Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Celebrating five of the NHL’s most unbreakable and also dumbest records

It finally happened. After almost three decades, Jonathan Huberdeau has broken the NHL single-season record for assists by a left winger — just like I predicted someone would. (Don’t actually read that post to see who the prediction was about, just go with me.)

I’m kind of bummed about it.

Maybe I’m weird, but Joe Juneau holding the mark at a very breakable 70 for all these decades was one of my favorite low-key weird facts. It was a great trivia question, one that could stump even the wisest old-time fan. It was also a nice reminder that the 1992-93 season absolutely rocked. Plus Juneau was just a very cool player, one who ran wild for Canada at the Olympics in 1992, made the NHL full-time when he was already 24 years old, set the assists mark as a rookie, then was traded the very next season. He wore a cool number. He was involved in youth hockey after his playing career ended. I liked Joe Juneau. Whenever it’s time to Remember Some Guys from the 1990s, he’s always on my list of go-to names.

I’ll miss having him in the NHL record book.

But I may have to take some of the blame here. Back in September, I wrote a post about five of the most breakable records in the NHL, and invited you to enjoy them while you still could. Juneau’s mark was the first one I mentioned, so maybe I reminded the hockey gods that it was on their to-do list. My bad, Joey, this one’s on me.

So today, let’s see if we can flip that karma. We’re going to the other end of the spectrum, with five NHL records that are absolutely unbreakable. Granted, this isn’t an especially sparse category – plummeting scoring rates and changes to the way the game is played mean that half the record book is out of reach. But we’re not going to do the obvious ones today, like Wayne Gretzky’s scoring marks, Glenn Hall’s consecutive starts, or even Dave Schultz and his 472 PIMs.

No, let’s go a little more obscure. Here are five NHL records that you may or may not even know exist, but that you should get used to because they’re not going anywhere.

Most points in a season without receiving a single Hart vote

There’s a common criticism of the Hart Trophy, and it’s at least a little bit true: That the writers who do the voting just look at the league’s leading scorers and fill out their ballot based on that. Defensemen, goalies and even two-way forwards are all ignored because lazy writers just vote for whoever had the most points.

OK, fair enough. So who do you think holds the record for most points scored in a season in which they didn’t appear on so much as a single Hart ballot?

For example, last year’s top scorer to get the snub from voters was Mark Scheifele, who finished ninth with 63 points. Of course, that was a shortened season; he’d have been on pace to finish in the 90s over a full schedule. Leon Draisaitl had 105 points when he was shut out in 2019, which looks like the highest total of the cap era. That one’s probably going to be tough to beat.

Did Draisaitl come close to the record? Not exactly. Would you believe that Hart voters once snubbed a 150-point guy?

They did, and that fact should narrow down your list of possibilities significantly, because only five players in the history of the NHL have ever had 150 points in a season. None of today’s stars have even come close. Jaromir Jagr never did it. Neither did Mark Messier, or Guy Lafleur, or Marcel Dionne, or Mike Bossy. Even at the height of his powers, Bobby Orr couldn’t get there. Joe Sakic, Bryan Trottier or Brett Hull? Not by a long shot.

No, there are only five members of the 150-point club. Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Phil Esposito and… Bernie Nicholls?

Indeed, Nicholls pulled off the feat for the Kings in 1988-89. But you’d be forgiven if you didn’t remember that, because it wasn’t exactly the biggest story of the season in Los Angeles. Instead, it was the arrival of Wayne Gretzky, who came over in The Trade and topped Nicholls with 168 points to win his ninth and final Hart. Back in those days, there were only 21 voters and they each had three slots on their ballot, and Gretzky gobbled up all the Kings love. You’d think a guy with 150 points (not to mention 70 goals) could have earned at least a measly third from somebody, but nope. He did get some all-star love, finishing fourth behind Gretzky, Lemieux and Yzerman among centers, and a couple of writers gave him a Lady Byng nod. But MVP? Not one single vote. Not that year, and not any other year in his 18-season, 1,200-point career.

Other records Nicholls set that year that I feel safe in declaring unbreakable: Most points by a second-line center, most points by a guy who’d be traded halfway through the following season, and most 70-goal seasons by a guy who never had a 50 or 60 goal season.

Considering we haven’t seen anyone even get to 150 points in 25 years and counting, this one feels pretty safe.

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