Thursday, January 3, 2008

Which Is Truly The Single Best Offensive Season Ever?

I have been running across a lot of old hockey clips from the late 70's and 80's lately and I just can't get over how bad the goaltending used to be in the NHL. That got me thinking about some of Wayne Gretzky's records and how he benefited from being in the league during that era. Comparing different eras in sports is always difficult, but I felt compelled to come up with a way to compare some of the biggest single offensive seasons in recent NHL history and see which was really the most impressive.

I used the following method of comparison; I picked the most impressive single season point totals since 1980 to put up against each other. I then determined the player's Points Per Game (PPG) for each season and then divided that by the overall average Goals Per Game (GPG) in the NHL for that season to determine that player's Offensive Involvement Percentage (OI%). The OI% was the percent of goals that player figured in on by a per game basis, using the league average GPG. This basically told me how much scoring a player accounted for per game compared against the NHL average as a whole. It's not a perfect method, but it does give hard numbers across the last 25+ years in the NHL.

For my comparisons I used the following seasons:

  • Wayne Gretzky 81-82 (80 GP, 212 P)
  • Wayne Gretzky 85-86 (80 GP, 215 P)
  • Mario Lemieux 88-89 (76 GP, 199 P)
  • Mario Lemieux 92-93 (60 GP, 160 P)
  • Mario Lemieux 95-96 (70 GP, 161 P)
  • Jaromir Jagr 98-99 (81 GP, 127 P)
  • Jaromir Jagr 00-01 (81 GP, 121 P)
  • Mario Lemieux 00-01 (43 GP, 76 P)
  • Sidney Crosby 06-07 (79 GP, 120P)
The NHL GPG averages for those seasons were:
  • 81-82 - 8.03 GPG
  • 85-86 - 7.94 GPG
  • 88-89 - 7.48 GPG
  • 92-93 - 7.25 GPG
  • 95-96 - 6.29 GPG
  • 98-99 - 5.27 GPG
  • 00-01 - 5.51 GPG
  • 06-07 - 5.89 GPG
This resulted in the following OI%'s for each player:
  • Wayne Gretzky 81-82 - 33%
  • Wayne Gretzky 85-86 - 33.85%
  • Mario Lemieux 88-89 - 35%
  • Mario Lemieux 92-93 - 36.78%
  • Mario Lemieux 95-96 - 36.57%
  • Jaromir Jagr 98-99 - 29.75%
  • Jaromir Jagr 00-01 - 27.11%
  • Mario Lemieux 00-01 - 32.08%
  • Sidney Crosby 06-07 - 25.79%
Now this is where things get interesting. Using the above stats I was able to take the resulting OI%'s above and then use them to project point totals for each player in each of the other seasons. In other words, I could tell you how many points were the 81-82 equivalent of Jagr's 127 points in the 98-99 season. Think of is as some kind of scoring exchange rate. For the sake of balanced projections, I calculated the projected point totals based on the same number of games played by the actual point leader that season. So for example, the 81-82 projections are all based on the player playing in 80 games, just like Gretzky did that season. One exception: for the 92-93 season I calculated all players' totals based on playing 80 games, due to Lemieux only playing 60 games because of his bout with Hodgkin's Disease. Also, for the 00-01 season, I recalculated Mario's "total" based on playing 81 games, just like Jagr did that year.

Here are the projections:

(click to enlarge)

So going by these projections we can see that Mario Lemieux is actually the owner of the two "best" offensive seasons in modern NHL history based on his OI% from the 92-93 and 95-96 seasons. If Mario had played at the level he did in the 92-93 season during the 85-86 season he would have scored an NHL record 236 total points. Not too shabby.

Again I stress that what I have done here isn't perfect, but it does give a foundation for comparing scoring in the NHL across many seasons. The real conclusion to all of this, if you could call it that, would have to be that as scoring went down in the NHL over the years points became harder to come by and thus are arguably more valuable, for lack of a better term, than points accrued during the wide open glory days of the NHL in the 80's. Naturally you could expand the range of this exercise and probably find some seasons from longer ago that compare favorably to Lemieux and Gretzky. In the meantime I feel very comfortable saying that while Wayne Gretzky may own the major single season scoring records in NHL history, Mario Lemieux has actually had the best offensive seasons in the history of the NHL.


Adrian said...

Good basic statistical analysis. I have long felt that Lemieux was the better player over Gretzky when you take them in isolation.

People forget that Gretzky also played with a player that was nearly his equal in raw skill - Jari Kurri - for years whereas Lemieux had to play with all kinds of crap the Penguins trotted out for years (Moe Mantha, Terry Ruskowski, John Chabot....) until Jagr joined him in Lemieux's 7th season.

Anonymous said...

If you could find the points awarded per game it would be more accurate. They did not start giving out two assists for EVERY goal until the 90s. I dont think this would hurt Lemieux's 92 season but it would probably crush his 00-01 season and Sid's.

Loser Chris said...

From last night's ATL/BUF game:
9:20, Marian Hossa 15 (unassisted)

You were saying anon...

Tyler said...

Anon., they do not award 2 assists to every goal, as much of a garage league as the NHL is, they will not award phantom points.

If a player wins a faceoff in the offensive zone clearly back to the d man on the point and the D man puts it on net and it goes in without any player from his team scoring it, they will only award 1 assist to the goal, that assist going to the centremen.

Anonymous said...

Try this out for Alex Ovechkin's goal scoring pace this year and compare that to the other best goal scoring seasons in the past.

This arguably, if AO keeps it up, could be one of the best goal scoring seasons ever.