Teemu Selanne's Incredible NHL Career by the Numbers

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Teemu Selanne's Incredible NHL Career by the Numbers
Jae C. Hong

We have all enjoyed Teemu Selanne's exciting highlight reel goals over the past 21 seasons but what about the underlying numbers? He holds the rookie record for 76 goals in a single season, ranks third with 232 goals past age 35 and his career totals are behind only Wayne Gretzky and Jaromir Jagr once adjusted for each era's scoring level.

No set of numbers could ever possibly do justice to his incredible career, but it can perhaps put three of his most astonishing achievements into perspective.

And though Selanne is also a great playmaker, and arguably the most accomplished Olympics and international tournament hockey player in history, space constraints will limit this analysis to his NHL goal-scoring achievements only.

And even then, it will remain focused on where he ranks all-time, how he achieved his incredible 76-goal rookie season and the rarity of Selanne's production in his twilight seasons. Let's begin!

 

Where Does Selanne Rank All-Time?

Whether it is judged by the height of a player's goal-scoring peak or the length of time that a sniper remained effective, Selanne ranks among the greatest goal scorers of all time. This is especially true when the scoring level of each era is taken into account.

The following table shows Selanne's goal scoring totals, broken down into as many categories as possible, along with where he ranks all-time. Please note, however, that shots have only been recorded since 1967 and game-by-game data (to count hat tricks) has only been available since 1987.

Selanne's Career Goal-Scoring Rankings
Category Total All-Time Rank
Shots 4534 13th*
Shots per Game 3.14 35th*
Shooting Percentage 15.1% N/R
Goals, Total 684 11th
Goals per Game 0.47 37th
Even-Strength Goals 422 14th
Power Play Goals 255 T-3rd
Game-Winning Goals 110 3rd
Multi-Goal Games 131 2nd*
Hat Tricks 22 3rd*
Playoff Goals 42 T-74th

Hockey-Reference

By most absolute metrics, Selanne's career totals rank outside the top 10, but he didn't get to benefit from the high-scoring 1980s. Instead, Selanne played a significant part of his career when teams were lucky to score three goals in a single game.

When adjusting for era, Selanne actually ranks third in career goals, right behind Gretzky and Jagr and actually just ahead of Brett Hull. I calculated this for the post-1967 expansion era only, so it doesn't count players like Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull or Maurice Richard.

What's even more impressive is it actually appeared Selanne's career was over in 2003-04 when the 33-year-old managed just 16 goals and 32 points over a complete season with the Colorado Avalanche. He would return after the lockout at age 35 to score another 232 goals (and counting).

 

Selanne's Career Arc

The Finnish Flash had a huge rookie season, and then enjoyed a high three-year peak at ages 26 through 28, with the final year being boosted by some truly incredible success with the man advantage.

What followed was a gradual five-season decline until his career appeared to be at its end at age 33. Instead, Selanne's scoring sprang back to life after the 2005 lockout, achieving a level not far from its peak.

Since then, it has decreased far more gradually, and after nine seasons, it rests today much where it was 10 years ago. Perhaps he'll take a year off and begin anew? 

Hockey Abstract

The chart above shows Selanne's career goals per game, with even-strength goals in blue and power-play goals in red. His post-lockout scoring was highly dependent upon his play with the man advantage, a rare gift that doubled his late-career goal scoring.

How does that compare to history's other great goal scorers? The high scoring peak, combined with his incredible longevity, places Selanne in the exclusive company of Brett Hull and Jagr as his two closest statistical peers.

Adjusting for the scoring level of each era, here's how the three scoring giants compared in terms of their goals per game at each age.

Hockey Abstract

All three players hit their peak at roughly the same age, to roughly the same height, and for roughly the same length of time. With slight exceptions, their descents were equally gradual, with comparable goal-scoring effectiveness that continued well into their twilight seasons.

 

Selanne's Miracle Rookie Season

One of the most astounding aspects of Selanne's career arc is its incredible starting point. The 22-year-old took the league by complete surprise in 1992-93, scoring 76 goals in 84 games.

No other rookie had scored more than Mike Bossy's 53 and only two others, Alexander Ovechkin and Gretzky, have even topped 50 in their first NHL seasons. In a sport where unanimous award decisions are virtually unheard of, Selanne secured every single first-place vote for the Calder Trophy. It's a good thing Winnipeg matched Calgary's offer sheet.

Selanne's 76 goals is actually amazing whether he was a rookie or not. It is tied with Phil Esposito and Alexander Mogilny for the fifth most in a single season for any player at any point of his career. Selanne himself never again scored more than 52 in a season.

Glenn Cratty/Getty Images

Selanne took 387 shots in 84 games, the 23rd most by any player in a single season. Only 11 players have taken more shots in one year. Selanne's own career high was otherwise just 281.

He also scored on 19.6 percent of those shots, which was also a career high, although he did once get as high as 19.4 and twice to 18.7 percent.

How did he do it?

1992-93 was an exceptionally high-scoring season. There were two expansion teams, the Ottawa Senators and the Tampa Bay Lightning, with the still-awful San Jose Sharks having been added the year before. Not only were those bad teams, but the remaining talent was spread out rather thin across the league, allowing the greater talents to really light the red lamp

Selanne certainly wasn't alone in his goal-scoring heroics. He actually tied for the goal-scoring lead with Mogilny, who jumped from 39 to 76 and back down to 32, and never again topped 55. Luc Robitaille had 63, a career high by 10 goals, and Pierre Turgeon scored 58, his career high by 18. Even his fellow Winnipeg Jet, Evgeny Davydov, bagged 28 goals in a career that would only see 12 others.

It also helped to have the highly underrated Phil Housley setting up breakout passes for him. He was on the ice for 56 of Selanne's goals, according to Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press

“I remember every goal that year,” Selanne said, as reported by Rafal Ladysz of the Hockey Writers. “I remember getting, like, two, three breakaways every game. Nowadays, you get three, four the whole season? That’s pretty good.”

When adjusted to the modern scoring era, it actually works out to only a 56-goal season. That's still quite impressive of course, remaining tied for 10th with Mogilny and 1999-00's Pavel Bure for the best post-expansion season. It's even comparable to his 1997-98 season, which works out to 53 goals by today's standards.

As an interesting aside, his old Jokerit teammates were oddly unaffected by his absence. Their six leading scorers had a scoring drop of less than 10 percent the following season.

Selanne's Jokerit Teammates With and Without Him
Teammate With Selanne Without Selanne
Otakar Janecky 52 PTS in 42 GP 53 PTS in 46 GP
Keijo Sailynoja 46 PTS in 42 GP 42 PTS in 47 GP
Jali Wahlsten 36 PTS in 44 GP 35 PTS in 45 GP
Timo Norppa 35 PTS in 44 GP 23 PTS in 43 GP
Sami Wahlsten 35 PTS in 44 GP 43 PTS in 48 GP
Pekka Jarvela 32 PTS in 44 GP 19 PTS in 26 GP
Total 236 PTS in 260 GP 215 PTS in 252 GP

HockeyDB

 

Selanne's Twilight Seasons

Despite having only nine goals, Selanne is currently enjoying the third highest-scoring season of any player aged 43 or older.

Howe scored 15 goals in 1979-80 (at age 50), while Mark Messier bagged 18 in 2003-04.

With the exception of his injury-shortened 2007-08 season, Selanne has been in the top five all-time in goal scoring every season since the lockout. Arguably, only Howe and John Bucyk were consistently able to score at Selanne's rate or higher in their final years. 

Selanne's Late-Career Goal Scoring
Age Selanne's Goals Rank Record-Holder Goals
35 40 G in 80 GP T-3rd John Bucyk 51 G in 78 GP
36 48 G in 82 GP 1st Teemu Selanne
37 12 G in 26 GP T-68th John Bucyk 40 G in 78 GP
38 27 G in 65 GP T-5th Brett Hull 37 G in 82 GP
39 27 G in 54 GP T-4th Gordie Howe 39 G in 74 GP
40 31 G in 73 GP 3rd Gordie Howe 44 G in 76 GP
41 26 G in 82 GP 2nd Gordie Howe 31 G in 76 GP
42 12 G in 46 GP 4th Gordie Howe 23 G in 63 GP
43 9 G in 59 GP 2nd Mark Messier 18 G in 76 GP

Hockey Reference

Howe had 261 goals from age 35 and up, Bucyk, 244 and Selanne, 232. Only Messier's 202 are within 70 goals of that group. Simply incredible!

 

What Was Selanne's Greatest NHL Goal-Scoring Accomplishment?

Submit Vote vote to see results

My Take 

I'll admit that I was one of those analysts who didn't think Selanne's post-lockout return to the NHL would be successful. His gradual scoring decline matched the typical patterns, and there was unlikely to be any call for a 35-year-old scoring line winger who would struggle to bag 20 a season.

Selanne's incredible conditioning, along with his almost unmatched talent with the man advantage, allowed him to continue playing until age 43. This allowed him to pad his career scoring totals to rival those of greats like Jagr and Brett Hull, especially when each era's level of scoring is factored in.

His 76-goal rookie season is likely the NHL record that will stand the longest test of time, but it is arguably no more impressive than the incredible career that followed.

 

All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.

Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.

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