Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Five weirdly unbreakable NHL records

Hockey fans love records. Whether it’s goals or saves or penalty minutes, we can all recite a handful of league marks and argue over which current star is most likely to break them.

Unfortunately, the shifting nature of the pro game has left many of the league’s most famous records all but out of reach. Nobody’s ever going to get close to Wayne Gretzky’s 2,857 career points, or Teemu Selanne’s 76 goals as a rookie, or Glenn Hall’s 502 complete games. The same can probably be said for Bobby Orr’s +124 rating, and Dave Schultz’s 472 penalty minutes in a season, and any number of other longstanding records that were set in eras when the game was played differently.

But those are the ones that most fans know. Today, let’s dig a little deeper to find five obscure records that are virtually unbreakable, at least anytime soon. You may not have heard of at least a few, but that’s OK. Read on, and they might even win you a few bar bets.

1. Most Goals Scored in One Game (in Which the Player Did Not Play)

It’s a relatively common refrain among hockey fans. “Right up until he scored that goal, I didn’t even notice him out there,” we’ll say about some notoriously enigmatic sniper. “He was invisible. I didn’t even realize he was playing.”

But late in the 2013-14 season, Nathan Horton took it one step further: He managed to get credit for scoring a goal in a game in which he quite literally did not play.

This one ends up being kind of complicated, as the “game” actually spans across two different matchups. On March 10, 2014, the Stars and Blue Jackets met in Dallas. At about 2:44 into the first period, Horton scored to give Columbus a 1-0 lead. Minutes later, the goal was all but forgotten when Stars forward Rich Peverley suffered a cardiac event and collapsed on the bench. Peverley survived, but the disturbing scene led to the game being postponed.

A makeup game was scheduled for one month later. But in the meantime, the NHL had to figure out how to handle the six minutes played in the first game. On the one hand, the league wanted to play a full 60-minute game, since fans were being asked to pay full price for tickets. On the other, it wouldn’t be fair to the Blue Jackets to start over from scratch, since they’d been leading when the original game was postponed.

The compromise: Horton’s goal would count, going into the official box score as being scored at the 0:00 mark of the first period, and the Jackets would start the game with a 1-0 lead.

But in the month between games, Horton was injured and couldn’t play in the rescheduled game. It all led to Horton getting credit for one of the strangest official stat lines in NHL history: no shots on goal taken, 0:00 of ice time, and one goal scored.

(This remained the most confusing and unimaginable accomplishment of Horton’s career right up until the following season, when he was traded for David Clarkson.)

2. Most Consecutive Stanley Cup Final Appearances by an Expansion Team

With the NHL starting down the path to adding teams for the first time in over a decade, it’s worth looking back at how past expansion teams have done. The record isn’t pretty. Some teams, like the Sharks, Senators, and Capitals, were embarrassingly bad for years before finally gaining respectability. Others, like the Ducks and Lightning, were merely below average. And some, like the Thrashers, Scouts, and Golden Seals, never found success in their new homes at all.

And then there were the St. Louis Blues, inarguably the most successful franchise team in the history of the league, if not in all of pro sports. In their very first season, they won their division and went to the final. In the next two, they were even better, appearing in the final twice more. From the moment they stepped foot on the ice, the Blues were the undisputed class of the West Division for three straight years.

That sounds impressive. And it is … just as long as you stop reading right about here.

The NHL’s expansion in 1967 spelled the end of the Original Six era, doubling the size of the league by adding six new franchises, including teams like the Kings, Flyers, Blues, and Penguins that are still around today. That was a good thing. But because this was still the NHL, they had to find a way to make the whole thing completely ridiculous. And that’s exactly what they did by coming up with the brainstorm of putting all six expansion teams in the same division.

That left the league with two divisions: the East, featuring the established six teams, and the West, featuring all of the terrible expansion teams. In that first expansion season in 1967-68, the Flyers finished first in the West with just 73 points, which would have been good for sixth in the East. That imbalance continued through the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons, with even the East’s very worst teams finishing ahead of almost everyone in the West.

But the playoff system was based on divisions, guaranteeing both the East and West the same four spots and assuring that each division would send one team to the Final. In each of the first three years, the West’s representative would end up being the Blues, who’d dutifully show up to face one of the East’s powerhouses. Not surprisingly, the Blues got creamed all three years, racking up a combined final record of 0-12.

It wasn’t until another round of expansion in 1971 that the league finally mixed the divisions and restored some competitive balance to the Final. The Blues lost in the first round that year, and they haven’t been back to the final since. At a lifetime 0-12, it’s hard to blame them.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

1 comment:

  1. It's always exciting watching a record be dethroned, especially if you get to witness it firsthand.