February 15, 2009

Can Defenseman Mike Green Score 50?

There was a great story Saturday night in hockey - Washington defenseman Mike Green set a new NHL record for defensemen by scoring a goal in 8 consecutive games.

The record was previously held by Mike O'Connell, a real under-rated defenseman who scored in seven straight games for the Boston Bruins during the 1983-84 season.

The NHL record for goals in consecutive games belongs to Ottawa's Punch Broadbent who scored goals in 16 straight games way back in 1921-22. The modern day NHL record belongs to LA Kings' Charlie Simmer with 13 straight games back in 1980.

Green now has 22 goals this season, by far the most amongst NHL defenseman. And that is despite missing 13 games dues to injury.

In fact, Green is having one of the greatest offensive seasons in history. Assuming he's healthy the rest of the season, he's on pace to score 35 goals in 69 games. Over a full 82 game schedule he would be on pace for 42.

In NHL history only 16 times has a NHL defenseman topped 30 goals. And only three times has somebody topped 40.
Player             - Season  - GP - Goals

Paul Coffey, EDM - 1985-86 - 79 - 48
Bobby Orr, BOS - 1974-75 - 80 - 46
Paul Coffey, EDM - 1983-84 - 80 - 40
Doug Wilson, CHI - 1981-82 - 76 - 39
Paul Coffey, EDM - 1984-85 - 80 - 37
Bobby Orr, BOS - 1971-71 - 78 - 37
Bobby Orr, BOS - 1971-72 - 76 - 37
Kevin Hatcher, WSH - 1992-93 - 83 - 34
Bobby Orr, BOS - 1969-70 - 76 - 33
Bobby Orr, BOS - 1973-74 - 74 - 32
Ray Bourque, BOS - 1983-84 - 78 - 31
Phil Housley, BUF - 1983-84 - 75 - 31
Denis Potvin, NYI - 1975-76 - 78 - 31
Denis Potvin, NYI - 1978-79 - 73 - 31
Paul Coffey, PIT - 1988-89 - 75 - 30
Denis Potvin, NYI - 1977-78 - 80 - 30

That is some pretty exclusive company. While no one will compare Green to Bobby Orr, the comparisons to Paul Coffey are coming fast and furious.

Which leads me to Ken Campbell's article over at The Hockey News. He thinks it is possible Green can break Coffey's record for goals by a defenseman, and even hit the magic 50 mark.
The question that needs to be asked now, though, is if Paul Coffey’s record of 48 goals, the hallmark for markers by a defenseman in one season, is going to be in jeopardy in the next few seasons? Are we looking at a defenseman who is capable of becoming the first 50-goal scorer in NHL history?
Green is a fantastic talent, playing a real instinctual game. But coach Bruce Boudreau deserves full credit here for allowing Green to play the game essentially as a rover or a 4th forward. Most coaches would try to reign a player like Green into the restrictive confines of accepted hockey thinking. Boudreau lives with Green's gambling and offense first approach because he realizes Green can bring something really special to the game.

Boudreau's blessing is akin to the green light Harry Sinden gave Bobby Orr and Glen Sather gave Wayne Gretzky when they first broke into the league. A less visionary coach (ie almost everybody else) would not allow such freedoms.

So can Green score 50? I would not bet on it.

No professional league has ever had a 50 goal scorer. The NHL has come close with Paul Coffey's 48 or Bobby Orr's 46. But otherwise the key minor leagues such as the AHL, IHL, ECHL, not to mention major league WHA has never had a 50 goal scoring defenseman. And while trying to figure out all the semi-pro and very low minor league teams through out history is like finding a needle in a haystack, it is believed that none of them has ever had a defenseman who scored 50 times in a season, either.

I then took a look at major junior hockey, where I found only one defenseman to hit the 50 mark, Saskatoon Blades' Larry Sacharuk.

Alright, so he did it in the juniors. No other defenseman in junior hockey history has ever scored 50, including Orr and Coffey. Paul Reinhart did top 50 goals but also spent a significant part of their season at a forward position as well as defense. Sacharuk was primarily a rearguard.

Mike Green is a great player in the right situation. It will be interesting to watch him over the next few years.

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