby is without his own collection. He has won the Art Ross Trophy twice, the Ted Lindsay twice and the Hart once. But he also has consecutive Conn Smythe Trophies (Stanley Cup playoffs MVP) and of course, has won the Stanley Cup three times.

An informal, anonymous poll of the Lightning dressing room came down on McDavid's favor, but not unanimously and not without qualifications. Even as they named McDavid, players didn't rule out Crosby

Some players named McDavid and then added "but Crosby is the better two-way player."

When one player said Crosby, his locker mate immediately questioned him. The original player explained right now, he'd take Crosby but if he were building a franchise, he'd go with McDavid. Give it another year or two, and it'll be McDavid no question.

While the two most obvious, McDavid and Crosby were not the only answers. Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy got a vote, as did Colorado's Nathan McKinnon. The player who voted McKinnon took "right now" literally and said after playing the Avalanche, he found McKinnon underrated and off to a great start.

No one offered up defending Hart Trophy-winner Taylor Hall, who they praised before playing New Jersey last week.

Most answers stuck to the expected pattern. One player first submitted "McCrosby," then came down for McDavid.

If it's accepted around the room that Crosby is the better two-way player, why did most players name McDavid the best?

It's not just what he does, but the speed at which he does it.

"You've got players that have skill and you have players that can skate and you have players that have size," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who wasn't part of the poll. "He has them all and he's the best at them all."

Cooper would know. He and the Lightning don't see a lot of McDavid — being in opposite conferences, the teams play twice a year — but he coached him on Team North America in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

McDavid won fastest skater at the 2017 and 2018 All-Star skills competitions. He makes plays that most players can't make and does it at speeds they almost definitely can't reach.

"That's what makes him so hard to defend," Cooper said. "He does things at such a high rate of speed that it makes him near impossible to defend. The only way you can do it, you basically have to smother him. You have to take away all his time and space, and don't give him the opportunities because then he's almost impossible to defend."

It's also what makes him the kind of player that sells tickets. Hockey's speed is drastically different live than on TV and this is becoming a league of young stars, with McDavid leading the way.


Lightning vs Edmonton, 7:30, Amalie Arena

TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 970-AM

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at Follow @dianacnearhos.