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It is no secret that overall scoring has dropped in the NHL over the past 20 years, and while there are many factors as to why this is the case, the majority of hockey experts will say that the biggest reason this has happened is that the game has changed. What was once a wide open game dominated by skill and speed has now often become a chess match between coaches and their meticulous defensive systems. Percentage hockey is what today's NHL is all about. Limit your mistakes, only take chances when the odd situation arises, and capitalize on the few opportunities you get. Of course, since the 04-05 lockout, the NHL has made strides to allow the speed and skill of the game to shine through, and as a result offensive numbers are starting to rise. But will we see the days of 150+ point seasons anytime soon? Many will say no. I say yes. And I'll explain why.

NHL SCORING LEADERS BY YEAR
87-88: Mario Lemieux - 168 pts (76 games)
88-89: Mario Lemieux - 199 pts (76 games)
89-90: Mario Lemieux - 142 pts (73 games)
90-91: Wayne Gretzky - 163 pts (78 games)
91-92: Mario Lemieux - 131 pts (64 games)
92-93: Mario Lemieux - 160 pts (60 games)
93-94: Wayne Gretzky - 130 pts (81 games)
94-95: Jaromir Jagr - 70 pts (48 games - Shortened Lockout Year)
95-96: Mario Lemieux - 161 pts (70 games)
96-97: Mario Lemieux - 122 pts (76 games)
97-98: Jaromir Jagr - 102 pts (77 games)
98-99: Jaromir Jagr - 127 pts (81 games)
99-00: Jaromir Jagr - 96 pts (63 games)
00-01: Jaromir Jagr - 121 pts (81 games)
01-02: Jerome Iginla - 96 pts (82 games)
02-03: Peter Forsberg - 106 pts (75 games)
03-04: Martin St. Louis - 94 pts (82 games)
05-06: Joe Thornton - 125 pts (81 games)
06-07: Sidney Crosby - 120 pts (79 games)

It has always been difficult to compare eras in sports. Many hockey fans wonder how the greats of years past would fare in today's NHL. How would Gretzky in his prime do? Would he still be able to amass over 200 pts in a single season? What about Bobby Orr and Paul Coffee? 130+ points for a defenseman? Are you kidding me? The list goes on. Many of the accomplishments of past players seem so out of reach for today's NHLers. Could that happen in today's NHL? There is no way to know. (unless the long-awaited time machine gets built sometime soon) What I do know however, is that the closest we have ever been to witnessing a legend play in the "modern" NHL came midway through the 2000-01 season.

Mario Lemieux came out of retirement in December of 2000. Incredibly, he scored 35 goals and 41 assists for 76 points in only 43 games. Extrapolate that over an entire season, and he would have scored 67 goals and 78 assists for 145 points. Only 2 players scored over 100 points in 2000-01. While this may not have been the peak of the pre-lockout clutch and grab NHL, it was close to it. In the following season, no player was able to reach the 100 point plateau.

Mario Lemieux, at age 35, was able to put up similar numbers in 2000-01 as he did 8-10 years prior. No player came close to matching his PPG (points per game) that season. It can also be argued that Lemieux was nowhere close to being in his prime during this time. How could he? He hadn't played for 3 1/2 years, and, at 35 years old, nobody can argue his body would have been in better shape that it was 5-10 years prior. But he still put up huge numbers, testament to his skill level and status as one of the greatest players to ever play the game of hockey.

Has the NHL changed in such a way that players will never reach some of the numbers put up by the greats of years past? While the game has changed in many ways that will make it difficult to reach the ridiculous numbers Gretzky put up in the mid-80's, I do believe that that we will see players put up numbers that rival those of the late 80's-early 90's. It isn't the game that is stopping this from happening, it's the lack of a true superstar (or two) to show the world that it can still be done. If a 35 year old Mario could do it in an NHL that was tighter then than it is today, who can argue that "the next one" won't be able to put up better numbers.

Who knows, maybe Sidney Crosby is ready to be that superstar. We can only hope.

Filed Under:   Crosby   Lemieux   Nashcity   hockeybuzz   NHL   Orr   Canucks  
August 22, 2007 9:19 PM ET | Delete
I'm not saying this is the WHOLE truth, but I think there is a higher volume of great goaltenders out there. I don't think there was ever a time when every team could have a great goalie, until the last decade I would say.
August 22, 2007 10:23 PM ET | Delete
I agree. The goalies of yesteryear had the standup style AND smaller pads. Today, you can barely see the net behind them and the style is far better refined. The talent level has gone through the roof in the last two decades as well with the influx of European players.
August 22, 2007 10:42 PM ET | Delete
Two men: Patrick Roy - a whole lot a goalies tried his reinvented butterfly style.Jacques Lemaire - the trap.
August 22, 2007 11:45 PM ET | Delete
I absolutely agree with all of you, the game has changed. But the fact remains that despite the defensive systems, despite the butterfly goaltenders with huge equipment, despite the size of the players and the increased attention to detail - Mario Lemieux still put up huge numbers in 2000-01. Bottom Line - the decrease in scoring can be attributed both to the game changing AND to the lack of hockey superstars.
August 23, 2007 12:23 AM ET | Delete
Bottom line... Their is stars out there plain and simple you cant argue it. You also cant argue that the game has bigger stronger faster players which takes away ice from the games top players, plus teams are so focused on the importance of a good defense
August 23, 2007 1:20 AM ET | Delete
Lemieux was something special. I wouldn't say that just because the numbers aren't at his or Gretzky's level that there aren't superstars today, just superstars by today's standards.
August 23, 2007 2:44 AM ET | Delete
expansion also took its toll... and now the salary cap... its getting harder to put together these super-crazy-insanely-high-scoring lines like you used to... and a lot of the talent is being diffused... imagine if there where only 6 teams in the NHL still... how does a Forsberg Sundin Alfredsson line sound? that could be a team's second line, lol... how about Crosby Thornton Ovechkin as the first line? here's hoping there's no more expansion... maybe even shut down some of the less profitable teams, have a double draft, 1 for new guys, another for players from the 1 or 2 crappy market teams that would be closed down? I think something like that would really help out the game
August 23, 2007 8:43 AM ET | Delete
The reason for lack of 100 point players is because Goalies now are much much better than in the past, Way more agile, flexible, faster, and the list goes on ... Not only because the game has also changed but the main factor to the Lack of Superstars is because overall ALL Players are much better ... Every single team has really good players, even the ones that come in last place ... Players in general are much more equally better than ever in the past ... Remember the competition is much harder now because of this ... Maybe the salary cap has something to do with it also .. no idea but in the end the talent out there now is much more even in both divisons and when you play against players as good as yourself its hard to produce rediculas numbers .... I believe the overall reason though is the HUGE improvement in Goaltending with ALL net minders ... The system is just that much better and the condition is jsut that much harder to achieve!
August 23, 2007 8:47 AM ET | Delete
I meant in both conferences .. I say Put OVECHKIN on a good team and he is make Crosby a joke ... The only reason Sidney does so well is his really good team ..
August 23, 2007 9:10 AM ET | Delete
The only reason the team is really good is because of Sidney, not vice versa. Ovechkin is great. Crosby is greater. The gap between the great players and the good players is a lot narrower than it was in years past. There are so many good young players in the league now. And many more soon to enter. But overall, the game has changed. Lemeiux was anomaly in 2001. He would have broken all of Gretzky's records if he would have been healthy. Partially his fault, as I have heard in his younger years he didn't workout at all to stay in shape, didn't need to. But mostly bad luck. I could see Crosby breaking 150, maybe not this year, but in the next few.
August 23, 2007 10:22 AM ET | Delete
are you kidding me crosby is greater than ovechkin? look crosby got to play with mario and recchi and alot more skilled players then ovechkin had to play with imagine if jagr was still with the caps ovechkin would put up 100 seasons for sure. and this year with a better centre in nylander and rookie backstrom playing with him he will put up those kind of numbers
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