Earlier this season, Rick Middleton attained his rightful place among the greats. The Boston Bruins made his no. 16 the 11th number to be retired to the TD Garden rafters. And a quick look at the career numbers are enough to explain that — 448 career goals (402 with the Bruins), 20 or more goals a season 12 out of 14 years — along with his position among the leadership of an era of consistently excellent teams. He’s got a decent case for the Hockey Hall of Fame; his place in the rafters should be without question.
I never really got to see Middleton play at his peak. But even when I was a kid, I was enough of a student to have quickly gotten the picture that he was as smart and professional a skater as anyone. Knowing anything about the Bruins, that had to mean that he had what Jack Edwards often refers to as the 200-foot game. He was a captain and he was nifty and then he retired and Jozef Stumpel took his number.
So the reality that he’d been a one-way player — and one that coach Don Cherry wasn’t too keen on acquiring — was new to me. Continue reading
Yesterday afternoon, I went flipping through the channels in that first bit of post-Olympics viewing and landed on the Red Sox and Orioles in Spring Training. I know that happened because my primary memory of this was in seeing the Orioles’ hats with a full-bodied cartoon bird swinging a bat, which was cool. That cartoon bird is hard to mess up, and with the mostly leisurely and whimsical nature of Spring Training, that kind of graphic works nicely on a hat.
The other thing I remember is that the Red Sox apparently have three different guys wearing no. 18 in camp, which pretty much sums up where the two guys not named Mitch Moreland stand on the odds table to make the team.
But that’s about it. The game was on, but I was mostly waiting for the Boston Bruins’ pregame to start, since they’d swung a trade for the New York Rangers’ Rick Nash earlier that morning. It cost them two draft picks, Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey’s exiled contract and a college prospect, but they got it done and added a big, rough-and-tumble goal scorer to David Krejci’s line. It’s not the Ryan McDonagh trade I wanted them to swing with New York, but it’s pretty good. 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.