With the Colorado Avalanche rolling again and superstar Nathan MacKinnon in the midst of a 14-game scoring streak, the debate over who is the best player in the world is again taking centre stage.

For a few years now, the hockey community has generally settled on Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid as the best player on earth. McDavid has been a supernova in the offensive zone for a few years now – a freakish combination of speed and skill that very few, if any, NHL defences can contain.

But the lone frustrating part of McDavid’s career so far – an element that is largely out of his control – is that the Stanley Cup Playoffs rarely feature his team. We have seen just 17 playoff games and one series win in McDavid’s five-year career. This season, McDavid’s Oilers were dispatched by an undermanned Chicago Blackhawks team during the play-in round.

Edmonton has not done a good job of building out the rest of the roster beyond McDavid, and, as a result, McDavid – much like fellow 2015 draftee Jack Eichel in Buffalo – suffers.

What would it look like if Edmonton was able to build a roster around McDavid? It would look like MacKinnon’s situation with the Colorado Avalanche, where he’s become a player with 40 playoff games (and counting) under his belt who is considered one of the faces of postseason hockey.

Instead of debating which of the two is a better player (and for the record, I think it is McDavid), the reality is that most of what separates these star players is merely the difference in teammate quality.

Their statistical profiles are quite similar. Over the past five seasons, McDavid and MacKinnon rank at or near the top in most offensive categories, and their overall contributions – generally driven by elite offensive numbers – to team outcomes are outstanding.

In fact, both players are inside of the top five by Goals Above Replacement measures since the 2015-16 season:

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You can iterate this over and over again on most statistical measures and the findings are the same – McDavid and MacKinnon are two of the most impactful forwards in the world. But you can also see how team effects can damper performance. McDavid is just 77th in net goals (+0.41) over this five-year window. A fine number, but not what you would expect from a team scoring this many goals with him on the ice.

Edmonton fans can explain this phenomenon quite well. There is one sizable contributor working against McDavid, and that’s teammate quality.

For too many years the Oilers put overwhelmed wingers on McDavid’s wing and poor blueliners behind them. Add shaky goaltending over the years – the Oilers are 20th in save percentage over this same window – and you have a situation where the league’s best offensive talent (perhaps by a considerable margin) doesn’t carry great on-ice goal differentials because his team is too leaky in the defensive third.

MacKinnon wasn’t always on a great team – it wasn’t too long ago the Avalanche finished with 48 points during the 2016-17 regular season. But the front office drastically improved everything around him during their transition, and Colorado has turned into a force behind their best player:

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Teams aren’t asking for their bottom-six or bottom-nine forwards to drive sizable goal differential advantages, especially in a hard cap league. But much like a bad goaltender, you really cannot escape poor depth play.

Conversely, strong depth play can turn a dangerous team into a Stanley Cup contender, much as it has with the Avalanche this season. Whereas the Avalanche were 23 even-strength goals better than their opponents when MacKinnon was on the bench, Edmonton was 21 goals under water with McDavid resting – better than where it was when he first stepped into the league, but that’s stepping over the lowest of bars.

The point being: Instead of debating between the likes of McDavid or MacKinnon, focus on why the two situations are so disparate despite the organizations having been gifted a generational hockey player. It’s a crime that we haven’t seen more of McDavid in the playoffs, but it certainly speaks to the divide in their current playing environments.

Colorado is the team Edmonton should strive to become, capable of playing a skill-oriented game that is supplemented by a savvy front office that finds middle-six forwards and capable depth defenders on the market.

Sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially considering Edmonton’s cap situation right now, but a critical task for general manager Ken Holland and the Oilers front office this summer.

Data via Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Viz, Evolving Hockey, HL.com