December 22, 2012

48 Game Season? Why The NHL Needs To Play 50

It is hockey's greatest single season accomplishment. Scoring 50 goals in 50 games.

Rocket Richard first accomplished in 1944-45. Only four other players have officially accomplished it since - Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky (3 times), Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull (2 times). Wayne Gretzky holds (likely forever) the current record of 50 goals in 39 games. He calls it the greatest of his 60+ NHL records.

James Mirtle of the Globe And Mail had a piece on Friday about how a 48 game season should not only not be dismissed but welcomed as an exciting sprint to the Stanley Cup. My suggestion though is why not just round it up to a 50 game schedule. It is a nice, neat and more importantly historic number in hockey. And while only five players have ever officially reached 50 goals in 50 games, the potential chase is exactly what the NHL needs.

Major League Baseball only returned to glory in 1998 after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's chase on baseball's historic single season home run record. That helped MLB make people forget about their labour troubles of the past. The chase brought casual fans back to ball parks in droves. The game and it's great history were celebrated. Forget about the hindsight of the steroid era. At that time there was no bigger story - it even transcended the sports world. It was the best possible news baseball could have ever had hoped for.

Hockey will need some great story to make fans forget about this ridiculous lockout. Even though Steven Stamkos was on a goal per game pace through 30 games last season, it is highly unlikely anyone will challenge 50 goals in the shortened season. But there is no chance if the NHL if does not give fans the magical optics provided with a 50 game season.

Here's a history of 50 goals in 50 games:

1944–45:  Maurice "Rocket" Richard of the Montreal Canadiens becomes the first NHL player to score 50 goals. It was the only time Rocket scored 50 in a season, even when the scheduled expanded to 60 games.

1980–81: Two players challenged the magical 50 goals in 50 games mark this season. Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders had 48 goals heading into his 50th game, while Charlie Simmer of the Los Angeles Kings had 46. With a flare for the dramatic, Bossy scored twice in the final 5 minutes to barely equal the record. He finished the season with 68 goals in 79 games. Simmer scored a hat trick in his 50th game, but just came up shy of 50 in 50. He scored his 50th goal the next game, giving him 50 in 51.

Wayne Gretzky: The Great One accomplished the trick three times in his career, but never so amazingly as in 1981-82, just a year after Bossy's historic achievement. Gretzky absolutely demolished the 50 in 50 mark by scoring 5 goals in game 39 to reach the 50 goal mark. #99, who went on to set a record 92 goals that season, often calls this record his proudest individual accomplishment.

Officially that season Gretzky had 61 goals in 50 games. He repeated that in 1983-84, scoring his 50th in game 42. In 1984-85 he had 53 goals in 50 games, scoring his 50th in game 49.

Mario Lemieux: In 1988-89 Mario Lemieux scored his 50th goal in game #46, though it was actually only his 44th game of the season. It was the only official time Lemieux accomplished the feat. The NHL is very strict with this record, stating that the 50 goals must be scored in the team's first 50 games, not the player's first 50 games. In 1992–93 season Lemieux scored his 50th goal in his 48th game, but it was the Penguins' 72nd game. In the 1995–96 season he scored his 50th goal in his 50th game, but it was the Penguins' 59th game.

So Lemieux accomplished 50 in 50 officially once and unofficially twice. He also had a near miss in 1988-89 with 50 goals in 51 games. And later in this article we will talk about the ridiculous record he tied in junior.

Brett Hull: The Golden Brett twice reached the magical mark. In 1990-91 he scored his 50th goal in game 49. The following season he scored his 50th goal in game 50.

Unofficial 50 in 50 records: As we explained above in our conversation about Mario Lemieux, there is such a thing as an unofficial 50 goals in 50 games record. Aside from Mario, three other players scored 50 goals in 50 or fewer games in a season, but it was not their team's first 50 games.

In 1984-85 Jari Kurri scored 50 in 50, but it was the Oilers 53rd game. In 1992-93 Alexander Mogilny joined Mario with an unofficial 50 in 50 with 50 in 46, but it was the Sabres 53rd game. And in 1993-94 Cam Neely scored 50 goals in just 44 games, but it was the Bruins 66th game of the season.

Near Misses: We talked about Charlie Simmer's near miss, scoring 50 in 51 games in 1980-81. Sadly, history doesn't remember Simmer's fantastic season as it should. He has some company in that category though.

Bobby Hull of the Chicago Black Hawks scored his 50th goal in his 52nd game in 1965–66. Mario Lemieux scored his 50th goal in his 51st game in 1987–88. Bernie Nicholls of the Los Angeles Kings scored his 50th goal in his 51st game in 1988–89.

Old School: Of course, hockey's first attempt at 50 goals pre-dated Rocket Richard himself. In 1917-18 another great Montreal Canadiens forward nearly became the first player to score 50 goals, and that was in a 22 game season, believe it or not. Joe Malone scored 44 times that season, and he actually missed two games. Had he played the full 22 games, he may just have set a record of 50 goals in 22 games!

Other Leagues: By the way, the pro hockey record is 50 goals in 37 games - Trevor Jobe in 92/93 (ECHL Nashville Knights) & Paul Jackson in 93/94 (CHL Wichita Thunder). In the Canadian junior leagues, Bill Derlago of the Brandon Wheat Kings scored 50 goals in 27 games in 1977-78. The record was equalled in 1983-84 by, of course, Mario Lemieux of the Laval Voisins.

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