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Numbers Game

Numbers Game – Top Goal Production over last 20 years

Alexander Ovechkin became the first player to score 60 goals in a season since Mario Lemieux scored 69 in 1995-1996. However, in an offense-starved NHL, can you argue that Ovechkin’s 60 goals is more impressive than Lemieux’s 69? Further, how does Ovechkin’s 60 compare to Hull scoring 86 in 1991 or Lemieux netting 85 goals in 1989 when the NHL average goals per game was almost 2 goals higher than it is today (7.48 vs. 5.59)?

There is no question that the game is played much differently in 2008 compared to 1989. Gone are the days when defensemen could not skate backwards, and goaltenders’ pads were only for protection. With greater focus on defense, coupled with the dilution of team talent through expansion, today’s NHL boasts (not proudly) far less offensive production. While in the early 90’s, the average goals scored per game was around 7, since 1997, only once has the goals per game average been higher than 5.9 (see chart for average goals per game for each of the last 20 seasons). What may, at first glance, not seem like an appreciable difference, even a one-goal differential means a difference of 100’s of goals.


In today’s Numbers Game, I used the average goals scored per game for each season as a means of comparing goal production in each season. I argue that goal production in a given year should be measured against every other player’s production in that year. Therefore, comparing average goals scored per game provides a comparative index to measure “every other player’s” performance in that year.

Through this analysis, I derived what the equivalent goal production would be in each season. So, for example, in 2008, the average goals scored was 5.59. In 1994, when Bure also scored 60 goals, the average goals score per game was 6.49 which is 16% higher than in 2008. Therefore, Ovechkin’s 60 is the equivalent of scoring 69.6 goals in 1994, while Bure’s 60 is the equivalent of scoring 51.8 goals in 2008.

So how do Mogilny’s 76 compare to Hull’s 72 or Lemieux’s 86? Well, after conducting the analysis for each of the last 20 seasons, I have compiled a top 5 list of goal production that factors in the average goals scored per game in the year they scored them.

1. Hull – 86 goals (1991)
2. Lemieux – 85 goals (1989)
3. Lemieux – 69 goals (1996)
4. Ovechkin – 60 goals (2008)
5. Bure – 59 goal (2001)

Interestingly, Selanne’s record setting rookie campaign in 1993, where he scored 76 goals for the Winnipeg Jets ranks 7th. Hull’s 72 goals in 1990, where the average was 7.37 GPG, is 13th on the list.

Is it likely we will see a player score 80 goals in a season again? Probably not. Though I suppose if anyone could do, I would place my money on Ovechkin being that guy. But, as we have seen, scoring 60 goals in today’s NHL ranks right up there with the incredible seasons that Hull and Lemieux had in the early 90’s.

For Illegal Curve, I am Adam Gutkin.

Goal Production over last 20 years (click on image to enlarge)