What are the Greatest Goal-Scoring Seasons that any NHL player has ever had? Who should claim the best scoring season in league history? Is it simply Wayne Gretzky‘s record 92-goal campaign in 1981-82? Perhaps, since that is the most goals scored in a single season. But it is also important to note that the league goal per game average was 4.01 during the 81-82 season. That is the sixth-highest mark in NHL history and the second-most since the 1920’s. While the 92 goal feat is impressive, I believe that it is not the great goal-scoring achievement in NHL history. That is why I created the Era Adjusted Goal/Game Rate metric, which will be referred to as EAGGR for the remainder of the article.
EAGGR is a metric I created that evaluates each individual goal-scoring season with reference to the NHL’s goal per game average for that same season. For the purposes of this article, only data from the 1942-43 season and later are included. That means that the players included in this list either played during the Original Six era or in more recent times. The Original Six era went from 1942-67 when only six teams played in the NHL.
For each individual season, I took a player’s goal per game average and divided it by the goal per game average of the NHL for that particular season. This gave me a percentage that represents that player’s goal per game rate as compared to the league average.
Here are the 20 Greatest Goal Scoring Seasons with Era-Adjusted Rates.
Honorable Mention: Maurice Richard 1944-45 EAGGR 27.17%
The first 50 goal season just missed the distinction of being among the top 20 Greatest Goal Scoring Seasons. Maurice Richard accomplished 50 in 50 feat and produced exactly 1.00 goals per game during the 44-45 season. While both historic and impressive, this occurred during a sudden surge in NHL scoring. Between 1942 and 1945, the NHL goal per game average was over 3.6. It was the first time that plateau was reached since 1922. Therefore, there will be goal-scoring seasons ranked higher in EAGGR than Richard’s 44-45 campaign, even though in some instances, those players scored less than 1.00 goals per game.
Phil Esposito 1973-74 EAGGR 27.18%
One of those particular seasons rated as only 0.01% better than Richard’s 50 in 50. That is Phil Esposito‘s 73-74 season, where he managed to score at a 0.87 goal per game pace. However, the reason Esposito’s 73-74 campaign is better than Richard’s 44-45, is because of the respective NHL goal per game averages during those years. In 44-45, the league average was 3.68 goals per game, while in 73-74 it was down at 3.28. That disparity is enough to raise Esposito’s 73-74 season even though he scored less than a goal a game.
Alexander Mogilny 1992-93 EAGGR 27.27%
One aspect that will become apparent on this list is the names that repeat. All but one of the top 20 EAGGR goal-scoring seasons, comes courtesy of players ranked in the top 15 of the all-time NHL goal per game leaders. That lone exception is Alexander Mogilny who still comes in at a respectable 34th on that list. For the 92-92 season, Mogilny, alongside Teemu Selanne tied for the league lead in goals with 76. However, there was a 0.09 goal per game difference between the two wingers. In EAGGR, the equated to a 2.5% difference. At 27.27% EAGGR, Mogilny’s 92-93 campaign was enough to get into the top 20.
Bobby Hull 1965-66 EAGGR 27.3%
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Brett Hull 1992-93 EAGGR 27.6%
Like father like son. While Bobby Hull held the better career EAGGR average, Brett Hull had the better individual scoring season. During 92-93, Brett attained a 27.6% EAGGR, 0.3% higher than best Bobby’s best season, 65-66. However, Brett was arguably an even better goal-scorer immediately before his 92-93 season. There is an argument to be made that Hull had the best consecutive goal-scoring season between 1991 and 1993. More on that later.
Phil Esposito 1971-72 EAGGR 28.3%
The other person who could contend for the greatest back-to-back scoring season is Phil Esposito. He had quite the dominant stretch of scoring in the ’70s. At one point, Esposito produced 20% EAGGR or more in 6 of 7 seasons. That includes his 71-72 campaign, where he scored at a 28.3% EAGGR. If not for the previous season, it would stand as Esposito’s best as a goal-scorer.
Pavel Bure 1999-2000 EAGGR 28.36%
Alex Ovechkin 2007-08 EAGGR 28.42%
Speaking of later, we move into the new millennium with Pavel Bure. The Russian Rocket sure earned the right to evoke Maurice Richard’s nickname. During his 99-00 campaign, Bure produced a higher EAGGR than “Rocket” Richard ever did during his storied career.
Coming in with a slightly higher EAGGR than his fellow Russian is Alex Ovechkin‘s 07-08 season. A minuscule difference in goal per game average is all that separated Bure’s 99-00 from Ovechkin’s 07-08. During those respective NHL campaigns, Bure had a 0.78 goal per game average, while Ovechkin’s was at 0.79. Being the 07-08 season, Ovechkin’s entry is the most recent in this article.
Wayne Gretzky 1981-82 EAGGR 28.68%
If there was any season that needed EAGGR to bring context, it is Wayne Gretzky’s 81-82 campaign. The record-setting 92-goal season, came during one of only 6 seasons in NHL history where the league goal per game average was above 4.00. That is why Gretzky’s record 81-82 campaign falls outside the 10 greatest goal-scoring seasons, according to EAGGR.
Cam Neely 1991-92 EAGGR 28.74%
All of the Cam Neely fans will love to see his 91-92 campaign above Wayne Gretzky’s record-setting 92 goal season. While Neely had success putting the puck in the net throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, 91-92 was the first time that he averaged 1.00 goal per game. As compared to Maurice Richard’s 50 in 50 season, Neely’s 91-92 season represents an additional 1.5% EAGGR.
Paul Kariya 1997-98 EAGGR 29.17%
This is one a handful of injury-shortened seasons that appear on the list. During the 97-98 campaign, Paul Kariya played in only 22 contests. Still, to score at a 0.77 goal per game pace, in the middle of the dead puck era is quite a feat. The EAGGR metric does not distinguish season length since it is a goal per game metric. So I decided to include every eligible season, regardless of the number of games played.
Gordie Howe 1952-53 EAGGR 29.17%
Just inside the top 10, we have the second oldest season on the list. While known more as a playmaker and point producer, Gordie Howe could still put the puck in the net. This is evident by the 5 times in 7 years during the ’50s where Howe produced above a 20% EAGGR. The peak of his prowess was during the 52-53 campaign. That season, Howe scored at a 0.70 goal per game rate, the lowest of any season on this list. However, between 1952 and 1954, the NHL goal per game pace was at 2.40, total that has not since been seen. Even during the dead puck era, the league average goal per game never dipped below 2.62.
Mario Lemieux 2000-01 EAGGR 29.3%
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Mario Lemieux 1988-89 EAGGR 29.946%
This is where the name Mario Lemieux will being to appear in abundance. Interestingly enough, these two goal-scoring seasons occurred during opposite points of his career. If one wanted to make the argument for Lemieux as the greatest goal-scorer in NHL history, one could point to his consistency between eras. In 88-89, where the offensive game was still very wide open, he was dominant with a 29.9% EAGGR. Even more amazing is the fact that he was able to achieve that total during the 00-01 campaign, smack dab in the middle of the dead puck era. Even more impressive was the fact that Lemieux returned from a 4-year NHL absence during that 00-01 season. There was certainly no rust in his goal-scoring ability.
Wayne Gretzky 1983-84 EAGGR 29.949%
The Great One’s greatest goal-scoring season, was not his record-setting 92-goal campaign. At least not according to EAGGR. Instead, Wayne Gretzky cracks the top 10 of this list with his 83-84 season. That year, he produced 1.18 goals per game, the highest mark seen in the NHL since the early ’20s.
Phil Esposito 1970-71 EAGGR 31.1%
Cam Neely 1993-94 EAGGR 31.49%
The greatest Boston Bruins goal-scoring season comes down to a narrow margin. Both Phil Esposito and Cam Neely hit the 30% EAGGR mark only once each. However, Neely’s 93-94 campaign edges out Esposito’s 70-71 season, as not only the best Bruins goal-scoring season but among the top 5 all-time for all teams. The difference ended up being a 0.05 goal per game pace that favored Neely.
Mario Lemieux 1995-96 EAGGR 31.53%
Mario Lemieux 1992-93 EAGGR 31.7%
Once again, a pair of Mario Lemieux seasons are paired together. If anyone wanted to make the argument for Lemieux as the great goal-scorer in NHL history, one would look towards both his 92-93 and 95-96 campaigns. He is the only player in NHL history with multiple seasons above 30% EAGGR.
Lemieux in 92-93 and 95-96 is actually an interesting case study on the changing dynamics of goal scoring in the NHL. In 92-93, when the league average goal per game rate was 3.63. That year, Lemieux himself scored at a 1.15 goal per game pace, much higher than his 95-96 campaign where he produced only 0.99 goals per game. However, in EAGGR, those seasons are separated by less than 0.2% because the NHL goal per game average was down to 3.14 during the 95-96 season. The 3.63 goals per game rate in 92-93 has not since been attained. That season represents the last hurrah before the dead puck era.
Brett Hull 1990-91 EAGGR 31.8%
The other part of arguably the great consecutive goal-scoring seasons. Brett Hull scored 86 goals during the 90-91 campaign. That is the 3rd most in any single season after Wayne Gretzky scored 92 and 87 in 81-82 and 83-84 respectively. However, this campaign by Hull ranked much higher in EAGGR. The NHL goal per game average in 90-91 was 3.68 was almost 0.4 goals per game lower than either of those years where Gretzky dominated. That was enough to elevate Hull’s 90-91 not only above any of Gretzky’s seasons but all the way up to #2 on this list. In fact, one could make the argument that the best full scoring season belongs to Hull in 90-91.
Pavel Bure 1998-99 EAGGR 44.9%
You may notice that EAGGR metric and see this season as an outlier. Effectively it is. A 44.9% EAGGR is 12% higher than any other goal-scoring season since 1942-43 (the start of the Original Six era). It is such an outlier, that I considered not including it on the list. Why you ask? Well, during the 98-99 campaign, Pavel Bure only played 11 games. He managed to score 13 goals, which gave him a ridiculous 1.18 goal per game average. That equaled Wayne Gretzky’s mark from the 83-84 season. However, what led to a ridiculous EAGGR was the fact that the NHL goal per game average during 98-99 was at 2.64, the fourth-lowest mark in the last half-century.
The EAGGR metric does not distinguish between full or injury-riddled seasons. It is simply a method of determining the goal-scoring success of a player with regards to his contemporaries. While we can assume, the Bure would not have sustained his 1.18 goal per game pace throughout a full season, his success in 98-99 is nonetheless historic. As short as that campaign was, Bure demonstrated the greatest single-season goal-scoring prowess in NHL history.