Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ovechkin '08: One of the greatest
goal-scoring seasons of all time?

Forty-five goals in 54 games isn't 50 in 50, but it's about as close as we can reasonably expect these days.

Alex Ovechkin's actually on pace for 68 goals so far this season, but with 20 goals in his last 17 games, perhaps that's too low a ceiling. We haven't seen even a 60-goal man since Mario Lemieux turned the trick 12 years ago and potted 69, and not since the early 90s has anyone broke the 70-goal barrier.

If Ovechkin keeps up this torrid pace and, in fact, hits somewhere in the high 60s this season, my guess is that it goes down as one of the all-time greatest goal-scoring seasons.

How's that?

Here's a look at the goals per game of the NHL's leading goal scorers since Lemieux's big year in 1995-96:

1 2007-08 Ovechkin 54 45 0.833
2 1999-00 Bure 74 58 0.784
3 2000-01 Bure 82 59 0.720
4 1997-98 Selanne 73 52 0.712
5 1997-98 Bondra 76 52 0.684
6 2005-06 Cheechoo 82 56 0.683
7 1996-97 Tkachuk 81 52 0.642
8 2006-07 Lecavalier 82 52 0.634
9 2001-02 Iginla 82 52 0.634
10 1998-99 Selanne 75 47 0.627
11 2002-03 Hejduk 82 50 0.610
12 2003-04 Nash 80 41 0.513
13 2003-04 Kovalchuk 81 41 0.506
14 2003-04 Iginla 81 41 0.506

So he's certainly the best we've seen in a good long while.

Bringing in the top performances of the 1980s and early 90s certainly drops Ovechkin well back, but let's do it anyway. These are the top performances by players who led the league in goal scoring in a particular season (Rocket Richard winners post-Original Six, if you will):

1 1983-84 Gretzky 74 87 1.176
2 1981-82 Gretzky 80 92 1.150
3 1988-89 Lemieux 76 85 1.118
4 1990-91 Brett Hull 78 86 1.103
5 1992-93 Mogilny 77 76 0.987
6 1995-96 Lemieux 70 69 0.986
7 1970-71 Esposito 78 76 0.974
8 1991-92 Brett Hull 73 70 0.959
9 1984-85 Gretzky 80 73 0.913
10 1987-88 Lemieux 77 70 0.909
11 1992-93 Selanne 84 76 0.905
12 1989-90 Brett Hull 80 72 0.900
13 1982-83 Gretzky 80 71 0.888
14 1979-80 Simmer 64 56 0.875
15 1985-86 Kurri 78 68 0.872
16 1973-74 Esposito 78 68 0.872
17 1971-72 Esposito 76 66 0.868
18 1978-79 Bossy 80 69 0.863
19 1980-81 Bossy 79 68 0.861
20 2007-08 Ovechkin 54 45 0.833

Twentieth is nothing to sniff at. But, of course, how many of those seasons were piled up when goal scoring was plentiful? Gretzky's record 92-goal campaign came when the league averaged more than eight goals per game; this season, in Ovechkin's era, there are only about 5.50.

If we scale every one of these seasons down to that 2007-08 rate, where does 68 goals fit into the equation? How impressive would that accomplishment be?

The results will surprise you:

NHL Adjusted

G GPG Goals
1 1990-91 Brett Hull 86 6.91 68.5
2 2007-08 Ovechkin 68* 5.50 68.3
3 1970-71 Esposito 76 6.24 67.0
4 1981-82 Gretzky 92 8.03 63.0
5 1988-89 Lemieux 85 7.48 62.5
6 1983-84 Gretzky 87 7.89 60.6
7 1995-96 Lemieux 69 6.29 60.3
8 1971-72 Esposito 66 6.13 59.2
9 2000-01 Bure 59 5.51 58.9
10 1973-74 Esposito 68 6.39 58.5
11 1999-00 Bure 58 5.49 58.1
12 1992-93 Mogilny 76 7.25 57.7
13 1992-93 Selanne 76 7.25 57.7
14 1991-92 Brett Hull 70 6.96 55.3
15 2001-02 Iginla 52 5.24 54.6
16 1978-79 Bossy 69 7.00 54.2
17 1997-98 Selanne 52 5.28 54.2
18 1997-98 Bondra 52 5.28 54.2
19 1994-95 Bondra 59* 5.97 54.0
20 1989-90 Brett Hull 72 7.37 53.7

If you simply prorate Ovechkin's totals this season, in a 5.50 goals per game era, to the year Gretzky had 92 goals, 68.3 becomes 99.7 goals.

This is a pretty crude way to compare eras, but what I'm trying to get at is that 68 goals this season would be an incredible accomplishment.

Forty-five goals in 54 games isn't 50 in 50 — it's better.

Labels: ,


At 2:25 p.m., February 06, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) Agreed that its difficult to obectively/mathematically compare eras, but your piece is very interesting/probably the best way to attempt to compare today with 2 decades ago.
2) We're also sure you'll get more than a few who won't be too happy to see The Great One's accomplishments diminished (somewhat) However, you may get a thankyou note from Mr. Hull. ; )

At 2:34 p.m., February 06, 2008, Blogger McLea said...

Alex Ovechkin's actually on pace for 68 goals so far this season, but with 20 goals in his last 17 games, perhaps that's too low a ceiling.

I don't think I follow your logic here. Typically when a guy is playing out of his mind, the assumption is that he will come back to earth, not that he'll continue his torrid pace over the remaining 30 games of the season.

Iginla's 10 game goalless streak and your Tavaras post where you had him scoring 109 goals think you're getting a little ahead of yourself

At 2:37 p.m., February 06, 2008, Blogger yeahuh said...

Does Jagr's 54 in 82 in 05-06 get no credit because it was trumped by Cheecho? It was good for .658

At 2:39 p.m., February 06, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) Also wonder if there is a way to find out how many of each of those players' goals were empty netters? If we recall, TGO had more than a few of those during that 92 goal campaign, while we can't recall Ovechkin having more than 1 this year

At 2:42 p.m., February 06, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I don't think I follow your logic here. Typically when a guy is playing out of his mind, the assumption is that he will come back to earth, not that he'll continue his torrid pace over the remaining 30 games of the season.

Okay, let's say Ovechkin slows down, and scores over the final 28 games the way he did before this latest streak. He still ends up with 64 goals, and drops to third.

It really doesn't change the post.

At 2:48 p.m., February 06, 2008, Anonymous David Johnson said...

What is more impressive is that unlike many of the other players in the southeastern conference Ovechkin hasn't padded his numbers against the horrifically weak, bad goaltendered southeast divisional opponents. In fact he has done better against the rest of the league with 32 goals in 35 games versus 13 goals in 19 games. For comparison sake, Lecavalier has 35 points in 21 games vs the southeast but only 35 points in 35 games against the rest of the league.

Ovechkin also has more goals than anyone else on his team has points which is pretty impressive.

At 2:55 p.m., February 06, 2008, Blogger Chiba Chiba Y'all said...

What is the asterix for? I saw one beside Bondra as well...

Am assuming it means an incomplete season, with Bondra's being the strike shortened season.

At 3:16 p.m., February 06, 2008, Anonymous Eric said...

Just as impressive as the 20-in-17 stat is that Ovechkin has been scoring on a ~1GPG pace since the middle of November. Makes one wonder if Ovechkin ever will "come back to earth," or whether he's in the process of becoming a steady 1GPG player - pretty mind-blowing if that's the case. Time will tell.

At 3:22 p.m., February 06, 2008, Blogger sager said...

Southeastern Conference? Is Ovechkin playing for the Florida Gators?

Great stuff, James. As you acknowledge, there is no surefire way to be 100% clear about who scored the most "absolute goals" in a NHL season, but this goes a long way toward helping us understand the numbers.

Someone would have to build a formula that would factor in goal-scoring levels across the league, what percentage of the game was power plays (higher now than in Gretzky or Espo's day), how much ice time a top-end forward typically got, and what goaltender save percentages were, among other variables.

Great work. Can't say enough.

At 3:52 p.m., February 06, 2008, Anonymous Knamely Lacked said...

A very interesting article.

Question though. How did Cam Neely's 1993-94 season not get mentioned? He reached the 50 goal plateau in only 44 games. He ended up stalled at 50 while playing only five more games that season (49 gp) but what he did was still pretty impressive no?

Also in 1990-91 Neely had 51 goals in only 69 games, while the year before in 1989-90 he potted 55 in 76 games.

Neely deserves some props on this chart don't you all think.

As a side not, both Brett Hull and Neely sure benefitted from a great (the very same) set up man.

Nevertheless, Ovechkin is looking like a freak, especially in todays game.

At 3:55 p.m., February 06, 2008, Anonymous knamely Lacked said...


Just realized these were goal leaders. Ignore my above post.


At 5:52 p.m., February 06, 2008, Blogger The Peerless said...

Ovechkin's rookie year (52 goals in 81 games/.642 goals-per-game) would have him tied with Tkachuk for 7th in the first list, and last year's 46 in 82 (.560) would have him on this list, too

At 6:03 p.m., February 06, 2008, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

Ovechkin's rookie year (52 goals in 81 games/.642 goals-per-game) would have him tied with Tkachuk for 7th in the first list, and last year's 46 in 82 (.560) would have him on this list, too.

Which would have been particularly relevant if Ovechkin had those outputs in seasons where all other scorers had a fewer amount.

It's a list of Richard winners since 96-97; there's plenty of other seasons that could fit into that list (such as Selanne last year), but that's not really the point.

At 8:52 a.m., February 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent! I love this kind of stat navel gazing. Thanks for doing all the work.

At 11:29 a.m., February 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a very interesting article and comparison...Ovechkin is a great goal scorer but I mean to start pro-rating things is a little absurd, if it was so easy to score 92 in the 80s why weren't more players doing it. Also, during some of the lowest scoring years in NHL, Pavel Bure put up 60,60,59,58. Obviously Ovechkin is on pace for a great season, but he may get injured and then what. Mario Lemieux is one of the greatest stats/game players ever because of his string of significant injuries, also the fact that he scored 20 in 17 is amazing but he is just as prone as Iginla is, especially on Washington, to have a 10 game goaless streak which puts him where?

At 11:31 a.m., February 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you or should you eliminate the individual players goals when you're determining the goals scored per game for that season?
I'm wondering if one of the reasons there were so many goals scored in Gretzky's best years would be because of Gretzky himself, no?

At 11:43 a.m., February 07, 2008, Blogger Rorschach said...

Where did you find the average NHL goals per game?

This is the equivalent of Greg Maddux in 1995 (the year after the strike) posting an ERA of 1.63 when the league ERA was 4.23.

At 12:22 p.m., February 07, 2008, Blogger Dave said...

Anonymous (second one): The point isn't to show how easy it was to score 92 goals in the '80s (because it wasn't), the point is to give context to just how ridiculous Ovechkin's season is. At least that's how I read it.

At 12:49 p.m., February 07, 2008, Blogger ~Mark said...

I think this is an excellent form of analysis (certainly compared to those trying to do post-shootout era team comparisons to pre-shootout teams) to give you a "feel" for Ovy's dominance. No one will mistake Ovy for Gretzky; they're different styles of players. It just shows that in the era of tight defensive systems and super-athletic goalies, Ovechkin is truly having a Gretzky-like season.

At 9:00 a.m., February 08, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome article, I thank Tolensky for linking it to his article.

Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer since Bure and maybe the most dynamic player to watch as well, though I still like Bure's speed and agility because he was a smaller player. Ovechkin is fast and agile too, but built like a brick house. He is well conditioned I am sure but it makes you wonder if his body can handle the style of play for the 13 years is contract is for. I doubt it. Forsberg sure couldn't and Ovechkin might use his body more than Forsberg. Gretzky didn't lay out the body much and he was a smart enough player in the right era to realize how he could achieve the greatest excelence.

Gretzky would still be good as a young player today, but I am not sure you could say he would score 92 any of the last 10+ seasons. The game has changed too much since the early 80's. I am sure A lot of todays strategys were developed in the eighties/ninties trying to figure out how to slow down the likes of gretzky and lemeiux.

I am not a huge fan of pro rating. But comparing goal scoring between the era's is tough without trying to pro rate. This is only the begining of the Alex the Gr8t. If somehow Ovechkin could score 70+ goals he would be put up there with a different class of scorers. Few players have done it. And fewer have done it on more than one occasion. Selanne and Mogilny were one shot wonders with great seasons. Not to down play their good careers, but no Gretzky, Lemieux, or Hull. Hull and Gretzky both did it three rimes in a row. Lemieux twice.

If Ovechkin continues to score at his 20g per 17gp rate he would score 78 this year. Unlikely, but I can see him scoring close to 70, maybe even get 70. He has been hot of late and shows no sign of slowing down. If he can continue his success long term he could be top 5, maybe top 3 of all time. I don't see his body being able to handle his style of play. Injuries could kill his career a la Peter Forsberg.

Another thought, how much seperation will there be between Alex and the next best scorer if he does indeed win? Gretzky won the goal scoring race by more than 30 goals before that is over 50% more than next closest competitor. I think maybe take the closest 10-20 scorers to the league leader, average it and take a ratio between the league leaders goals and that average. That would show you how much better a player was compared to his peers who played during the same era. would be some interesting stats I would think. Gretzky absolutely demolished players who played with the same advantages as him. Let see what type of margin Ovechkin can put between him and the competition.

These are just my random thoughts. No one has come close to Gretzky's or Lemieux's greatness yet. I think Crosby and Ovechkin have a chance to dominate their era. But I can't see them hitting the numbers of Gretzky. It would take a special player.

At 2:43 a.m., February 13, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how they aren't scoring more goals these days. The NHL's already cracking down on all the clutching/grabbing - not to mention getting rid of the two-line pass. I wonder how many goals Gretzky would have scored with today's rules.


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