As vital as other players with other fortes are to a winning cause in hockey, it is appropriate that pure goal scorers get the better part of the glory. As inherently multifaceted and peerlessly team-oriented as the game is, it is still based on the destination of the puck.
In turn, maybe other than the netminders who keep it out of their cage, those whose blades routinely serve as the biscuit’s final shuttle to the basket are worth all of the celebration they receive.
The players who have done so the best, the most frequently and to the most decorated degrees in the history of the NHL are ranked as follows.
Unless otherwise noted, player stats were courtesy of HockeyDB.com.
In a relatively slim span of 684 NHL games played, Ziggy Palffy hit the opposing mesh 329 times for a career average of 0.481 goals per night. He led the lean New York Islanders in each of four seasons on the team and later did the same for three years running in Los Angeles.
Much like Palffy on Long Island, Blaine Stoughton was one of the few bright spots during his time in Hartford, where he consistently led the Whalers in goal-scoring with 56, 43, 52 and 45. Those constituted 196 of his 256 career strikes in 526 NHL contests, and there may have been much more of both if not for a three-year WHA detour.
He was an NHLer for only seven seasons, mostly spent with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Gordie Drillon inserted at least 20 goals in five of them and 16 and 18 in the other two. He led all teammates and adversaries (via Hockey-Reference.com) with 26 in 1938 and had a fireworks finale with 28 in 1942-43.
Despite being shadowed by Maurice Richard for the better part of his career, Bernie Geoffrion was a hassle for Montreal Canadiens’ opponents in his own right. He once tied Richard (Hockey-Reference.com) for the NHL’s goal-scoring lead in 1955, and one year after Richard retired, skyrocketed to 50 strikes to run away with the Habs’ team lead.
In all, he surpassed 30 goals on four occasions and amassed 393 goals in 883 career games.
More often than not, Eric Lindros missed 10 or more games in a given season. Yet, he variously finished his best years with 41 goals in 61 contests, 44 in 65, 47 in 73 and 40 in 71.
A career-high 39-goal thrill ride with the Montreal Maroons in 1929-30 was not even one of the two times Nels Stewart finished alone or tied for first (via Hockey-Reference.com) in the NHL. Those were his rookie year in 1925-26 and again in 1936-37.
Stewart was irreproachably consistent in his prime, finishing in the 30-goal range twice, the 20-goal range seven times and the upper teens on five other occasions. His only unspectacular season was a six-goal swan song in 1939-40.
From there on in, with only three exceptions, he never failed to tally at least 35 when dressing for at least 70 games. In addition, Gartner led his team in goal scoring, whether that was the Capitals, New York Rangers or Toronto Maple Leafs, seven more times between 1983-84 and 1995-96.
Two strings of much leaner years sandwiched a spike in productivity for Tim Kerr that lasted five seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Save for a 1987-88 season that saw him limited to eight games played, he was on a nonstop tear that featured back-to-back 54-goal seasons followed immediately by back-to-back 58-goal logs and a 1988-89 bounce-back of 48 strikes in 69 games.
Barring any health setbacks, Stamkos’ playing career is not even one-quarter finished, and he has already tuned the mesh 183 times in 331 regular-season contests.
His production has dipped in recent years, but there should still be more ahead than behind for Ovechkin, who is presently averaging 0.608 goals per game as he delves deeper into his eighth season as a Capital.
If he picks his pace back up, as he ought to, then he should retain or accelerate that pace as his career continues. In turn, with 340 strikes through 559 games already, Ovechkin is still a reckonable threat to Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record of 894.
Marcel Dionne never led the NHL in scoring but did enjoy six 50-goal seasons during his time as a Los Angeles King. He hit 40 on four other occasions, twice with L.A. and twice with Detroit.
The Russian Rocket logged a pair of 60-goal seasons and two more with goals in the high 50s. He was the leading striker in 1993, 2000 and 2001, receiving the newfangled Maurice Richard Trophy as a tangible testament to his supremacy in the latter two years.
Pavel Bure began to decline in 2001-02, which proved to be his penultimate season as he retired due to injury at the age of 32 in 2003. But even in that 2001-02 campaign, split between Florida and the New York Rangers, he managed a goal every two games (34 in 68).
Another prolific producer in the NHL’s formative years, Denneny led the league with 22 goals in 1923-24, had two 30-goal campaigns and finished his career with an average of 0.756 goals per game-played.
Not many can claim to have numbers in the 200 range in both the games played and goal column, but that applies to Babe Dye. He spent the better part of eight seasons in the NHL during the 1920s, thrice finishing first among goal-getters and retiring with 202 tallies in 268 contests.
A career-high 76-goal campaign in 1970-71 was the second of six straight seasons that saw Esposito finish first among all NHLers in that column. He led the Boston Bruins in that category in each of eight full seasons with the team and later led the New York Rangers for three straight years.
Maurice Richard, more than half a century removed from his last game, is still the Montreal Canadiens’ all-time leader with 544 goals. He had sole possession of the NHL’s scoring lead on four occasions and tied the aforementioned Geoffrion (Hockey-Reference.com) on another.
The primary reason Richard tied Geoffrion in the goal department and was beaten in the points derby in 1955 was the former’s suspension late in the season.
Even when his 1990-91 and 1993-94 seasons were confined to 20-something appearances, Mario Lemieux still mustered a bushel of goals in the high teens.
Later, after he returned from an absence spanning three-plus years, Lemieux collected 35 goals in a mere 43 games in 2000-01.
In times of normalcy for himself, Lemieux was better than normal by NHL standards. He finished four seasons in the 40-goal range, two apiece in the 50- and 60-goal range, one with a league-leading 70 and another with an NHL-best 85.
Gretzky may have been the greatest all around, especially considering his assist totals. But if Lemieux were consistently healthy, odds are he would have eclipsed Gretzky in the goal department.
This moment may never have happened if back injuries had not terminated Bossy’s career after only one decade in the league. Or, if it had, it could have been Bossy’s moment instead and might have even happened earlier than it did for Gretzky.
With 573 goals in 752 games played for the Islanders, Bossy averaged an otherworldly 0.76 firsthand strikes per night over his 10-year run. He surpassed the 50-goal plateau in each of his first nine campaigns and broke 60 in five of those.
His “worst” season was his last in 1986-87, when he managed a career-low 63 games played and 38 goals.
Had Bossy been able to continue beyond that season, he naturally would have declined at some point. But there is a good chance he would have reached the record 802 career tallies by 1992-93 or, at the very latest, 1993-94.