Where is the Scoring?
In case you missed it, the Stars didn’t qualify for the NHL playoffs this year that began on Wednesday. A disappointment to say the least. Especially considering the fact that they had two of the most exciting offensive players in the league who were also two of the top scorers. Jamie Benn actually led the NHL in scoring this year with 87 points. That is an incredible accomplishment. He’s the first Dallas Star to do that, and if teammate Tyler Seguin hadn’t missed 11 games with injury, he probably would have been ahead of Benn. Seguin had 77 points in just 71 games. Just those two players and their stats would make you think the Stars should have made it to the post season.
But looking at those numbers made me think of something else. Of an era far removed from today’s hockey. Back in the day when there was REAL scorers in the league. In the 1969 season, Bobby Orr had 87 assists–the same number of assists as Benn had points this year. And Orr was a defenseman. The next season, his teammate, Phil Esposito, had 76 goals and 76 assists for 152 points. That’s 65 more points than Benn had this year and that was 45 years ago. Surely today’s hockey players, just like basketball and football players, are stronger, faster and better prepared than their counterparts from nearly half a century ago.
After Esposito and Orr dominated, Guy Lafleur took over in the mid to late 70’s with similar point totals. Then in the 1980’s a little guy named Gretzky transformed the game. He tied for the league lead in points as a rookie with 137…as a teenager. For four consecutive seasons Gretzky scored more than 200 points per season–culminating with a record 215 points in the 1985-86 season. That year he had 163 assists alone. Think about that, without even scoring a goal, Gretzky would have lead the league in scoring each of the past 26 NHL seasons. But he did add 52 goals for 215 total points. If there is a sports record that may never be broken it’s that one. The difference between Benn’s league leading 87 points and Gretzky’s record season is 125 points. Put in perspective, that would be like Barry Sanders rushing for 3,500 yards in a season.
When Jordan Spieth won at Augusta last Sunday, he wiped out several records, including many set by Tiger Woods, records that we were told back then, might stand for decades. Records are made to be broken and new, young athletes come along every day to break those un-breakable records. Will any pitcher ever throw more strike outs than Nolan Ryan? Hard to imagine anyone will since pitchers only go into the 7th inning today and who else will pitch for 27 years in the big leagues?
Back to Benn, it certainly is a great accomplishment to league the league in scoring, but I have to wonder where the game is heading. I’m like a lot of fans who enjoy the pace of the game but would much prefer a 6-4 final than 2-1. The NHL has become plodding and filled with trapping defense that suffocates offense. You never worry about going to get a hot dog and thinking that you’ll miss a goal. Back in the “good old days” going to get a hot dog meant missing 3 goals. I miss Espo and Orr and Gretzky and the excitement that once was the NHL.