This is going to be weird to admit, but it seems like it’s time to come clean:
It took me a long time to actually hate the Montreal Canadiens. Blame it on a combination of a great sweater, a storied history and current events, and they didn’t seem much different to me than the Quebec Nordiques, for whom I still have a soft spot.
As villains, they had nothing on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had knocked Boston out of the 1991 Wales conference finals and, in the process, Ulf Samuelsson took it upon himself to upend Cam Neely’s career with a low cheapshot to the knee. The fine tradition of Penguins ruining the careers of Bruins is one that would carry on later, of course, but that’s another discussion.
No, in the early 1990s, knowledgable about the rivalry but entering the picture just as Boston began knocking Patrick Roy and company out of the playoffs every year they met, that kind of intense dislike didn’t register. I was already starting collect hockey books, and instead, there was this deep history that was fascinating, running from Georges Vezina and Howie Morenz to Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau to Yvan Cournoyer and Guy Lafleur. Continue reading
In all fairness, I can’t blame this one on the coronavirus.
Being all dressed up with nowhere to go has been an opportunity to revisit several hobbies, among them, sorting through old hockey cards and recalling memories and moments in time related to them.
But this one is almost a cop-out. While I was looking through cards and waiting for inspiration to strike, I got to the entire Wayne Gretzky section and, forgive me, it can’t be helped. I have to prattle on about no. 99’s ridiculous dominance over the rest of the game.
I’ve done this exercise in print before, but it was practically a decade ago and, more to the point, this is a recurring practice for me. If I’m bored, even in non-pandemic times, I’m just as likely to start looking up compilations of all of Gretzky’s assists to Jarri Kurri in 1985 as I am rare Led Zeppelin bootlegs. Continue reading
Wayne Gretzky still doesn’t feel real to me.
I am by no means the biggest stat head among the sports fan universe. To begin, I was never the best at math. But I’m not a prude — I’m constantly checking up on OPS leaders at Baseball-Reference and plus/minus at the Internet Hockey Database, and the absurd amuses and thrills me to no end.
I got into something of an e-mail volley with my friend and keeper of the SuperSonics flame, Ryan, that was really just a re-telling of some absurd stat lines through the years. He started it with his look back at Michael Jordan, which he highlighted in his own blog. To wit:
- Taking out the 1998 season, Jordan’s lowest FG% in a full season with the Bulls (because he played for them 13 years and then just stopped playing basketball) is higher than Kobe Cry-Baby’s best year
- Kobe’s best year: 46.9%
- Jordan’s discounted 1998 season: 46.5%
- Let’s just marvel at ‘88-‘89 season for a minute: 40.0 mpg, 32.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 8.0 apg, 2.9 spg, 53.8 FG% (55.3%, if you don’t include his 27% 3PT%), 85.0 FT%, 34.8/7.0/7.6 in the playoffs.
Yeah, so Jordan was insane.
I countered with some notes on Barry Bonds, with the caveat that much of this might be artificially enhanced. Still:
- Bonds’ OPS+ (which is OPS adjusted for era/league/all that) in 2002, was 268, the highest of all time. In fact, if you take the top 10 OPS+ seasons of all time, Bonds appears first, second (2004, 263), third (2001, 259), and tied for 10th (2003, 231).
- Helping out the on-base numbers, Bonds set the record for walks in 2001 (177), 2002 (198) and 2004 (232). For good measure, he is also 10th all time with 151 bases on balls in 1996.
- Back to 2004: He was walked intentionally 120 times. 120 times! On the all-time list, that’s 52 more than the batter in second place. And yes, that was Bonds with 68 in 2002. He’s also third with 63 in 2003, tied his 1993 finish in 2007 with 43, and then appears ninth on the list with 41 in 2006.
So the moral of this story is that Bonds terrified pitchers and managers. Rightly so.
I’ll wrap up this little exercise with the Great One, the man who graced my bedroom wall from 1993 to 2000, Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky in the early 1980s was a demon on skates, the leader of the dynastic Edmonton Oilers.
- As a natural playmaker and a pass-first center, Gretzky scored at least 50 goals every season from 1979-80 to 1986-87. The high mark came in 81-82, when he set a record with 92 in a season (and scored 50 in the Oilers’ first 39 games). He went beyond 60 in 1982-83 (71), 1983-84 (87), 1984-85 (73) and 1986-87 (62).
- How many other players have topped 70 goals? Seven: Phil Esposito, Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Alexander Mogilny, Teemu Selanne, Bernie Nichols and Jarri Kurri. Hull did it three times, Lemieux did it twice, and Kurri was Gretzky’s linemate when he scored 71 in 1984-85.
And, for fun, let’s run down some of the single-season records Gretzky owns:
- Goals: 92 in 1981-82.
- Assists: 163 in 1985-86. He also owns every spot in the top 11 in this category.
- Points: 215 in 1985-86. He owns all but two spots in the top 10; Lemieux ties him at fifth and 10th.
- Playoff assists: 31 in 1988
- Playoff points: 47 in 1985
And career marks?
- Goals: 894
- Assists: 1,963 (714 more than the second-place Ron Francis)
- Points: 2,857 (Mark Messier is second all-time with 1,887)
- Shorthanded goals: 73
- Playoff goals: 122
- Playoff assists: 260
- Playoff points: 382
Considering the low-scoring era we live in now, this nears the unfathomable. Even if goals are up this year, with Steven Stamkos leading the way, there will never be another time like then, and there will never be another Great One.