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Is Mario Lemieux’s 199 Point Season The Top Offensive Season Ever?

I have been looking at the offensive portion of the point share system as developed by Justin Kubatko of hockey-reference.com.  The idea is to determine how many points a team gained in the league standings because of the offence of an individual player.  The top season by this method is Mario Lemieux’s 1988/89 season.  This was Lemieux’s best offensive season of his career by raw numbers.  He played 76 games and scored 85 goals and 114 assists for 199 points.  This is the highest scoring season ever by somebody other than Wayne Gretzky and it was done in a lower scoring era than Gretzky’s prime.

While Lemieux was the top scorer that season, he did not win the Hart Trophy which went to Gretzky who finished 31 points behind Lemieux and was in his first year with the Los Angeles Kings.  He also did not win the “players’ MVP” the Pearson Trophy went to Steve Yzerman of the Detroit Red Wings who was 44 points back of Lemieux.  While it can be argued that Lemieux should have won both of those awards, it is not our emphasis here.  We are looking only at offensive contributions and while Lemieux clearly had the biggest offensive contribution in 1988/89, if he lost MVP awards to lower scorers it must have been because of contributions that made that were not offensive or because voters made poor choices.

This 199 point season was the fifth highest scoring season in NHL history.  Wayne Gretzky exceeded it four times between 1982 and 1986 with a maximum of 215 points scored in 1985/86.  In order to call Lemieux’s 88/89 season the best offensive season ever, we must show that although it was not the best by raw numbers it was better due to other external factors and we must show that no other lower scoring season was better than it was.

I think it is clear that earlier seasons when scoring was lower were not as good offensive seasons in part because there were fewer games player per season so they had lesser overall value.  There are a couple good offensive years by Phil Esposito in the early 1970’s that were not too bad but they don’t compare to the biggest years of the 1980’s.

The big problem is arguing that Lemieux’s season was better offensively than the higher scoring Gretzky years.  The argument is that goals per game in the league was higher in Gretzky’s seasons.  Looking at the chart in the goals per game link, Gretzky’s highest scoring seasons were in the peak in scoring in the first half of the 1980’s.  This was the highest sustained scoring rate in NHL history.  By the time Lemieux’s season occurred, the scoring rate had dropped by nearly half a goal per game.  This drop in scoring rate might be enough to show that Lemieux’s season was better. 

In fact Lemieux was involved in 57% of Pittsburgh’s goals in 1988/89.  This is a modern day record in the NHL.  That does not show that Lemieux had the best offensive season ever as much as it shows that Gretzky had better teammates during his prime with the Edmonton Oilers.

A big part of the reason that the offensive point shares picks Lemieux’s season as being the best offensive one ever is because it treats goals as being more important than goals by an arbitrary amount.  It uses goals plus half the assist total when calculating goals created in the offensive point share system.  The half value is entirely arbitrary and should probably be dependent upon how the assist is produced.  In some cases an assist is worth far more than half a goal and in some cases it is worth far less.  There is no clear formalism to differentiate between these cases and there probably isn’t sufficient statistical data to implement such a system even in as relatively recent times as the 1980’s.  The idea that goals are more important than assists at the arbitrary rate chosen is merely an assumption in the system and it has no logical reason to support it. 

In general, Gretzky is more of an assist man than Lemieux is.  That said Lemieux’s 85 goals in 1988/89 is the fourth highest total ever achieved.  One of the three better seasons was Brett Hull in 1990/91, but Hull had on 45 assists and 131 points, so he is not a candidate for a better overall offensive season.  The other two seasons were Gretzky years.  Gretzky scored 92 goals in 81/82 when he scored 212 points and 87 goals in 83/84 when he scored 205 points.  The other years where Gretzky outscored Lemieux in points, were not as high goal scoring seasons.  In fact when Gretzky set an NHL record with 215 points in 85/86, he only scored 52 goals.  Thus Lemieux beats the Gretzky seasons with a combination of more goals in a lower scoring league according to this system.  It is not conclusive that it was a better offensive season.  It is because of the assumptions in the system that Lemieux comes out ahead. 

If we wanted to make a more conclusive argument to show that Lemieux’s 199 point season was the best offensive year ever, we need more numbers.  How does his ice time compare with Gretzky in his best seasons?  What about his quality of opposition and linemates?  What about puck possession numbers such as Corsi?  We do not have sufficient data to answer any of these questions and they might give us the data we need to make a better comparison.  It may be that even if we did have sufficient data to answer these questions, the answer still would not be clear.  It may be that we need a better formalism to for example show the value of assists relative to goals to satisfactorily answer this question.

I think the answer to the title of this post is that it is inconclusive whether or not Mario Lemieux’s 199 point season is the best offensive season ever.  It might be.  We do not have sufficient data to separate it from Wayne Gretzky’s best seasons.  We may not have sufficient statistical understanding of hockey to be able to do it even if we had the statistics that we can get from more modern games.  The result that Lemieux has the most offensive point shares in a season is a result of the assumptions behind the system.  It isn’t clear if it is a meaningful difference.

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Comments

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whatever helps you sleep at night.  at the end of the day 199 is not greater than 215

Posted by lemieuxisweak on 08/30/11 at 04:42 PM ET

Lindas1st's avatar

I’d go with Gretzky’s 83-84 Season.
———————————————————————

- 51 games point streak to start the season (61-92-153, 3.0 ppg)
- 1.176 gpg Modern NHL Record, 87 goals second all-time
- 2.770 ppg NHL Record, 205 points fourth all-time
- Ranks 6th (just ahead of Lemieux’s 88-89 season) on THN’s “40 Greatest NHL Seasons”

Posted by Lindas1st from New England on 08/30/11 at 04:46 PM ET

Lindas1st's avatar

BTW, here’s the Hockey News’ Top 10 seasons of All-Time .

1) Bobby Orr 69-70
2) wayne Gretzky 81-82
3) Wayne Gretzky 85-85
4) Maurice Richard 44-45
5) Bobby Orr 74-75
6) Wayne Gretzky 83-84
7) Mario Lemieux 88-89
8) Phil Esposito 70-71
9) Mario Lemieux 92-93
10) Paul Coffey 85-86


~ These are “best seasons”, not just for offense.
~Criteria: Judge the achievements on the basis of any and all of historical signifigance, dramatic impact,revilutionary or defining nature, dominance over peers and statistical enormity.

Posted by Lindas1st from New England on 08/30/11 at 05:01 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

If you put a prime Lemieux on Wayne’s Oilers, he would have scored over 250 points.
Mario never had a cast like Wayne and he played in a more defensive era.

Wayne is awesome. No doubt.
But he never played against the world’s best, always had a slew of allstars around him and had a coach that triple-shifted him and played fire-wagon hockey.

I’ll say this till the day I die, Mario is the greatest offensive player of all time.

On top of that, the year he scored 199, Wayne scored 168 and Yzerman got 155.
Now put Yzerman on that Kings team to play with Robitaille and Nichols and I bet Stevie outscores Wayne that year too.
The best winger Yzerman ever had was Gallant. And as much as I adore Gerry, he was no Kurri or Robataille.

Probie once said that Yzerman was the best pound-for-pound offensive dynamo he’d ever seen.

Posted by Hank1974 on 08/30/11 at 05:59 PM ET

Lindas1st's avatar

Mario is the greatest offensive player of all time.- Opinion

Wayne is the greastest offensive player statistically of all-time.- Fact

——————————————————————————————————-

If you put a prime Lemieux…

If??? If my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle. wink
BTW, Gretzky turned Blair MacDonald & Mike Krushelnyski into 40 goal scorers.

Posted by Lindas1st from New England on 08/30/11 at 09:02 PM ET

cs6687's avatar

Wayne is the greastest offensive player statistically of all-time.- Fact

So I guess that means Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe were better quarterbacks than Joe Montana since both had more passing yards?

I’m not saying Lemieux was better than Gretzky, but you can’t rely on stats to tell the whole story. Hank’s comment was an accurate one. There are hockey people who think Lemieux was the game’s greatest finisher and would have done just as well, if not better than Gretzky had he played on those loaded Oilers teams and not rebuilding the Penguins. Lemieux also made Rob Brown a 40-goal scorer.

Posted by cs6687 on 08/30/11 at 09:22 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

If??? If my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle.
BTW, Gretzky turned Blair MacDonald & Mike Krushelnyski into 40 goal scorers.

Mario turned Warren Young into a 40 goal scorer and Rob Brown into a 49g, 115 point player.

I’m not taking anything away from Wayne. He was awesome.
But in my view, Mario was better. He was bigger, stronger, a better skater,  a better scorer and just as good as a passer.

Give him Messier, Kurri, Anderson & Coffey to play with and Mario scores 250 points in a season. Easy.

Posted by Hank1974 on 08/30/11 at 09:26 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

I have always thought that people who claim Mario Lemieux was a better offensive player than Wayne Gretzky are probably too young (or otherwise were not hockey fans at that time) to have seen Gretzky in his prime. 

It isn’t clear to me what the best offensive season of all time is.  The candidates are the 88/89 Lemieux season and about four different Gretzky seasons.  Even if the Lemieux season was the best one, the fact that Gretzky has so many candidates to Lemieux’s one shows Gretzky was a better offensive player.

The story I like to tell to people who were not lucky enough to see Grtezky in his prime is that in those days it was common in a total points hockey pool to treat Gretzky’s goals and Gretzky’s assists as separate players who required separate picks.  It was unfair for one player to get all of Gretzky.  Despite that, people picked Gretzky’s assists first overall in their hockey pools and in 85/86 and 86/87 his assist total was greater than the point total of any other player in the league.  In 84/85, his assist total tied Jari Kurri’s point total for the most valuable in the pool and clearly Gretzky had a big part in Kurri doing as well as he did.  Mario Lemieux never dominated the league on that level - of course a slightly older Gretzky wasi n the league competing with him - but even if you removed Gretzky if we separated Lemieux’s goals and his assists he never would have come close to a scoring title with just one.  Gretzky’s assists would have won two scoring titels by themselves and tied for a third.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 08/30/11 at 09:32 PM ET

Lindas1st's avatar

Gretzky’s assists would have won two scoring titels by themselves and tied for a third.

Actually it’s 3 and tied for a fourth.

82-83: 125, assists, Stastny-124 points
84-85:  135 assists, Kurri- 135 points (tied)
85-86: 163 assists, Lemieux-141 points
86-87: 121 assists, Kurri-108 points

Keep in mind he also lead the league in goals in three of the four seasons and had 52 in the fourt.

Posted by Lindas1st from New England on 08/30/11 at 10:02 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Lindas1st

You are right.  It is the 82/83 season that I overlooked.  That was the season that prompted people to introduce special Gretzky rules to their hockey pools where his goals and assists were treated as separate players.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 08/30/11 at 10:31 PM ET

Lindas1st's avatar

Yeah, that season (82-83) seems to get overlooked alot because the four 200- point seasons follow it.
In fact the 82-83 playoff season was probably one of Gretzky’s best -until the Oilers reached the finals and he was held to just 4 assists. He did break the single season playoff record for points though with 38 ,3 more than Bossy’s 35 in ‘81.
I know this thread is about regular season stats but I just wanted show that when you take the playoffs into account it only emphasizes even more how statistically dominant Gretzky was. Be it single season,career, regular season or playoffs.
Even in international competition. In the 8 International Tounaments he competed in he was the leading scorer in the first 6. He set the Canada/World Cup single tourny record with 21 points in just 9 games in ‘87.He’s also the all-time leader in Canada/World Cup Competition with 64 career points in 39 games. That’s more than twice as much as the 2-second leading scorers in that tourney’s history(Coffey & Makarov tied with 31 points each).  Because of his domination in the C/W Cup tournies he’s the only North American player to be selected the the IIHF Centennial All-Star Team which was made up mostly of the best Soviet Players from thier teams that dominated the Olympics.

C- Gretzky, Canada
W- Makarov, USSR
W- Kharlamov, USSR
D- Fetisov, USSR
D- Salming, Sweden
G- Tretiak, USSR

Posted by Lindas1st from New England on 08/30/11 at 11:21 PM ET

Avatar

I have always thought that people who claim Mario Lemieux was a better offensive player than Wayne Gretzky are probably too young (or otherwise were not hockey fans at that time) to have seen Gretzky in his prime…stats stats stats no talent analysis…

What Gretzky did well (probably better than anyone ever) was that he had the ability to float airborn, soft saucer passes, backhand or forehand that landed exactly on a teammate’s stick. He didn’t have to look at the target, could make the pass from anywhere and never seemed to miss or get these soft passes picked off. I’ve seen plenty of other guys do that, but I’ve never seen another player do that with anything in the vague vicinity of Wayne’s consistency with this play. The other things he did well was anticipate turnovers (didn’t steal, just sort of knew when a puck would bounce to a teammate) and he could hit the head of a pin with his 60 mph slapshot, though his ability to score consistently on that was significantly hampered once butterfly goaltenders started showing up (which is why his goal production decreased so much relative his 80s totals and. say, Messier’s (a less-talented player of similar age) treaded water; the type of goals Wayne scored weren’t always available anymore, but a blistering wristshot like Messiers’ or the ability to crash the crease never went out of style).

Lemieux could make those passes often (though not with anything approaching the frequency Gretzky did), but he had a lot more weapons. He had the same slapshot, but much harder, and a deadly accurate wristshot Gretzky never did, which was a big reason he was still on pace for a 60 goal season at 35 and a 40 goal season at 37 (Gretzky’s totals at those ages, 23 and 23). His reach made it difficult for goalies to line up with the shot (he used the longest maximum allowable stick, which somehow didn’t hurt his puck dexterity), lest he change the angle and have a wide-open cage. If I’m not mistaken, Lemieux has the highest penalty shot conversion rate by a mile, largely because he’s the only guy to have his level of dexterity with his wingspan. He was much stronger, and in his prime, much faster, though he was still scoring goals at about a .7 clip after his back made him skate like a broken tractor around 1996.

Ultimately whether one thinks Gretzky was a more deadly offensive player -by sight, not data, since your assertion rests on people never having seen both in their prime- rests on how impressed one is with Gretzky’s crazy blind passing trick. That it makes up for all the other disadvantages is a perfectly valid case, by the way, but I don’t know how many people asked to sit and watch a season of each guy in his prime would agree with you.

If you want to go by raw data, it’s not much of a contest, though. Nobody had a career like Gretzky.

Posted by steviesteve on 08/30/11 at 11:28 PM ET

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ahh, the type of sports argument usually reserved for bars.  I have to say i;ve read some good points for both players respective case.  I guess in the final analysis one has to ask who would you rather have on the ice going head to head…five lemieuxs or five gretzkys?  I loved gretzky but my money is on team lemieux.

Posted by Eric on 08/31/11 at 03:08 AM ET

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Sport fanatics are like religious bigots: they can curve the end of any stick to hit whatever target with whatever puck they choose. Lemieux would not have survived the 80’s. He was too fragile. Gretzky was freakishly agile. Not to mention: 50 goals in 39 games. He beat the only other person at the time (the Rocket) by 11 goals. Lemieux played with JAGR, who I believe is 9th in scoring to Lemieux’s 7th. Comparatively Messier is 2nd…Gretzky’s PPG is higher and he was pretty much personally responsible for the use of system hockey in the NHL, which explains the change in scoring statistics - the Russians started to come over in 1991. Did you ever see that play when Gretzky, one on one, passed the puck to the defenseman and then lifted his stick and went around him and scored? That was an average game for Gretzky. Gretzky changed hockey, Lemieux inherited the changes. Gretzky brought the Kings to the finals by himself. (check out the pass he made to dan bylsma to see what I mean -all he had was Kelly Hrudey and the referee Kerry Fraser to help.

BUT both would score on anyone anywhere at anytime. Oh…that year that Petr Forsberg’s father said Gretzky should retire, he was slow and old…he outscored Forsberg as well. The Brett Hull goals you mention…most were from plays made by either Oates or Gretzky. This is a dumb-ass debate. Gretzky is the Favre to Lemieux’s Manning - both are going to kill the stats and the only way to know how great they were is to have watched the games. Truth is that how great they were came in the Canada Cups when they played together and absolutely destroyed everything in their paths. What a retarded article.

Posted by What If You Just Looked At the Reality? on 08/31/11 at 04:24 AM ET

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Let me settle the argument.

Bobby Orr was the best hockey player of all time.  Nobody revolutionized the way the game is played like he did.

With that said, Lemieux was a way better player than Gretzky.  You can’t just look at a stats sheet, look at the G/A/P and call it a day.

Posted by Corey from St. John's, NL on 08/31/11 at 11:17 AM ET

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It’s not really possible to determine this. Personally I *LIKED* Wayne better and I think I’m biased because of that.

Overall talent? I’d probably have to concede to Mario. I don’t think the Penguins had the overall raw talent that Wayne worked with, but Mario made the entire team a contender.

Whomever you choose as the best is your speculation, leave it at that and let it go. Not worth getting into a knock down about it.

Posted by DM on 08/31/11 at 12:04 PM ET

Lindas1st's avatar

Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux might have been better at the game of hockey than Wayne Gretzky, but the undisputed fact is that Wayne Gretzky had the greatest hockey career of all-time.

End of Discussion.

Posted by Lindas1st from New England on 08/31/11 at 05:10 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux might have been better at the game of hockey than Wayne Gretzky, but the undisputed fact is that Wayne Gretzky had the greatest hockey career of all-time.

End of Discussion.

No doubt about it.
But when it comes to naming the best offensive player of all time, it’s not cut and dry.
For me, if I wanted one guy for one game, I’d pick Lemieux over Gretzky any day of the week. And that’s in any era - even today’s.

Posted by Hank1974 on 08/31/11 at 05:30 PM ET

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What a bunch of crap!  Wayne had the greatest seasons of all time because if you even looked at him too hard you went to the penalty box.  He would not have been able to play in the 50’s or 60’s because he would have gotten his butt kicked and quit.  The greatest player of ALL time is Gordie Howe because he did everything.  He could score with anyone in his era (which was a lower scoring era) and he could pass the puck too. Gordie could go into the corner and get the puck better then anyone.  He played great defense and had the meanest elbows of anyone that ever played.  Gordie was just tougher then anyone he played against and no one ever had to fight his battles for him. 
Mario would be my number two pick with Bobby Orr number three.

Posted by MA from Florida on 09/01/11 at 12:59 AM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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