With 2017 being celebrated as the NHL’s Centennial Season, this year’s All-Star Game includes special events, such as the unveiling of the top 100 players list on Friday night. This, then, provides us an opportunity to reflect on some of the glorious player campaigns from eras past.
One of the analytical methods that allows us to effectively compare across seasons is known as era adjustment. The methodology used by hockey-reference.com essentially normalizes point production from different eras to the output of the 1999-2000 season, taking into account league-wide scoring rates for goals and assists, roster sizes, and season length. We have made use of it on many occasions in the past, specifically in discussing Alex Ovechkin’s place as a goal scorer in NHL history, the puck-moving prowess of Erik Karlsson or, most recently, giving historical context of the teenage phenoms who are taking the NHL by storm.
With that same idea in mind, let us take a look at the most productive era-adjusted seasons in NHL history – these are the only seasons in the past century with more than 150 era-adjusted points. Some familiar names will dominate, but what is most interesting are the surprising names that show up on the list.
|Rank||Player||Season||Team||GP||Seasonal Stats||Era Adjusted|
*data courtesy hockey-reference.com
Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux are on the list multiple times, as expected, with the two arguably greatest players in NHL history occupying eight of the 11 spots on the register. The three names that stand out are Howie Morenz, Cooney Weiland and Frank Boucher. All three of them played key roles in the late 1920s and into the 1930s.
Ralph “Cooney” Weiland was a fixture for the Boston Bruins as their top centre in the late-‘20s and early-‘30s. Centering the “Dynamite Line” between Dit Clapper and Dutch Gainor, Weiland was most noted for his effort and attention to detail in the finer points of the game. His stick skills defensively and ability to win face-offs were renowned around the NHL.
Weiland won his first Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 1929 as an NHL rookie, but his sophomore season in 1929-30 was one for the ages as he scored an insane 43 goals in 44 games. That was the second-highest single season total in NHL history to that point and his era-adjusted 70-goal mark represented the single season goal scoring record until 1988-89 – almost 50 years later – when Mario Lemieux posted the equivalent to 71 goals. That season for Lemieux, as you can see in the table, was the fifth-ranked all-time.
Despite the ridiculous goal scoring numbers, Weiland finished third in voting for the Hart and Lady Byng trophies that season. The only individual award he received as a player prior to his entry into the Hall of Fame in 1971 was when he was named as a second team all-star in 1934-35 as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.
Interestingly in that same 1929-30 season, while Weiland was firing home goals at an insane rate, Frank Boucher of the New York Rangers was busy racking up assists centering the famed New York Rangers “Bread Line” between brothers Bill and Bun Cook. He led the NHL with 36 helpers, which era adjusts to an insane 118. Surprisingly, Boucher actually produced 119 era adjusted assists the year prior, but scored 16 fewer goals, so his era-adjusted point total that season was only 145 – keeping him a bit below the cutoff for this list.
Boucher should be regarded as the premier passer of his era, leading the league in assists on three occasions and ranking in the top 10 nine times. He held the NHL record for career-adjusted assists from 1931 until he was finally passed by Gordie Howe in 1964. Boucher was named a first-team all-star in three consecutive seasons from 1933 to 1935 and a second-team all-star once in 1931. Boucher was also widely respected as one of the most gentlemanly players in the game, winning the Lady Byng Trophy an amazing seven times in an eight-year span. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame as a player in 1958.
Howie Morenz was a legend long before the likes of Howe, Gretzky and Lemieux came along. He was the first three-time winner of the Hart Trophy for the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, taking it home in 1928, 1931 and 1932 as the scoring leader of the Montreal Canadiens. He ranked top 10 in points in each of his first 10 years in the league, finishing first in 1928 and 1931.
His era-adjusted 190 point total from the 1927-28 season is 20 points higher than the second-ranked season by Gretzky and is mainly due to a significant upward adjustment of his 18 assists in 43 games played. It is important to remember this was an era where no forward passing was permitted either into or within the offensive zone. Complete forward passing was introduced in 1929-30, the same season in which Boucher and Weiland qualified for this list.
Morenz’s 18 assists were four more than the second-ranked player in the league, Bun Cook, and was a massive number. This was a league where 836 total goals were scored, but only 418 assists were registered — 0.5 per goal.
Morenz took over the NHL lead in career era-adjusted points in 1931-32 and would not reinquish that spot until Gordie Howe took over 28 years later. What makes this even more impressive is that Morenz’s career was cut alarmingly short. He died at the age of 34 when a blood clot caused a heart attack as he was recuperating in hospital from a broken leg that was suffered on the ice during game against Chicago on January 28, 1937. Following his death, the Canadiens retired Morenz’s No. 7, making him the first player to be so honoured by the club.
Morenz was named the greatest NHL player of the first half of the 20th century by the Canadian Press in 1950, and was one of the nine original inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was recently announced among the first 33 on the NHL’s 100 greatest players list and his legacy in Montreal still stands amazingly tall.
But perhaps he should be recognized even more than he is. After all, when measuring for era-adjustments, he had the most prolific season in NHL history.