In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look back at some of the impressive single season statistics in league history.
From 50 goals in 50 games, to an unbelievable Mario Lemieux performance, to some statistical oddities featuring some of the game’s all-time greats. We limited it to one entry per player and separated them into three tiers: The truly great all-time performances, performances that stood out within the context of their era, and then finally some random fun ones at the end.
Which performances made the cut this week?
To the rankings!
All-time great individual performances
1. Bobby Orr’s 139 points. Before Orr came along defensemen were simply not a major part of the offensive scene in the NHL. At least not as it related to appearing on the score sheet. Orr completely changed that, as well the perception of what a defenseman could be and the role they could play. He was the first defenseman to ever top the 100-point mark and lead the league in scoring when he finished with 120 points during the 1969-70 season. His performance the next season was even better when he hit the 139-point mark, a number that will probably never be reached by another defender. During Orr’s peak in Boston the only player in the NHL that could compare to him offensively was his teammate, Phil Esposito.
2. Mario Lemieux’s 160 points in 60 games. The 1992-93 season is the single most dominant season of Lemieux’s career, even if the final stat line does not show the most goals or points. First, that per-game average would have projected out to be 218 points over 82 games, a number that would have been an NHL record. It also came during a season in which he overcame Hodgkins disease and returned to the ice in Philadelphia on the day of his final radiation treatment. He received a standing ovation from the Flyers crowd when he took the ice. Later that season he received another standing ovation from another notoriously brutal crowd when he scored five goals in Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. Imagine how dominant you have to be to get standing ovations as a visiting player in Philadelphia and New York. In the same season.
When he returned to the lineup on March 2 following his treatment, he trailed Pat Lafontaine by 12 points in the NHL scoring race. He ended up winning the scoring race by 12 points. That was a 24-point swing in a little more than a month.
3. Wayne Gretzky’s 92 goals. Gretzky could have several entries on a list like this, but we will stick with his 1981-82 season where he scored an NHL record 92 goals, including 50 in his first 39 games. That is the fastest any player has ever reached the 50 goal mark. Entering Game 38 of that season he was sitting on 41 goals before scoring four goals to give him 45 on the season. In his very next game he scored five goals to hit the 50-mark.
4. Maurice Richard’s 50 goals in 50 games. Richard became the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a single season when he accomplished the feat during the 1944-45 season, scoring his 50th goal in the 50th (and final) game of the season. Before this no player in NHL history had ever scored more than 44 goals in a season (Joe Malone score 44 in 20 games during the 1917-18 season), while the 40-goal mark had been topped just four times.
5. Tony Esposito’s 15 shutouts. The 15-shutout mark has been reached five times in NHL history. The first instances all came between the 1925 and 1929 seasons when the NHL was still in its infancy and goals were rare. The other came during the 1969-70 season when Esposito reached the mark as a rookie. He did it in only 63 games and won the NHL’s rookie of the year award, the Vezina Trophy, and was second in Hart Trophy voting.
6. Teemu Selanne’s 76 rookie goals. This is a record that still stands and it is difficult to imagine it falling anytime soon. Selanne burst onto the scene with the Jets during the 1992-93 season and finished tied with Alexander Mogilny for the goal-scoring crown by filling the back of the net 76 times. When he broke Mike Bossy’s rookie record he delivered one of the greatest celebrations of all time.
7. Dominik Hasek’s 13 shutouts. Arguably the single most dominant goalie in NHL history. Hasek’s run between 1993 and 1999 was a clinic in goaltending excellence. You knew every year he was going to lead the league in pretty much every goaltending category and take home the Vezina Trophy. The one number that stands out from that run was his 13 shutouts during the 1997-98 season. It is one of just three seasons in NHL history after 1930 where a goalie recorded more than 12 shutouts in a season — Esposito’s aforementioned 15 shutouts, and Harry Lumsley with 13 during the 1954-55 season.
Unheard of for the era performances
8. Alex Ovechkin‘s 65 goals. The best goal-scoring of all time was at his best during the 2007-08 season when he scored 65 goals. It is not the most impressive single goal scoring season in NHL history, but when the era and goal-scoring climate at the time is taken into account is incredible. Only two other players in the league scored more than 47 goals that season, and the league was entering a stretch where Ovechkin was the only player capable of hitting the 50-goal mark.
9. Nikita Kucherov‘s 128 points. It had been 25 years since a player reached a point total like this. Between the 2012 and 2018 seasons the 100-point scorer had become nearly extinct in the NHL with only a few exceptions. The idea of someone scoring 128 points in 2019 just seemed unheard of.
10. Mike Green‘s 31 goals. Again, not the highest total ever for a defenseman, but Green’s 31 goals came during an incredibly low-scoring era in the history of the league, and he hit that mark in only 68 games! That is a 38-goal pace over 82 games.
11. Joe Thornton‘s 96 assists. Thornton is one of just five players in NHL history to record at least two different 90-assist seasons. His best performance came during the 2005-06 season (the year he was traded from Boston to San Jose) when he finished with 96 assists on his way to winning the MVP. That total is 16th highest in NHL history. But again, the era matters. Of the top-20 assist seasons ever, 19 of them took place in the decade between 1982 and 1992 when scoring was at an all-time high. Thornton’s came 15 years after that.
12. Gordie Howe scores 15 goals at age 51. I just find this insane. There are only a small handful of players in the history of the league that have ever played a game over the age of 40, and the ones that do are generally not very production. Howe played a full season at the age of 51 and still scored 15 goals while doing so
13. Martin Brodeur appears in 78 games at age 34. The easiest job in the NHL throughout the late 1990s and 2000s was backup goalie for the New Jersey Devils. Brodeur was a workhorse that was going to play as many games as humanly possible, regularly appeared in more than 74 games. He hit his peak during the 2006-07 season he appeared in 78 games, as a goalie, at the age of 34.
14. Dave Schultz’s 479 penalty minutes. A record that will probably stand forever. The Broad Street Bullies were a, let’s call them, unique team.
15. Jimmy Carson and Bob Kudelski play 86 games. In the early 1990s the NHL briefly expanded its schedule to 84 games to allow teams to play a couple of neutral site games each year to help gauge interest in future expansion. Because of in-season trades Carson and Kudelski both ended up setting new single season records for games played in a season by each appearing in 86 games.