The NHL's 100 Greatest Single-Season Performances: Nos. 20-1
Throughout the month of September, James Bisson and a cast of editors from theScore will share their rankings of the greatest players, teams, and moments in the 100-year history of the National Hockey League. This week's list focuses on the best individual seasons (* denotes a league-leading statistic).
- James Bisson, National Sports Editor
- Josh Wegman, NHL News Editor
- Sean O'Leary, NHL News Editor
- Esten McLaren, NHL News Editor
- Michael Amato, Senior News Editor
- Craig Hagerman, NHL News Editor
- Lanny Foster, Senior Social Media Editor
- Arun Srinivasan, News Editor
20. Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings (1988-89)
The Red Wings superstar showed he was capable of a big season a year earlier, scoring 50 goals and adding 52 assists in 64 games. But few were prepared for the kind of season Yzerman put together. Nobody other than Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky has recorded more points in a single campaign than he did in 1988-89.
19. Mike Bossy, New York Islanders (1981-82)
Perhaps the greatest pure goal-scorer in NHL history, Bossy showed off his playmaking side en route to one of the most impressive offensive seasons on record. Showing an incredible all-around game, Bossy placed third in Hart Trophy voting and second in the Lady Byng balloting while scoring 17 goals in 19 games to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
18. Brett Hull, St. Louis Blues (1990-91)
Other than Lemieux, nobody has come close to reaching Gretzky's incredible single-season goals record - nobody, that is, except for Hull. The Golden Brett (pictured above with dad Bobby) took his shot in 1990-91, ultimately coming up six goals shy but taking home the Hart Trophy in a narrow vote over Gretzky. Hull wound up scoring 70 or more goals in three straight seasons.
17. Bobby Orr, Boston Bruins (1969-70)
This was the season that Orr went from promising defense prospect to the most talented player in the NHL. Orr nearly doubled his point total from a season earlier, shattering defensemen scoring records on the way to becoming the first blue-liner to win a scoring title. His 20 points in 14 playoff games earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Bruins captured the Cup.
16. Dominik Hasek, Buffalo Sabres (1998-99)
Hasek has a pair of Hart Trophies on his mantel, but his best season - at least from a statistical perspective - might be one in which he didn't take home league MVP honors. Hasek's save percentage from the 1998-99 season is the fourth-best in league history, and he also established a career-low goals-against average en route to his fifth Vezina Trophy.
15. Wayne Gretzky, Los Angeles Kings (1990-91)
Gretzky put to rest any concerns about a potential drop-off in performance, securing his 10th league scoring title with his highest single-season assist total since 1985-86. It was the last time he scored 40 goals or posted 100 assists in a season; it was also the final time The Great One finished in the top two in Hart Trophy voting.
14. Phil Esposito, Boston Bruins (1970-71)
Before Gretzky and Lemieux took over, Esposito was the league record holder in both goals and points, putting together a season for the ages. He led the NHL in even-strength goals (50), power-play tallies (25) and game-winners (16) while taking an incredible 550 shots on goal. And yet, it still wasn't enough to earn league MVP honors; Esposito finished second in voting.
13. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (1980-81)
After coming oh-so-close to winning the NHL scoring title as a 19-year-old, Gretzky left no doubt the following season. Not only did he cruise to the Art Ross Trophy, he established a new league record for points in a season - a mark that wouldn't last very long, as we'll find out shortly. Gretzky celebrated the end of his teenage years with his second of eight straight Hart Trophies.
12. Bobby Orr, Boston Bruins (1970-71)
It's tough to decide which of Orr's seasons was the best, but you could easily make the case that this was No. 1, given that he set a record for scoring by a defenseman that still stands. And if that doesn't impress you, consider the plus-minus; Orr was on the ice for 124 more even-strength goals scored than he was for even-strength goals allowed. Mercy.
11. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins (1995-96)
After injuries limited Lemieux to just 22 games in 1993-94 and cost him all of 1994-95, hockey fans were wondering if the best of Super Mario was over. Lemieux responded with emphasis, posting his fourth career 160-point season en route to his third Hart Trophy. It's the last time a player has scored more than 130 points in a season.
10. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins (1987-88)
For the first three seasons of his career, Lemieux looked every bit the part of a No. 1 pick. But it was in Season 4 that he first looked like a challenger to Gretzky's reign of dominance. He ended The Great One's streak of scoring championships and was rewarded with the Hart Trophy. This season marks the only time Lemieux led the league in shots on goal (382).
9. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (1986-87)
While it doesn't represent Gretzky's greatest season from a points perspective, it was no less dominant than his peak years. The Great One captured the scoring title by an absurd 75 points over teammate Jari Kurri; even if you only counted his assists, Gretzky would have won the Art Ross by 13 points. This marked Gretzky's final 60-goal season.
8. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (1982-83)
As amazing as it is that Gretzky has four 200-point seasons to his credit, it's just as unfathomable to think that he came oh-so-close to a fifth. The 1982-83 season was the second of four straight in which Gretzky led the league in both goals and assists, and he went on to win the scoring championship by an incomprehensible 72 points over Peter Stastny.
7. Bobby Orr, Boston Bruins (1974-75)
Orr is the proud owner of the best NHL season not posted by Le Magnifique or No. 99 - and what a season it was. He set new benchmarks for goals by a defenseman, since broken by Paul Coffey. But while Coffey never led the league in scoring, Orr's sensational season earned him his second Art Ross Trophy to go along with his eighth consecutive Norris Trophy.
6. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (1984-85)
The third of Gretzky's four 200-point seasons features the best plus-minus showing of his career. The 135 helpers are the second-most of his career, and his 11 shorthanded goals mark the second straight year in which Gretzky had double-digit tallies while down a man. The result: a sixth consecutive Hart Trophy and a fifth straight scoring title.
5. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins (1988-89)
Fans can only wonder what Lemieux would have done had he dressed for all 80 games. But one thing's for sure: he wouldn't have had to settle for falling agonizingly short of joining Gretzky in the 200-point club. Lemieux's career season includes league highs in power-play goals (31) and shorthanded markers (13), and he also managed to rack up 100 penalty minutes.
4. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (1983-84)
Proving his historic 1981-82 season was no fluke, Gretzky posted 200 or more points for the second time two years later. The 23-year-old completed a rare trifecta, leading the NHL in even-strength goals (55), power-play markers (20) and shorthanded tallies (12) while adding 11 game-winning goals on the way to his fifth Hart Trophy in a row.
3. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (1985-86)
The single-season NHL scoring record is also one of the more intriguing seasons in history. Gretzky was always good at spreading the wealth, but his 163-assist performance in 1985-86 would represent the 11th-highest-scoring season by itself. Whatever the motivation for his increased generosity, Gretzky's playmaking helped set a scoring mark that might never be broken.
2. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins (1992-93)
It doesn't rank in the top five from a points perspective, but it's difficult to argue with Lemieux's 1992-93 campaign as one of the contenders for best season. Rallying to win the scoring title by 12 points after missing 24 games due to Hodgkin's disease proved to be an unbelievable end to one of the most unbelievable seasons in NHL history.
1. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (1981-82)
Between scoring 50 goals in his first 39 games, recording an NHL-record 68 even-strength tallies, and breaking his own league scoring record by 48 points - as a 21-year-old, no less - It's nearly impossible to fathom how dominant Gretzky was. In a career full of incredible accomplishments, his 1981-82 season stands head and shoulders above the rest.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)