The Top Inflated Outlier Seasons: Historical Context and the Meaning of 50 Goals/100 Points

Hockey fans have a thing for nice big round numbers when they rate accomplishments, the most famous of which is “50 goals in 50 games.” The problem is that scoring rates have varied drastically across time, most notably in the period from the NHL-WHA merger to the strike of 1994-95, when everything went crazy.

To celebrate this wild era and to remind everyone that “50 goals”, “100 points” and other such milestones sometimes aren’t always what they seem, we’ve compiled this list of a number of a players who had 1, 2 or even 3 incredible seasons sometime during the period of ’79-’94 and yet never ever again achieved greatness. Most of these guys have sort have been forgotten by all but their own teams’ fans, but a few of these people have been suggested as Hall of Famers, to our eternal amusement.

So, here are

The Top NHL Players With Inflated Single Season Stats

We hope you enjoy “remembering some guys” as Deadspin (RIP) would have put it.

Mike Bullard, C, drafted 9th overall by Pittsburgh in 1980

  • 51G (7th), 41A for 92P in 76 games for Pittsburgh in 1983-84 in his age-22 season
  • 48G (9th), 55A for 103P in 79 games for Calgary in 1987-88 in his age-26 season
  • 727 regular season games played
  • Career 82-game average: 37G, 39A for 76P, -12
  • Adjusted 82-game average: 30G, 32A for 62P

Bullard had one of the strongest offensive careers on this list: 76 points per 82 games is pretty damn good in the 21st century. (Adjusting for era makes him look far more pedestrian.)

In 1983-84, Bullard was seemingly the only consistent offensive player on the Penguins, the worst team in the league, scoring an incredible 24 more goals than Ron Flockhart, and 6 more assists than Doug Shedden and 35 more points than Shedden. (Bullard missed 6 games, Flockhart missed 14 games, Shedden missed 15 games.)

Bullard’s highest scoring teammates that year

  • Doug Shedden: 22G, 35A for 57P in 67 games, -37
  • Mark Taylor: 24G, 31A for 55P in 59GP, -20
  • Ron Flockhart: 27G, 18A for 45P in 68GP, -19
  • Rick Kehoe: 18G, 27A for 45P in 57GP, -18

The Penguins were 2nd last in offense and last in defense. In case you’re wondering, Bullard was -29. (Pat Boutette led the iniquity at -56.)

But in 1987-88 Bullard was playing with Hall of Famers and his 103P wasn’t even enough to lead the team. (Hakan Loob scored 106 points in 80 games.) Bullard’s teammates included

  • Joe Nieuwendyk (92 points in 75 games)
  • Gary Suter (his best season ever, 91 points in 75 games)
  • Joe Mullen (84P in 80 games)
  • Al MacInnis (83P in 80 games)
  • an ageing Lanny McDonald
  • and a yet-to-reach-his-prime Gary Roberts. (Roberts and Nieuwendy are the same age but Nieuwendyk got more ice time at this point.)

So why did Bullard out-perform so many future hall of famers and the odd borderline one?

Presumably he was healthy and got more power-play time. These Flames were the best offensive team in the league. (Though they were basically in the middle for defense.)

Blaine Stoughton, RW, drafted 7th overall by Pittsburgh in 1973

  • 56G (1st), 44A for 100P (8th) in 80 games for Hartford in 1979-80 in his age-26 season
  • 52G (6th), 39A for 91P in 80 games for Hartford in 1981-82 in his age-28 season
  • 526 NHL regular season games played and 219 WHA regular season games played
  • Career 82-game average (NHL): 40G, 30A for 70P, -15
  • Adjusted 82-game average (NHL): 32G, 24A for 56P

A top prospect in the early ’70s, Stoughton had an odd professional hockey career: he did not get a lot of time, first for the Penguins and then for the Leafs, and so he bolted to the WHA where he became a 50-goal scorer. However, the rest of his WHA career found him fighting for ice-time.

When the Whalers joined the NHL, he co-led the league in goals in his return, along with Danny Gare and Charlie Simmer.

Stoughton’s highest scoring teammates when he led the league in goals scored:

  • Mike Rogers: 44G, 61A for 105P in 80GP
  • Mark Howe: 24G, 56A for 80P in 74GP
  • Dave Keon: 10G, 52A for 62P in 76GP
  • Jordy Douglas: 33G, 24A for 57P in 77 games.

(Gordie Howe had 41P in his age 51 season, too.)

The Whalers this year were just in the top half of the league offensively and nearly in the bottom quarter defensively.

Unlike some of the other players on this list, Stoughton managed to mostly produce at the same rate during his peak and only injuries theoretically kept him from scoring close to 50 goals in each of his first four years seasons back in the NHL.

Stoughton’s highest scoring teammates the second year he scored 50 goals in the NHL:

  • Doug Sulliman: 29G, 40A for 69P in 77 games
  • Ron Francis: 25G, 43A for 68P in 59 games
  • Mark Howe: 8G, 45A for 53P in 76GP
  • Pierre Larouche: 25G, 25A for 50P in 45GP
  • Garry Howatt: 18G, 32A for 50P in 80GP

The Whalers were one of the worst offensive teams in the league and were only slightly better defensively.

Stoughton is a bit of a mystery: he and Mike Rogers (see below) were the stars on the ’80 Whalers – along with the ‘Gordie Howe is playing with his sons’ show – and Stoughton continued to have success after Rogers was traded and (eventually) replaced by a very young Ron Francis (18!). But his stock soon fell and he was traded for a role player before retiring at 30.

Stephane Richer, RW, drafted 29th overall by Montreal in 1984

  • 50G (6th), 28A for 78P in 72 games for Montreal in 1987-88  in his age-21 season;
  • 51G (7th), 40A for 91P in 75 games for Montreal in 1989-90 in his age-23 season;
  • 1054 career regular season games played
  • Career 82-game average: 33G, 31A for 64P, +6
  • Adjusted 82-game average: 31G, 29A for 61P

Richer’s two career best years aren’t really that far off his career averages compared to most others on this list. And, unlike many players on his list, playing for so long means he isn’t hurt very much by the era adjustment.

It’s hard to really get excited about a player whose goal-assist ratio is so out of whack – unless you’re John Ferguson Jr. or Dave Nonis – but two 50 goal seasons in three years is the kind of thing that gets people excited.

The problem was that, especially in 1988, Richer didn’t really score that much for the era.

In 1987-88. Richer was lucky enough to skate on the wing of two established stars, Bobby Smith and Mats Naslund, both pass-first players.

  • Bobby smith: 27G, 66A for 93P in 28GP
  • Mats Naslund: 24G, 59A for 83P in 78GP
  • Claude Lemieux: 31G, 30A for 61P in 78GP
  • Chris Chelios: 20G, 41A for 61P in 71GP

These Habs were in the top half of the league in offense but the best defensively.

The same cannot be said for 1989-90, when Richer was clearly the best offensive player to manage close to a full season on a defensively-oriented Habs team (second best in the league by goals against). (Naslund had declined dramatically and Smith was injured for part of the season.) In this case, it’s likely Richer was just the only person who could score: the only other players to manage more than 50 points on this team were Shayne Corson, Russ Courtnall and Guy Carbonneau.

  • Shayne Corson: 31G, 44A for 75P in 76GP
  • Russ Courtnall: 27G, 32A for 59P in 80GP
  • Guy Carbonneau: 19G, 36A for 55P in 68GP

As noted above, these Habs were the second best defensive team in the league, but they were in the bottom half in offense.

Richer was just the most talented guy available (when Smith was injured) and so scored a lot. It shouldn’t surprise anyone he never managed the feat of 50 goals again.

Bob Carpenter, C, drafted 3rd overall by Washington in 1981

  • 53G (7th), 42A for 95P in 80 games for Washington in 1984-85 in his age-21 season
  • 1178 career regular season games payed
  • Career 82-game average: 22G, 29A for 51P, -6
  • Adjusted 82-game average: 19G, 25A for 43P

Carpenter has a remarkably long career compared to some of these guys, which is the only reason he’s ahead of some of the guys below. Carpenter’s career average pegs him as a second line player in the ’90s and remember, that’s skewed by three years where he scored 30+ goals. The only explanation for Carpenter’s remarkable season is who he was surrounded with: Mike Gartner (experiencing his own career best season) and both Larry Murphy and Scott Stevens (offensive star edition) on the back-end.

  • Mike Gartner: 50G, 52A for 102P in 80GP
  • Dave Christian: 26G, 43A for 69P in 80GP
  • Scott Stevens: 21G, 44A for 65P in 80GP
  • Larry Murphy: 14G, 42A for 56P in 79GP
  • Craig Laughlin: 16G, 34A for 50P in 78GP

These Caps were actually pretty damn1 good, they were in the top half in offense and were the 2nd best defensive team in the league.

Carpenter had a massive drop-off in scoring the next year – presumably playing less – and was soon traded away, and he basically turned into a journeyman.

Jimmy Carson, C, drafted 2nd overall by LA in 1986

  • 55G (3rd), 52A for 107P (8th) in 80 games for LA in 1987-88 in his age-19 season
  • 49G (7th), 51A for 100P (9th) in 80 games for Edmonton in 1988-89 in his age-20 season
  • 626 career regular season games
  • Career 82-game average: 36G, 38A for 74P, -3
  • Adjusted 82-game average: 32G, 33A for 64P

Carson is either best known for being the centrepiece coming back in the Gretzky trade or for being the answer to the trivia question “Which player scored the most goals at age 19 in the NHL?” (Carson’s age-19 season is the best in goals, 9th best in assists and 3rd best in points in NHL history.)

And it made sense, because Carson was a top prospect and nearly won rookie for the year the season prior to his offensive explosion.

On LA, Carson was usually on the same line as Luc Robitaille and Bernie Nicholls. An aging Dave Taylor was also present. (Bob Carpenter was also on this team!) .

  • Luc Robitaille: 53G, 58A for 111P in 80GP
  • Bernie Nicholls: 32G, 46A for 78P in 65GP
  • Dave Taylor: 26G, 41A for 67P in 68GP
  • Steve Duchesne: 16G, 39A for 55P in 71GP
  • Bob Carpenter: 19G, 33A for 52P in 71GP
  • Jim Fox: 16G, 35A for 51P in 68GP

They scored a lot. The were 5th in the league in Offense. And they got scored on a lot. More than anyone else in the league, actually.

On the Oilers, Carson played with Kurri and Messier, among others

  • Jari Kurri: 44G, 58A for 102P in 76GP
  • Mark Messier: 33G, 61A for 94P in 72GP
  • Esa Tikkanen: 31G, 47A for 78P in 67GP
  • Craig Simpson: 35G, 41A for 76P in 66GP
  • Glenn Anderson: 16G, 48A for 64P in 79GP
  • Craig MacTavish: 21G, 31A for 52P in 80GP

These Oilers were in the top quarter of the league in offense but middle of the pack when it came to defense.

However, after one strong season in Edmonton, he got hurt and demanded a trade, and things went downhill from there.

Wayne Babych, RW, drafted 3rd overall by St. Louis in 1978

  • 54G (6th), 42A for 96P in 78 games for St. Louis in 1980-81 in his age-22 season
  • 519 regular season games
  • Career 82-game average: 30G, 39A for 69P, -4
  • Adjusted 82-game average: 24G, 31A for 55P

Babych is truly one of those “one good year” players, only scoring at a point-per-game twice in his career (and the first time only doing so over 59 games). Babych benefited from playing on the wing of Bernie Federko and with Blake Dunlop, both pass-first players.

  • Bernie Federko: 31G, 73A for 104P in 78GP
  • Blake Dunlop: 20G, 67A for 87P in 80GP
  • Jorgen Pettersson: 37G, 36A for 73P in 62GP
  • Brian Sutter: 35G, 34A for 69P in 78GP
  • Mike Zuke: 24G, 44A for 66P in 74GP
  • Perry Turnbull: 34G, 22A for 56P in 75GP
  • Tony Currie: 23G, 32A for 55P in 61GP

They scored a lot. 2nd most in the league. But they were also in the top third of the league in defense.

Babych only ever scored 20 goals once more in his career, after he was waived by St. Louis in 1984.


What can we learn from this list?

We thought we’d get a bunch of players scoring lots on bad teams, like Bullard on the Penguins. But that’s entirely not the case, as there are instances of very good teams featuring these one- or two-season wonders.

But it sort of makes sense that these players might feature on both good offensive teams and bad offensive teams as well as on good defensive teams and bad bad offensive teams, rather than follow a clearer pattern.

On the good offensive team, there are other players who could presumably help the player have a career year.

On the bad offensive team it’s possible that the player is just the most skilled player on the team.

With the bad defensive teams, well, if you have most offense-only players, that’s going to happen.

And with the good defensive teams, it’s possible that was their focus. Somebody had to score the goals they did score.

But none of this is actually helpful.

Luck is such a big feature of hockey, especially now that everyone’s conditioning is so good. It’s possible that anomalous performances like these are just part of the game but these ones look so much better simply because of the sheer number of goals scored during this era.

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