Number cruncher : Is 30 the new 50?

Thursday, 13.03.2014 / 8:00 AM canadiens.com

MONTREAL –Without a doubt, scoring 50 goals in a single season is the gold standard for all aspiring snipers in the National Hockey League. But when it comes to scoring goals, what’s in a number?

For those unfamiliar with hockey history, the choice of 50 may seem arbitrary. And it would be, if it weren’t for Maurice “Rocket” Richard’s scintillating 1944-45 season.

In the fall of 1944, with the Second World War’s VE Day less than a year way, a speedy but injury-prone 23-year-old Montreal native suited up for his third professional campaign with the Canadiens. The Rocket had shown his nose for the net with 32 goals in 46 games the year prior, but there were certainly no indications that he was about to break Joe Malone’s scoring record of 44 goals, set in only 20 games back in 1917-18. However, Richard started the season hot and kept lighting the lamp. He shattered Malone’s mark and added a few more for good measure, netting No. 50 with scant minutes left in the 50-game season to shock the hockey world. And so, a tradition was born.

Even though the NHL schedule was subsequently lengthened to 60, 80, and finally 82 games in later years, the indelible mark left on hockey fans by Richard’s historic season meant that the 50-goal milestone would become the definitive barometer for offensive greatness.

MTL 50-goal scorers Season GP G

Stephane Richer 1989-90 75 51

Stephane Richer 1987-88 72 50

Guy Lafleur 1979-80 74 50

Pierre Larouche 1979-80 73 50

Guy Lafleur 1978-79 80 52

Guy Lafleur 1977-78 78 60

Steve Shutt 1976-77 80 60

Guy Lafleur 1976-77 80 56

Guy Lafleur 1975-76 80 56

Guy Lafleur 1974-75 70 53

Bernard Geoffrion 1960-61 64 50

Maurice Richard 1944-45 50 50

***

All that being said, times change, and the game of hockey has evolved as well. Since Richard’s heyday, the league has expanded from six teams to 30, lengthened its schedule by 64 percent and seen scoring drop by nearly two goals per game. From an objective point of view, there is no denying that a goal today is harder to come by than in the age of brown leather pads and laminated wooden sticks.

While he may not break into the exclusive 50-goal club this season, Max Pacioretty remains no less a generational talent for the Habs, scoring at a pace unseen in Montreal since Stephane Richer terrorised opposing netminders in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

A relatively simple way to find an equal base for comparison between Pacioretty, Richer, Guy Lafleur and Richard is to adjust the goal totals obtained in their two highest-scoring seasons for the number of games played and the average numbers of goals scored per game in their respective eras.

Era total goals/game Adjusted goals %Team offense

Pacioretty

2014* 5.51 49 18.1

2012 5.47 42 15.6

Richer

1990 7.43 49 17.7

1988 7.37 49 16.8

Lafleur

1980 7.03 51 15.2

1978 6.59 66 16.7

Richard

1947 6.32 68 23.8

1945 7.35 78 21.9

(*Current season to date)

The difference is striking. Not only does the table reflect Richard’s achievements in a new and all the more impressive way, it also lends credence to the idea that many of today’s 35 and 40-goal scorers would be bona fide 50-goal men in a different era. Had Pacioretty played alongside Lafleur in 1980 or Richer in 1990, he would have a fair chance of finishing the season with around 50 goals. As it were, he is on pace to end his 2013-14 campaign with a less glamorous, but still career-best 38 tallies.

One final note on the numbers: the last column on the table indicates a scorer’s goal total as a percentage of the Habs’ total goals scored in that particular year. One can see that Pacioretty, Richer and Lafleur were all the offensive focal points of their respective teams. But Richard regularly contributed more than one-fifth of his team’s goal total, which is absolutely remarkable. Even more extraordinary is that his goal-a-game season of 1944-45 might not even have been his best. In 1946-47, Richard scored “only” 45 goals, but completely carried the Montreal offense and accounted for nearly a quarter of the team’s total regular season goals. It remains to be seen if this oft-overlooked mark will ever be approached by another Montreal skater.

Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.

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