Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What is the most impressive NHL statistic?

The awesome USA-Canada games in the Olympics were two of the best hockey games I've ever seen, and it inspired me to go to Hockey Reference.com and click around a little bit. Statistics in hockey aren't quite as meaningful as, for instance, baseball stats, because there are so many variables - you can't meaningfully compare the number of goals two different players have scored, because the statistics don't differentiate between even strength and power play goals, or those scored into an empty net, or off of a sweet assist, or off of bad rebounds the goalie should never have surrendered.

So, hockey fans: what's the most impressive statistic? Gretzky's record 215 point season? Some other Gretzky record, like his 92 goals from 1984-85 or 163 assists from 85-86? Bobby Orr's plus/minus record of +124, set in the 1970-71 season, may be the only record that is just as likely to never be broken. In 78 games, Bobby Orr's Boston Bruins outscored their opponents by 124 goals at even strength. Larry Robinson, the great Montreal Canadiens defensemen, and Bobby Orr's defensive partner on hockey's all-time team, was +120 in 1976-77, but that came in the middle of Montreal's Scotty Bowman/Ken Dryden/Maurice Richard dynasty; one of the greatest runs that any hockey team has ever had.

My guess is that neither Orr's record nor any of Gretzky's records will be broken any time soon, but for some reason I see somebody scoring 93 goals before I see somebody going +124 in the modern NHL, or getting more than 163 assists. Nobody's Joe Thornton, the best playmaker since Mario Lemieux, has never had more than 96. Nobody has better than +60 since Vladimir Konstantinov in 1995-96.

What do you think - which record is most impressive, and which one of them is the most likely to be broken first?


Kevin Dineen said...

Gretzky's 50 goals in 39 games is similarly amazing, but probably not as unattainable as Orr's +124, which I think might be hockey's equivalent to DiMaggio's hitting streak.

Inspector Frank Bumstead said...

I always liked hockey's +/- stat, especially the years when I played defense. While imperfect compared to the cold clarity of goal scoring (hmm, but redirects?), I thought it was an important stat that reflects the team nature of the game. A player might not have the assist or goal, but a high +/- can show that player is a difference maker in the intangible situations of puck possession or hustling for the turnovers. Or if the player is a goal scorer, could also demonstrate their defensive mindset as well.

Wade Garrett said...

@ Kevin Dineen - I agree. I can see Ovechkin scoring 50 goals in 39 games, or 93 in a season, before I can see anybody going +124.

What's really amazing is that Bobby Orr was a full-time NHL player at age 18 and his career was effectively ended because of an injury at age 26. He has one of the greatest plus-minus ratings of all time despite the fact that he only played 8 seasons. Imagine what his stats would have looked like if he was able to play even until his mid-30s.