The Top 10 Individual Seasons in NHL History

Bernie HorowitzCorrespondent ISeptember 4, 2008

Before reading this list, please note the criteria. I did not use two seasons from the same player, otherwise this list would have consisted of Gretzky and Lemieux only. That’s not an exaggeration.

When I made my selections, I took into account several attributes aside from the number of points scored. I considered the era, andhow much scoring there was in the league at the time. It was important to consider how the output of the player matched up with other high-point scorers from the same year.

Finally, I took into account the supporting cast of the stars who recorded these phenomenal scoring totals.

Honorable mentions:

1992-93 Pat LaFontaine - 53 goals, 95 assists for 148 points in 84 games

As is the case with all seven honorable mentions, this was a hard one to leave out. LaFontaine had a dynamite season, but scoring was up in 1992-93, and amazing as 148 points are, I don’t think season was good enough to crack the list. There were several players who scored 120+ points that year.

1992-93 Temmu Selanne - 76 goals, 56 assists 132 points in 84 games

See LaFontaine. 76 goals is a hell of a season. If you think that Selanne’s season is more impressive than that of LaFontaine, that only gets him to spot 11.

1992-93 Pierre Turgeon - 58 goals, 74 assists for 132 points in 83 games

See Selanne and LaFontaine.

1992-93 Adam Oates - 45 goals, 97 assists for 142 points in 84 games

See Selanne, LaFontaine and Turgeon.

1981-82 Mike Bossy - 64 goals, 83 assists for 147 points in 80 games

Certainly an impressive season. Bossy recorded 147 points, how could he not make this list, right? Wrong. Bossy’s 64 goals pale in comparison to Wayne Gretzky’s 92 that season. On the other hand, if Bossy had not enjoyed the benefit of playing with Brian Trottier and Clark Gillies, I probably would have put him on the list.

1988-89 Bernie Nicholls - 70 goals, 80 assists for 150 points in 79 games.

Nice season, but without Gretzky, this would never have happened. Just look at Nicholls’ career.

1995-96 Jaromir Jagr - 62 goals, 87 assists for 149 points in 82 games

Considering the level of scoring in 1995-96 compared to the eighties, Jagr’s season is very impressive. However, he did play on a line with Mario Lemieux and Ron Francis. I would never suggest Jagr was just a product of his linemates, but I still don’t think his season is good enough to make the list.

The List:

10. 2007-08 Alex Ovechkin - 65 goals, 47 assists for 112 points in 82 games

We all saw what Ovechkin did last year. That many goals in today’s NHL was an incredible achievement. Furthermore, Ovechkin didn’t have much help. Michael Nylander was supposed to be his main setup man, but missed most of the season. It will be interesting to see what will happen if Ovechkin spends a year on a line with a playmaking center.

9. 1976-77 Guy Lafleur - 56 goals, 80 assists for 136 points in 80 games

In 1976-77, only three players topped the 100-point plateau. For that era, 136 points was an especially high total, and if you watch film of LaFleur from this time period, he was always a step ahead of the competition.

8. 1988-89 Steve Yzerman - 65 goals, 90 assists for 155 points in 80 games

The argument against this one points out that Gretzky and Lemieux both substantially topped Yzerman. A final reason why Yzerman’s season was so exceptional is that he outscored the next-best offensive player on the team (Gerard Gallant) by 62 points.

7. 1985-86 Paul Coffey - 48 goals, 90 assists for 138 points in 79 games

This one doesn’t need much explaining. Coffey shattered the goal-scoring record for defensemen and finished near the top of the NHL in scoring. Forty-eight goals for a defenseman... try to imagine that happening today. It seems practically impossible when the best scoring D-men in the league only manage 20 goals per season. Yes, Coffey had Gretzky and Kurri, but that can only go so far.

6. 1970-71 Phil Esposito - 76 goals, 76 assists for 152 points in 78 games

Esposito destroyed his own scoring record of 126 points. It’s rare that major records are broken by such a margin. Of course, Espo had a supporting cast of Bobby Orr, Johnny Bucyk and Co., but 152 points was an immense accomplishment.

5. 1990-91 Brett Hull - 86 goals, 45 assists for 131 points in 78 games

Hull’s 86-goal season occurred after the scoring-madness of the eighties had subsided. He was the league’s leading goal scorer by a staggering 35 goals, as Cam Neely, Steve Yzerman, and Theoren Fleury tied for second-most goals with 51.

4. 1970-71 Bobby Orr - 37 goals, 102 assists for 139 points in 78 games

You knew this one was coming. Before Bobby Orr, it was unusual for a defenseman to score 15 goals. Let me put Orr’s career in perspective for a statistical standpoint: Doug Harvey had been considered the greatest offensive-defenseman before Orr.

Harvey—the powerplay quarterback of the Canadiens’ dynasty of the 1950’s—never scored more than nine goals in a season! His career overlapped with that of Orr, and only two years after Harvey’s retirement, Orr not only scored an unimaginable number of goals for a defenseman, but broke 100 assists during a time when 100 points was a rare accomplishment for a forward.

3. 1944-45 Maurice Richard - 50 goals, 23 assists for 73 points in 50 games

In the five previous seasons, the leading totals for goals had been 24, 26, 32, 33, and 38. Richard’s accomplishment was impressive at the time, but in retrospect it only becomes more significant because it took over 30 years for the 50-in-50 record to be broken.

2. 1988-89 Mario Lemieux - 85 goals, 114 assists for 199 in 76 games

Probably Lemieux’s best season. Not much explaining to do here. He had a solid supporting cast, but that’s immaterial. He defeated Gretzky for the scoring title by 31 points.

1. 1985-86 Wayne Gretzky - 52 goals, 163 assists for 215 points in 80 games

This record will never be broken. Gretzky make a joke of the scoring title, which he would have won by 22 points had he not scored a single goal. As he did score 52 goals, he won the scoring title by a margin of 74 points.

Perhaps the only other thing to discuss is the Lemieux-Gretzky debate. I think that Gretzky is by far the better player for several reasons.

From a statistical standpoint, his single-season records in goals and assists top those of Lemieux. But, for me, what truly divides them is the 1996-97 season. Gretzky showed that he was so talented, you could take away the skills he used for his incredible seasons in the early eighties (his speed, shot, and relative size), and he still tied Lemieux for the NHL lead in assists at the age of 36.

Lemieux was only 31 and was playing with Jagr and Francis. Gretzky was playing with Luc Robitaille and Niklas Sundstrom. In the playoffs, Gretzky scored two hat-tricks and carried the Rangers through two tough opponents (Florida had been in the finals the previous year and the Devils). Lemieux and the Penguins lost to the Devils in the first round in only five games.


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