(Video posted to YouTube by CBC)
August 9, 1988…
I was 16 and in Florida visiting my grandparents with about a month left before my junior year in high school. I walked into the house that afternoon after a visit down to New Smyrna Beach, and my grandfather, a big baseball and football fan but who didn’t know (or give) a whit about hockey, greeted me with the last news I ever expected to hear.
“Hey, Kirk- did you hear that Wayne Gadsby just got traded?”
I must’ve stared at him blankly, because he followed up with: “You know? That hockey player from Canada?”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the largest percentage of hockey players in the NHL were from Canada, but my brain was beginning to process what he’d just said.
“Wayne Gretzky got traded?” I said.
“Yes! Gretzky…that’s the one! They’ve been talking about it a lot on the TV and radio…”
He started to tell me what he knew about the deal…Los Angeles Kings…cash and young players…but his words were like the teacher in Charlie Brown (Wah-WAH-Wah-Wah-Wah.) My mind was racing: Gretzky, the Edmonton Oilers’ four-time Stanley Cup captain and face of hockey, the only player in the history of the game to score more than 200 points in a season not once, not twice, not three times but FOUR times…had been dealt in the prime of his life at 27 years old. My goodness, I thought as the realization hit me- if my grandfather Merlin in Florida is talking about this trade- how enormous of an impact is Gretzky to Tinseltown going to have on the NHL and hockey?
The truth is…in my teenage mind, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend it.
Is Alex Ovechkin the most prolific goal scorer in NHL history?
Maybe. Since the 1928-1929 season anyway.
Wayne Gretzky is known as the greatest goal scorer in NHL history simply by scoring the most career goals and having the single greatest goal scoring season. Mike Bossy is considered by many as the best pure goal scorer the NHL has ever seen. Some believe, had he remained healthy, Mario Lemieux could have broken at least some of Gretzky’s records.
And now there is plenty of conversation surrounding whether Ovechkin can catch Gretzky’s career mark. Many believe he can’t, but just as many believe he can catch Gordie Howe for second.
There are plenty of others that ask: how do you account for the “dead puck era? when NHL scoring was at a minimum.
Well, we could look at goals per game. And in doing so, we find Bossy at the top of the pack scoring 573 goals in 752 games for the New York Islanders from 1977-1978 until 1986-1987. That’s a whopping .762 goals per game. He’s followed by Cy Denneny. Denneny played in 325 NHL games for the Ottawa Senators and the Boston Bruins from 1916-1917 until the 1928-1929 season scoring 248 goals for an amazing .756 goals per game.
But how do you account for the fact that Bossy’s team played in an era where they scored 1.8 times as many goals as Denneny’s teams? How do you account for the fact that Lemieux’s Penguins scored 4.66 goals per game while Ovechkin’s Capitals score 2.74 goals per game?
Well, I’ve used a different formula.
I took all NHL players who averaged .5 goals per game or more in the history of the NHL and have nineteen of them. I then took the team(s) those players played for and calculated the average goals per game the team scored while that player was on that roster. I then calculated what percentage of the player’s goals per game made up the team’s goals per game and voila, it tells a different story.
Denneny now surpasses Bossy at the top of the list. His Senators and Bruins squads from 16/17 to 28/29 scored on average 2.33 goals per game over that time span. His .756 goals per game is an unheard of 32.49% of his team’s entire goals per game scored while he played.
Meanwhile, Bossy’s Islanders scored on average 4.15 goals per game from 77/78 to the 86/87 season. Bossy’s .762 goals per game made up 18.34% of all Islander’s goals per game in that span. That’s over 14% fewer than Denneny.
So where does that leave Ovechkin? Well his Capitals have averaged 2.74 goals per game while Ovechkin has been a Capital. Ovechkin’s .626 goals per game makes up 22.88% of all Capital’s goals, still almost 10% fewer than Denneny, but good enough for second all-time.
Here are the 19 players who have scored at a career clip of .5 goals per game or better and their percentage of team goals scored during the time they were on the roster. Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos are the only two active players on the list. (*Their totals from this season are not included). WHA totals are not included.
||% of Team GPG