The 25 Greatest Individual Seasons in NHL History

Rob KirkCorrespondent IIJanuary 28, 2013

The 25 Greatest Individual Seasons in NHL History

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    Let's be honest here. This slide show could quite possibly be titled "Wayne Gretzky's Greatest Seasons, and Then Everyone Else". Hockey is the only major sport where the records seem to be getting farther away from the players of today.

    In football, baseball and basketball it seems like there are several milestones reached each year. They are individual achievements that threaten impressive single season records or they are records that reflect excellence and longevity in a career.

    Does anyone really believe that these types of records will fall in hockey?

    The individual record for goals in a season is 92, assists 163 and total points 215. In a full, 82 game season we would be lucky to see someone reach half of those numbers. There are unbelievable advancements in technology and equipment since these scoring records were set.

    The training, fitness and nutrition programs that the modern athletes have at their disposal would certainly mean that the caliber of hockey player has improved. Yet every year, the cartoonish scoring benchmarks seem to move far away from the realm of possibility.

    Consider the best players in the NHL today. Who among them pose a serious challenge to the single season records? Who can maintain a high level of play to place themselves among the greats to ever play the game?

    Let's take a look at some of the greatest individual seasons in NHL history. Expect to see Gretzky more than once. He was pretty good I hear. You'll also see some names on here that wou've probably never heard of. Either way, enjoy now!

25. Joe Malone 1917-18

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    Joe "The Phantom" Malone scored five goals on the first day of the new National Hockey League in December of 1917. He would go on to repeat the five-goal feat twice more during the 20-game season. His 44 goals remained an NHL record until Maurice Richard surpassed it 27 years later in a 50-game season.

24. Bill Cowley 1943-44

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    Cowboy Bill Cowley had one of the best seasons in NHL history from a points per game standpoint. Cowley scored 30 goals and had 41 assists for 71 points in just 36 games for the Boston Bruins during the 1943-44 season.

23. Brian Elliott 2011-12

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    Goals Against Average-1.56


    When you take a look at the best goals against average in NHL history, Brian Elliott's name stands out like a sore thumb. Not just because everyone around him played prior to World War II, but mostly because he is, well, Brian Elliott.

    I certainly don't want to diminish his accomplishments from last season, but almost everyone expected him to fall off eventually. Elliott was with Ottawa and Colorado before he signed a one-year contract with St. Louis last season for $600,000. He had shown flashes of brilliance in the past, but nobody expected the season that Elliott had last year.

22. George Hainsworth 1928-29

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    Goals Against Average-0.92


    I know that there was certainly not the level of goal scoring that would come around during future generations, but some recognition is deserved for Hainsworth's best season in 1928-29. In 44 games Hainsworth's record was 22-7-15 with a 0.92 goals against average and an NHL record 22 shutouts.

21. Brett Hull 1990-91

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    The "Golden" Brett Hull made his case for the top sniper in NHL history with an electrifying goal scoring burst from 1989 to 1994. His best year came in the 1990-91 season when he pumped in 86, only six shy of Wayne Gretzky's inconceivable 92 from nine years earlier.

20. Martin Brodeur 2006-07

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    Goals Against Average-2.18


    The all-time wins leader for goaltenders also set the single season win mark in the 2006-07 season with 48. In addition to setting a benchmark for wins in a season, Brodeur added 12 shutouts. While the subjective argument for the best goaltender of the era would include him, Martin Brodeur has no equal when it comes to longevity and consistency.

19. Paul Coffey 1985-86

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    Paul Coffey set the record for goals by a defenseman this year, breaking Bobby Orr's record from the 1974-75 season. The smooth skating blue-liner finished third in the league in scoring behind teammate Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

18. Wayne Gretzky 1993-94

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    Though it was far from his best year statistically, the 1993-94 season for Wayne Gretzky was a bit of a last hurrah. He happened to break Gordie Howe's all time goal scoring mark during the season. It also marked his last season as the NHL's yearly scoring king and came while he was playing out his time on some mediocre Los Angeles teams.

17. Tim Thomas 2010-11

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    Goals Against Average-2.00


    Save percentage-.938

    Love him or hate him, Tim Thomas had a year for the ages in 2010-11. As the Boston Bruins' netminder, Thomas led the team to the Stanley Cup, setting an NHL record for save percentage (since broken), winning the Vezina Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy. Thomas also set marks in the Stanley Cup Final for the fewest goals allowed in a seven-game series with eight.

16. Steve Yzerman 1988-89

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    Poor Steve Yzerman picked the wrong time in NHL history to be an iconic scoring dervish. Buried beneath the pile of accolades that were being won by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman was building a legacy of his own in the Motor City. By the time Detroit came to be known as "Hockeytown" Yzerman had replaced his scoring ways with the blue-collar style of a premier defensive forward.

15. Pat LaFontaine 1992-93

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    Plagued with injuries throughout his career, Pat LaFontaine had a year to remember in 1992-93 with the Buffalo Sabres. Everything seemed to fall in to place for the hard-luck American center. For only the second time in his career LaFontaine was able to actually play a full season. He found a great connection with Russian sniper Alexander Mogilny and challenged Mario Lemieux for the scoring title.

14. Teemu Selanne 1992-93

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    It was a rather auspicious start for the "Finnish Flash" Teemu Selanne. By scoring 76 goals in his freshman campaign, Selanne set an impossible bar for himself for the remainder of his career. Though he has put together a Hall of Fame resume, Selanne never got within 24 goals of his rookie season total.

13. Jaromir Jagr 1995-96

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    It was expected that Mario Lemieux would win the scoring title at this point in the NHL, but his wing-man Jaromir Jagr put together his most prolific year to finish second. The mulleted Czech sniper potted career highs in goals, assists and points.

12. Jari Kurri 1984-85

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    Some wingmen will take home the ugly friend of the girl you meet at the bar, and then there is Jari Kurri. I'm not saying that he spent his career with Wayne Gretzky's leftovers (on or off the ice), but the Finnish wing was the recipient of some of the best passes in NHL history. In fact, of the 601 goals Kurri scored, Gretzky assisted on 364 of them.

    Kurri's finest year came in 1984-85 when he knocked in 71 goals. He would add another 19 goals in the playoffs helping the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup.

11. Adam Oates 1992-93

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    Known throughout his career for his silky-smooth, pinpoint passes, Adam Oates decided to shoot the puck a little more in 1992-93. Oates score 45 goals that year, by far a career high for him. The center added 97 assists for a career high 142 points. Oates was another one of the premier players in his era that didn't get the recognition he deserved.

10. Mike Bossy 1981-82

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    He is best known for the nine consecutive 50-plus goal seasons to start his career, but Mike Bossy added 83 assists in 1981-82 for a career high 147 points. The Islanders would sweep to their third consecutive Stanley Cup behind Bossy's 17-goal Conn Smythe playoff performance.

9. Bernie Parent 1973-74

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    Goals Against Average-1.89


    Bernie Parent was as much a part of the Philadelphia Flyers success in the 1973-1974 and 1974-1975 seasons as the rest of the "Broad Street Bullies." Parent had two of the best seasons in goaltending history in back-to-back years leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup in each. Of the two seasons, 1973-74 was slightly more impressive statistically.

8. Mario Lemieux 1988-89

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    In what would turn out to be Mario Lemieux's most statistically impressive season, the Penguins' center showed that he was every bit the star of Wayne Gretzky. Lemieux's fifth season looked to cement his place as the new face of the Art Ross Trophy.

    Unfortunately for Lemieux, the NHL and the fans, he would only play as many as 76 games one other time in his final 12 seasons. Health issues would keep the center from challenging Gretzky's career numbers, but there is no denying that Lemieux is an all-time great.

7. Wayne Gretzky 1984-85

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    Wayne Gretzky's second consecutive season producing 200-plus points was capped with an NHL record 47 points in the Edmonton Oilers' Stanley Cup title run. The Oilers repeated as Stanley Cup champs behind the monumental effort from their captain.

6. Phil Esposito 1970-71

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    It was a season to remember for the Boston Bruins as the top four scorers in the NHL all hailed from Boston. Esposito's goals and points established NHL records in each category. He would win the Art Ross trophy as the top scorer and the inaugural Lester Pearson Award (now the Ted Lindsay Award) given to the league's most outstanding player. Unfortunately, the high-scoring Bruins lost an epic seven- game series to eventual Stanley Cup winners, Montreal, in the first round.

5. Wayne Gretzky 1983-84

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    The third highest point total in league history may have been the first had Gretzky played in all 80 games that year. His per-game total is one of many scoring records that may never be broken. This would also be the season that Gretzky and the Oilers would stop the New York Islanders' Stanley Cup run and begin their own dynasty.

4. Mario Lemieux 1992-93

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    It was a season indicative of Mario Lemieux's career. His goal and point total could have surpassed Gretzky's best year if he hadn't been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in January. He would undergo radiation treatment and miss two months of the season, but would return to secure his gaggle of hardware.

3. Wayne Gretzky 1981-82

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    Wayne Gretzky continued his assault on the NHL record books by dropping an unbelievable 92 goals. The previous record was 76, held by Phil Esposito.  His 212 points were 65 higher than the next player in the league, Mike Bossy. The 92 goals withstood some serious tests from Gretzky's contemporaries, but we have likely seen the last of anyone challenging that number.

2. Bobby Orr 1970-71

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    Bobby Orr would set NHL records for assists and points for defensemen during the 1970-71 season. He also established a record plus-124 for plus/minus. He would win the second of three straight Hart Trophies and fourth of eight consecutive Norris Trophies. The only blemish on the season was the first round upset at the hands of the hated Montreal Canadiens.

1. Wayne Gretzky 1985-86

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    The greatest statistical season ever was capped with the second of five Stanley Cups that the Edmonton Oilers would win in the 1980s. Gretzky would have won the scoring title by 22 points with his assists alone.

    The most impressive thing about Gretzky's season is that he was a known commodity and people prepared for him. To have a bullseye on your back and still embarrass everyone is a testament to how great Gretzky was.