... and Howe!

Gordie Howe statue inside the west entrance of Joe Louis Arena. Getty Images Sport Photo By: Dave Sandford via http://www.gettyimages.com

I have to start by calling myself out. The other day I wrote:

For all the new trophies that have been added over the years, there is exactly one whose "winners" can be confidently projected back through the history of the game.

If I had said "over my years" that would have been accurate. However, in considering the all-time season-by-season goals and assists leaders the past couple of days, the review has naturally taken me to the points leaders as well.

Of course there is a long-standing trophy to recognize the NHL's scoring champion. Art Ross donated the trophy that bears his name back in 1947, and it has been presented for the subsequent 63 62 seasons. But there remains a 30-year gap from the NHL's beginnings through the war years and well into the era of the Original Six. Those 30 scoring champions can also be confidently projected into the past, just as we did with the Rockets prior to 1998. With the full list in hand, we can then follow the established format of establishing the "who" and ranking them by the "how many".

First of all, though, a couple of mid-course corrections. Art Ross is a famous hockey name and all, but his career NHL statistics consist of three games played (one goal)  with the Montreal Wanderers in the NHL's inaugural season. Oh, and 12 PiMs -- Ross seems to have been quite the piece of work as a player, but mostly in the pre-NHL days. He retired when the Wanderers rink burned down early in that first NHL season, and made his fame as a builder. Builders, schmuilders ... since this series is all about recognizing players, I will choose to recognize one of the greatest of them all for the historical point-scoring leaders and virtually cast the Gordie Howe Trophy.

One thing that differentiates the Howe from the Ross is that ties are credited to all players involved. If they tied for the league scoring lead, they both led the league. This follows the principle of the Rocket Richard Trophy. (Let it be noted that just this once, I agree with "Bettman arithmetic". Tie goes to the winners!) It also corrects what I have long seen as an injustice perpetrated on Wayne Gretzky in his rookie first NHL season, not to mention similar miscarriages of justice visited on Andy Bathgate and Eric Lindros. Hey, it's not often I get to make the rules, but I'm sure not going to let this chance pass!

Somewhat surprisingly, there have only been the three ties in league history, compared to a dozen or more in both the goals and assists categories. Thus, there have been 95 Gordies earned over the years, by 48 different players. After the jump, the 20 multiple winners.

Player Gordies First  Last
Wayne Gretzky* 11 1979-80 1993-94
Gordie Howe* 6 1950-51 1962-63
Mario Lemieux* 6 1987-88 1996-97
Phil Esposito* 5 1968-69 1973-74
Jaromir Jagr 5 1994-95 2000-01
Stan Mikita* 4 1963-64 1967-68
Bobby Hull* 3 1959-60 1965-66
Guy Lafleur* 3 1975-76 1977-78
Joe Malone* 2 1917-18 1919-20
Newsy Lalonde* 2 1918-19 1920-21
Babe Dye* 2 1922-23 1924-25
Bill Cook* 2 1926-27 1932-33
Howie Morenz* 2 1927-28 1930-31
Charlie Conacher* 2 1933-34 1934-35
Sweeney Schriner* 2 1935-36 1936-37
Elmer Lach* 2 1944-45 1947-48
Max Bentley* 2 1945-46 1946-47
Bernie Geoffrion* 2 1954-55 1960-61
Dickie Moore* 2 1957-58 1958-59
Bobby Orr* 2 1969-70 1974-75
* - Hockey Hall of Fame

 

Well, there's Mr. Gretzky far ahead of the pack again, with one more arrow in his quiver thanks to that long-uncredited tie for the league lead as a teenager. In a comment yesterday that, uh, anticipated this article, Oilogosphere regular Book¡e made this compelling argument:

I think its time to retire the Art Ross and give the award for most points in a season to its proper owner – Wayne Gretzky. An assist award just seems a bit underwhelming (unless his name is on both).

Both? Gretzky dominates these awards sufficiently without having to dominate the names of the awards! Nothing wrong with an assist award, it's the ultimate result for an unselfish player. Just as Richard will always be thought of primarily as a goal scorer, Gretzky's statistical legacy casts him as, first and foremost, a playmaker. I choke on those words a little bit, having personally witnessed every home game in the 92-goal season including the 15-goal home stand that took him to 50 in 39, and happily acknowledge that he accomplished incredible feats right across the offensive spectrum. But the area with the most sustain in the Great One's game was his playmaking. If you compare yesterday's list to today's, he just dominates the assist leaders by so much more that I had to choose that category for his trophy. (And feel free to apply your own names; the numbers I'm providing are factual but the "awards" are mostly fantasy.)

My fantasy world names the points champion after Gordie Howe, whom many including myself would rank as the greatest all-around hockey player in the history of the game. He certainly was an all-rounder on offence, as demonstrated by his healthy assists-to-goals ratio of 1.31, and by the distribution of his scoring "titles": 5 Richards, 3 Gretzkys, 6 Howes. Howe had a little sustain in his own game. His mind-boggling record of finishing in the top 5 NHL scorers for twenty (20) seasons in a row is testament to both his durability and his excellence.

Howe shares second spot with another magnificent player, Mario Lemieux who also won a spectacular 6 scoring crowns in his often star-crossed career. One of his challenges was having to compete with Gretzky much of his career - that said, of the three times the two superstars finished 1-2 in the scoring race, Mario came out on top twice. He also had other minor issues such as the cancer than limited him to 60 GP in 1992-93; his return with 20 games remaining and subsequent beatdown of a red-hot Pat Lafontaine down the stretch remains one of the thrilling scoring races in my experience.

One step back at 5 scoring titles each stand another pair of all-time greats. I've said enough about Phil Esposito the last couple of days, so let's talk about Jaromir Jagr. In a career that overlapped Wayne's and especially Mario's, "Mario Jr." was seen as a distant third as an offensive force in some eyes. This is where a list like the above does him justice: he's on the short list of five guys who have ever won 5 or more scoring titles! Jagr was the last of three superscorers that owned the scoring race for an exceptionally prolonged period. The full list of Art Ross Trophy (not Howe Trophy) winners from 1980-2001 reads as follows: Wayne Gretzky 10, Mario Lemieux 6, Jaromir Jagr 5. Everybody Else 0. Three guys held the trophy for 21 years! In the eight seasons since, there have been eight different scoring champions. Great players all, but I don't (yet) put any of them in the class of the Big Three as a scorer.  Nobody has separated himself from the pack the way those guys did.

The middle part of the list consists of three guys who excelled in the '60s and '70s in Mikita, Hull and Lafleur. For whatever reason the royal and ancient guys could never get over the hump of two scoring championships. No fewer than 9 guys had done the double before Gordie Howe finally broke through in the early '50s with four in a row. Which is as good a reason to put his name on the trophy as any other, I guess.

It's worth noting that every single one of the multiple winners is an esteemed member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, with the exception of Mr. Jagr, who I am certain will gain admittance the moment he is eligible. Indeed, even the list of single winners is studded with Hall of Famers:

Player Gordies First 
Punch Broadbent* 1 1921-22
Cy Denneny* 1 1923-24
Nels Stewart* 1 1925-26
Ace Bailey* 1 1928-29
Cooney Weiland* 1 1929-30
Busher Jackson* 1 1931-32
Gordie Drillon* 1 1937-38
Toe Blake* 1 1938-39
Milt Schmidt* 1 1939-40
Bill Cowley* 1 1940-41
Bryan Hextall* 1 1941-42
Doug Bentley* 1 1942-43
Herb Cain 1 1943-44
Roy Conacher* 1 1948-49
Ted Lindsay* 1 1949-50
Jean Beliveau* 1 1955-56
Andy Bathgate* 1 1961-62
Bryan Trottier* 1 1978-79
Marcel Dionne* 1 1979-80
Eric Lindros 1 1994-95
Jarome Iginla 1 2001-02
Peter Forsberg 1 2002-03
Martin St. Louis 1 2003-04
Joe Thornton 1 2005-06
Sidney Crosby 1 2006-07
Alex Ovechkin 1 2007-08
Evgeni Malkin 1 2008-09
Henrik Sedin 1 2009-10

37 of the first 38 different scoring champions are enshrined in the Hall, with the lone exception of Herb Cain, whose scoring title at the height of World War II was an exceptional season in an otherwise good-but-not-great career. Eric Lindros is the other eligible guy, although it's worth noting he is credited with a Howe (fantasy) but not a Ross (reality) Trophy. The scoring title sure seems to be one bauble that really impresses the voters.

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