Is Phil Esposito one of the Greatest Centres of All Time?

Why is it that we (our generation anyway) have trouble thinking of Esposito as one of the greatest hockey players of all time? Is it because he was on the same team as Bobby Orr, whose legend has endured far better? Is it because of Esposito’s extraordinarily unathletic physique? Is it because everything he did has since been done multiple times by multiple players so those records feel less important?

We have no idea, but Espo was the most dominant offensive player between Howe and Gretzky. (We read somewhere that Lafleur was the most dominant offensive player between Howe and Gretzky, but we don’t see evidence to back that up.)

Sure, Espo benefited from playing more games per season in the newly expanded league (someone was going to set records) and, yes, he benefited from playing with the Greatest of All Time, but lesser players wouldn’t have excelled the way he did, over such a long period of time.

Listen to us talk about Esposito here:

Hall of Fame Class of 1984: Phil Esposito, Jacques Lemaire, Bernie Parent

Phil Esposito’s Career

  • NHL: 1963-81; 18 seasons, 16 quality
  • Totals:
    • 717G (7th All Time),
    • 873A (23rd) for 
    • 1590P (10th),
    • +252 in
    • 1282 games;
    • 163.7 PS;
    • Esposito is 6th All Time in Offensive Point Shares
  • Per Game: 
    • 13th All Time in GPG
    • 11th in PPG (Esposito held the career PPG record at the end of the 1970-71 season but lost it the next)
  • Era: Of the 14 skaters to play in at least 984 games (12 modern seasons) between 1963 and 1981, Esposito is
    • 1st in Goals (ahead by 243 goals
    • 1st in GPG (is ahead by 0.15
    • 1st in Assists (ahead by 97 assists
    • 2nd in APG
    • 1st in Points (ahead by 356 points
    • 1st in PPG (ahead by .14 PPG)
    • 2nd in Plus/Minus
    • 1st in Point Shares (ahead by 41.1)
    • 1st in OPS (ahead by 42
    • 6th in Defensive Point Shares (3rd/4th Forward)
    • 1st in Games (ahead by 83)
  • 82-game average: 46G, 56A for 102P, +16
  • 3-year peak (1970-73): 78-game average of 66G, 73A for 140P, +48
  • Playoffs: 
    • 61G (6th All Time at his retirement), 
    • 76A (6th All Time at his retirement) for 
    • 137 (5th All Time at his retirement) in 
    • 130 Games (17th at his retirement),
    • +25 (t-24th at his retirement)
    • Per Game: 
      • 25th All Time in Playoff PPG;
      • At his retirement, Espo was
        • 11th All Time in playoff GPG
        • 13th All Time in playoff APG
        • 10th All Time in playoff PPG
    • Era: Of the 68 skaters to play in at least 82 playoff games between 1963 and 1981, Esposito is
      • 2nd in playoff Goals
      • 6th in playoff GPG
      • 2nd in playoff Assists
      • T-5th in playoff APG
      • 2nd in playoff Points
      • 4th in playoff PPG
      • 18th in playoff Plus/Minus
      • 4th in playoff Games Played
  • Adjusted:
    • Hockey-Reference:
      • 671G (9th All Time)
      • 837A for 
      • 1508P (14th All Time)
      • Adjusted 82-game average: 43G, 54A for 96P (-6P per 82 games)
      • Per Game: 
        • 25th All Time in Adjusted GPG
        • 23rd All Time in Adjusted PPG
        • If the qualifier is set to 820 games (10 modern seasons), Espo is
          • 9th All Time in Adjusted GPG
          • 12th All Time in Adjusted PPG
          • If the qualifier is set to 1230 games, Espo is
            • 3rd All Time in Adjusted GPG (behind only Brett Hull and Howe)
            • 14th All time in Adjusted APG
            • 5th All Time in Adjusted PPG (behind Gretzky, Howe, Sakic, Jagr)
    • VsX:
      • 775G (6th All Time)
      • 1061A (16th All Time)
      • 1609 (6th All Time)
      • Per Game: Not in the Top 25, but if the qualifier is set to 820 games (10 modern seasons), Espo is
        • 8th All Time in VsX Adjusted GPG
        • 11th All time in VsX Adjusted APG
        • 8th All Time in VsX Adjusted PPG;
        • If the qualifier is set to 1230 games, Espo is
          • 2nd All Time in VsX Adjusted GPP (behind only Howe)
          • 5th All Time in VsX Adjusted APG (behind Gretzky, Howe, Mikita, Oates)
          • 3rd All Time in VsX Adjusted PPG (behind only Gretzky, Howe)
  • Trades:
    • Traded at 25 with Ken Hodge (22) and Fred Stanfield (23) to Boston for Gilles Marotte (21), Pit Martin (23) and Jack Norris (24)
    • Traded at 33 with Carol Vadnais (30) to New York for Jean Ratelle (33), Brad Park (27) and Joe Zanussi (28) 

Phil Esposito’s Accomplishments

  • Hart (’69, ’74) – tied 9th most ever
  • Top 5 in Hart voting three more times (’71, ’72, ’73)
  • Ted Lindsay (’71, ’74) – tied 8th most ever
  • Art Ross (’69, ’71, ’72, ’73, ’74) – 4th most ever (2nd most ever at his retirement)
  • Back Check MVP (’69, ’73)
  • Back Check Best Player (’69)
  • All Star:
    • 1st Team All Star six times, 
    • 2nd Team twice
    • 10 All Star Game appearances
  • Top Player:
    • Best Player (by Point Shares) once (’69), 
    • Top 5 eight times (’68, ’70, ’71, ’72, ’73, ’74, ’75) – 6th most All Time
    • Set the single-season record for Offensive Point Shares in 1970 (held the record until 1982)
    • Best Offensive Player (by Offensive Point Shares) five times (’69, ’71, ’72, ’73, ’74) – 4th most All Time (behind only Gretzky, Howe, Lemieux)
    • Top 5 eight times (’68, ’70, ’75) – tied 6th most All Time 
    • Top 10 nine times (’67)
  • Goals:
    • Leader-boards:
      • Set the single-season record in Goals (held until 1982)
      • Led the league in Goals six times – 3rd most All Time (behind only Ovechkin and Howe)
      • Top 5 eight times – t-5th most All time (Howe, Ovechkin, Richard, Bobby Hull)
      • Top 10 nine times – t-8th most All Time
    • GPG Leader-boards:
      • Led the league in GPG five times – t-4th Most All Time (behind only Bobby Hull, Ovechkin, Lemieux)
      • Top 5 seven times,
      • Top 10 eight times
    • Single-season Totals:
      • 75 Goals once (1 of 6 players ever)
      • 65 goals three times (1 of only 4 players ever – Gretzky, Lemieux, Brett Hull – and only player to do so at his retirement)
      • 60 goals four times (1 of only 4 players ever – Gretzky, Bossy, Lemieux – only player at his retirement)
      • 55 goals five times (1 of only 3 players ever – Gretzky, Bossy –  only player at his retirement)
      • 45 goals six times (1 of only 11 players ever, 1 of only 3 players at his retirement – Dionne, Lafleur)
      • 40 goals eight times (1 of only 10 players ever, 1 of only 3 players at his retirement – Bobby Hull, Dionne)
      • 35 goals eleven times (1 of only 8 players ever, 1 of only 2 players at his retirement – Bobby Hull)
      • 30 goals thirteen times (1 of only 9 players ever, 1 of only 3 players at his retirement – Howe, Bobby Hull)
      • 25 goals fourteen times (1 of only 12 players ever, 1 of only 2 players at his retirement – Howe)
      • 20 goals sixteen times (1 of only 20 players ever, 1 of only 4 players at his retirement – Howe, Bucyk, Ullman)
  • Assists:
    • Leader-boards:
      • Set the single-season record in Assists 1968-69 (lost it the next season)
      • Led the league in Assists three times – t-3rd most All Time (behind only Gretzky and Orr)
      • Top 5 eight times – t-7th most All Time
      • Top 10 nine times – t-9th most All Time
    • APG Leader-boards:
      • Led the league in APG twice – t-9th most ever
      • Top 5 seven times,
      • Top 10 nine times
    • Single-season totals:
      • 70 assists four times (1 of 12 players ever, 1 of only 4 players at his retirement – Orr, Dionne, Lafleur)
      • 60 assists six times (1 of 20 players ever, 1 of only 3 players at his retirement – Lafleur, Orr)
      • 50 assists seven times (1 of only 4 players at his retirement – Clarke, Dionne, Mikita)
      • 40 assists thirteen times (1 of 22 players ever, 1 of only 3 players at his retirement – Howe, Mikita)
  • Points:
    • Leader-boards:
      • Set the single season record in Points in 1968-69, broke his own record in 1971 (held it until 1981)
      • Led the league in Points five times – t-4th most ever (behind only Gretzky, Howe, Lemieux)
      • Top 5 eight times,
      • Top 10 ten times – t-9th most All Time
    • PPG Leader-boards:
      • Led the league in PPG five times – t-4th most All Time (Gretzky, Lemieux, Howe)
      • Top 5 eight times,
      • Top 10 nine times
    • Single-season totals:
      • Scored 150 points once (1 of 5 players ever – Gretzky, Lemieux, Nicholls, Yzerman, 1 of only 2 players at his retirement)
      • 140 points twice (1 of 3 players ever – Gretzky, Lemieux – only player to do so at his retirement)
      • 130 points four times (1 of 3 players ever – Gretzky, Lemieux – only player to do so at his retirement)
      • 120 points six times (1 of 4 players ever – Gretzky, Lemieux, Dionne – only player to do so at his retirement)
      • 90 points seven times (1 of 17 players ever, 1 of only 2 players at his retirement – Dionne)
      • 80 points eleven times (1 of 10 players ever, only player at his retirement)
      • 70 points thirteen times (1 of 13 players ever, 1 of only 3 players at his retirement – Howe, Mikita)
      • 60 points fourteen times (1 of 20 ever players ever, 1 of only 3 players at his retirement – Howe, Mikita)
      • 50 points sixteen times (1 of 22 players ever, 1 of only 6 players to do so at his retirement)
  • Plus Minus:
    • Top 5 in Plus Minus four times – t-4th most ever (behind only Orr, Gretzky, McCrimmon)
    • Top 10 five times
  • VsX Peak:
    • Best 7 Seasons:
      • Goals: 4th All Time (behind Bobby Hull, Richard, Howe)
      • Assists: 4th All Time (Gretzky, Orr, Boucher)
      • Points: 2nd All Time (Gretzky)
    • Best 10 Seasons:
      • Goals: 5th All Time (behind Bobby Hull, Richard, Howe, Ovechkin)
      • Assists: 3rd All Time (Gretzky, Boucher)
      • Points: 3rd All Time (Gretzky, Howe)

Phil Esposito’s Great Teams

  • NHL:
    • Best Player (led the playoffs in goals, assists and points) on one Final Four (’69 Bruins),
    • Best Forward (set the single playoff record in goals and points – the goals record held for one season, the points record held until 1980) on one Champion (’70 Bruins)
    • Best Skater (by points) on one Runner Up (’79 Rangers),
    • Best Forward (led the playoffs in goals and points) on one Champion (’72 Bruins),
    • Top 6 Forward (by points) on two Runners Up (’65 Black Hawks, ’74 Bruins) and two Final Fours (’66, ’67 Black Hawks),
    • Role Player (by points) on one Final Four (’64 Black Hawks)
  • Canada Cup:
    • Top 6 Forward (by points) on one Canada Cup Champion (’76 Canada)
  • Summit Series:
    • Best Player (by points) on one Summit Series Champion (’72 Canada).

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