Who are among the Greatest NHL Goal Scorers? What statistic can point us in the right direction where it comes to scoring prowess? Career goals? That favors longevity and rewards players who played in elevated scoring eras. How about goals per game? That presents the same problem of league average goal-scoring fluctuating so often.
That is why I introduced my new metric: Era-Adjusted Goal per Game Rate, which will be referred to as EAGGR for the remainder of this article. In my previous entry, I looked at the Greatest Individual Goal-Scoring Seasons by using the EAGGR metric. For details about how EAGGR is calculated, please refer to the introduction of that article.
Now on to this piece. Here I will rank NHL players based on their career average EAGGR.
You will notice that Wayne Gretzky is not on the list. But how can the league’s all-time leading goal scorer, not be among the 10 Greatest NHL Goal Scorers? Yes, Gretzky excelled during his time in the NHL, but as mentioned in my previous article, his single-season record 92 goal season in 1981-82 came during the 6th highest NHL goal per game average in league history. As his career went on and the dead puck era arrived, Gretzky’s goal-scoring abilities diminished.
This is where the EAGGR metric comes into play. Even at his peak, Gretzky never reached 30% EAGGR in any season. In fact, he only hit 20% EAGGR five times in his storied career. Compare that to Alex Ovechkin who already has eleven seasons of 20% EAGGR or more. While Gretzky had individual seasons of elite-level EAGGR, he was lacking consistency throughout his entire career. Consistency will be a key trend throughout this article.
Without further delay, here are the 10 Greatest NHL Goal-Scorers in league history, according to career average EAGGR.
Honirable Mention: Gordie Howe 16.12% EAGGR
If you read my previous article, you will notice that Gordie Howe had one goal-scoring season in the top 10 of all time. During the 1952-53 and 1953-54 NHL campaigns, league-average scoring was down at 2.40 goals per game. Prior to those years, the NHL goal per game had not been that low since the 1935-36 season, and it has not been that low since. Why is that important? Well, because even during that league-wide dip in production, Howe still managed to maintain a consistent goal per game average. For instance, while 0.70 goals per game may not seem that impressive, for 53-54, that equals 29.2% EAGGR.
Howe only had 2 seasons above 25% EAGGR, but he remained rather consistent throughout his career. Between 1949 and 1958, Howe’s EAGGR never dropped below 17.9%. Even late in his career, Howe managed back-to-back years of 19% EAGGR in 67-68 and 68-69. This demonstrates that even late in his career, Howe could still put the puck in the net.
Phil Esposito 16.68% EAGGR
During Phil Esposito‘s entire career, his personal goal-scoring trends are rather apparent. Before arriving in Boston, he had never produced more than 12.8% EAGGR. However, during the 1967-68 season, his first with the Bruins, Esposito’s EAGGR jumped to 16.8%. Over the following seven seasons, Esposito’s EAGGR only dipped below 20% once, and that was 19.3% during the 1969-70 season. The stretch includes arguably the greatest back-to-back scoring seasons in NHL history. For the 1970-71 campaign, Esposito had a 31.1% EAGGR, while in 1971-72, he scored at a 28.3% EAGGR.
His time with Boston was incredible, but Esposito was never able to recapture that same scoring touch on any other team. During the 1975-76 season, he was traded to the Rangers. The previous year, his EAGGR was at 22.4%. That first campaign in New York: 13.8%. During his time with the Rangers, Esposito never achieved better than 15.1% EAGGR. While he makes the top 10 of all-time goal scorers, he is not any higher because of the lack of elite-level goal-scoring pace outside of Boston.
Brett Hull 16.98% EAGGR
Brett Hull is another player with up and down EAGGR throughout his career. Before his first full season with the Blues, he never produced greater than 13.9% EAGGR. Not bad, but also not the elite level that we began to see from Hull during the 1989-90 campaign. Over the course of one year, his EAGGR went up by over 10%.
Eventually, he produced the 2nd greatest single-season EAGGR ever with 31.8% in 1990-91 (#1 for a full season). Hull’s time in St. Louis was extraordinary, but much like Esposito with the Bruins, he could not maintain that level of scoring efficiency with other teams. Eight of his nine best EAGGR seasons were with the Blues. The lone exception being his inaugural year with the Stars where Hull scored at a 20.2% EAGGR. There was some level of consistency to Hull’s scoring. Other than his first and last seasons in the NHL (where he played only a combined 10 games) his EAGGR never dipped lower than 12.1%.
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Cam Neely 17.35% EAGGR
Much like another Bruins legend, Cam Neely did not become an elite level goal scorer until he arrived in Boston. With the Canucks, he never scored at a greater pace than 7.5% EAGGR. However, during his first campaign with Bruins, Neely nearly doubled that mark with a 13.1% EAGGR. That would be his lowest EAGGR for the remainder of his career.
The fact that Neely sits inside the top 10 all-time career average EAGGR, in spite of his early career struggles, is a testament to how dominant he was in his prime. Beginning a new decade, he produced at least a 21.4% EAGGR during five consecutive campaigns. That included a pair of individual seasons that are among the twelve best in NHL history.
Maurice Richard 17.56% EAGGR
Maurice Richard was arguably the first truly elite goal-scorer in the Original Six Era (1942-67). By his third year in the NHL, “Rocket” Richard soared to the top of the league and produced the first 50 goal season. That earned him at 27.2% EAGGR for the 1944-45 season.
It was the only year where he scored at a pace greater than 24% EAGGR, but he was incredibly consistent throughout his career. During eleven out of fifteen campaigns between 1943 and 1958, Richard produced at least 18.1% EAGGR. In eight of those seasons, his EAGGR was at least 21.3%. Even Richard’s worst EAGGR season, his rookie year, was the only time he finished with a single-digit rate.
Steven Stamkos 18.96% EAGGR
Now we get to a player in the modern era. Even though he may be overshadowed by one of his contemporaries, Steven Stamkos should still be recognized as an elite goal-scorer. It certainly evident starting his sophomore season where he produced 21.8% EAGGR. Among the skaters on this list, that is the second-best second season. Stamkos peaked two years later with a 60-goal season in 2011-2012. While that campaign was not among the top 20 all-time single-seasons, at 26.7% EAGGR, it is in the top 25.
After a couple more dominant seasons with 22.1% and 24.8% EAGGR respectively, Stamkos’s scoring rate has begun to dip. During the 2014-15 campaign, his first without Martin St. Louis as a linemate, Stamkos’ EAGGR was at 19.1%. That’s actually a decent mark, but it began a trend. His EAGGR fell to 11.8% during the 2017-18 season. While Stamkos has rebounded with 18.3% and 16.9% EAGGR in back-to-back seasons, he has never regained that peak form. If this trend continues, then he may fall in these rankings during the coming seasons.
Bobby Hull 18.96% EAGGR
You will notice that Bobby Hull has the exact same career average EAGGR as Steven Stamkos. I placed Hull at #5 because his best single-season EAGGR of 27.3% is better than the 26.7% that Stamkos earned from his 60 goal season. Also, Hull produced campaigns of 26.5% and 26.2% EAGGR which were better than any of Stamkos’s seasons outside of 2011-2012.
Consistency is key with Hull senior. Every campaign between 1963 and 1970, Hull produced over a 20% EAGGR. Since the start of the Original Six era, he is the only NHL player to have seven straight seasons with 20% or more EAGGR. Furthermore, Hull led the NHL in goals during seven seasons. Only one other player has accomplished that feat more times (and he is coming up in the list). That means that Hull paced the league in goals more times than Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, and Maurice Richard. Hull is rewarded for that consistency with the 5th best career EAGGR.
Pavel Bure 19.80*% EAGGR
There is an asterisk next to Pavel Bure‘s EAGGR. His true career average EAGGR is 21.68%. That would be enough for him to top the list. However, his career rate is greatly impacted by his outlier 1998-99 campaign. As mentioned in my previous article, that season Bure, produced an absurd 44.9% EAGGR. For reference, the next best single-season EAGGR since 1942 is 31.8%. How did Bure accomplish such a feat? Well, he scored 13 goals in 11 games before suffering a season-ending injury. Since that was dead smack in the middle of the dead puck era, a 1.18 goal per game pace equals 44.9% EAGGR.
I believe that an 11 game stretch should not make an entire career, I decided to half the impact of that season in the calculation of Bure’s average. By doing that, Bure fell to 4th on this ranking which feels appropriate. As I have said before, consistency is key with career average EAGGR. During his time in the NHL, Bure never produced less than 12.7% EAGGR. That type of scoring floor is right on par with the great goal scorers immediately ahead of Bure on this list. Also, Bure’s 44.9% EAGGR season and the two years that immediately followed it (28.4% and 26.1%), are part of the greatest 3 season stretch of goal scoring post-1942.
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Alex Ovechkin 20.20% EAGGR
Finally, we arrive at the top 3. Based on the fact that their career average EAGGRs are all within 0.24% of each other, I’d say it’s a pretty clear top tier goal-scorers. Alex Ovechkin currently sits at #3 but is only 0.03% EAGGR behind #2. The key to making it into the top 3 is incredible consistency. Right from his rookie season, Ovechkin demonstrated his superior scoring skills with a 20.8% EAGGR. Being above the 20% mark is a trademark of Ovechkin’s. He accomplished the feat during 11 of his 15 NHL seasons. While he only has one year of more than 25% EAGGR, Ovechkin produced between 23.2% and 24.6 seven times.
It is not just the EAGGR where Ovechkin has excelled. He has led the NHL in goal-scoring nine times during his career thus far. That is already the league record. Even his “off” seasons were not that bad. In 2010-11 and 2016-17, Ovechkin had 14.7% and 14.4% EAGGR seasons respectively. While that is not the highest floor of all player’s EAGGR scores (that is coming up) it is still tremendous to never score below a 14.4% rate. Also, while he yet to match his 65 goal campaign from 2007-08, Ovechkin is still scoring at an impressive rate. During the recently concluded 2019-20 season, Ovechkin’s EAGGR was 23.5%. If he continues to produce those kinds of numbers, Ovechkin could very well find himself at #1 on this list.
Mike Bossy 20.23% EAGGR
If there was one player whose elevated rank is due mostly to their consistency, it’s Mike Bossy. His worst EAGGR season was his final one in the league when he held a 16.3% rate. And even that seemed like an outlier since his next worst campaign contained a 19.1% EAGGR. Now, Bossy suffered a career-ending injury during his tenth season in the NHL. He was still in his prime so we will never know if his scoring prowess would have diminished later in his career. We could speculate, but I’m writing this from a purely objective perspective. As of right now, the EAGGR says that Bossy is the second-best goal scorer that the NHL has seen since 1942.
Those looking for an argument against Bossy being so highly regarded would point to the fact that he never produced a season above 24.6% EAGGR. One could also mention the fact that Bossy never averaged a goal per game in any season during his career. I would counter that without an outlier season to inflate his rate, having the #2 career average EAGGR is even more impressive. One other aspect of note is the fact that Bossy’s natural goal-scoring ability was apparent right away. His rookie mark of 22.0% EAGGR, is the third-best rookie mark since 1942. Only Temu Selanie with 24.8% in 1992-93 and Pat Lafontaine with a 22.1% EAGGR in 1984-85 had a better rookie rate.
Mario Lemieux 20.44% EAGGR
He didn’t quite burst onto the goal-scoring scene as rapidly as Mike Bossy, but a 15.2% EAGGR in his rookie season showed us what Mario Lemieux would become. Among the greatest goal-scoring seasons since 1942, Lemieux holds four entries in the top 10, and two entries in the top 5. I have recorded a meer six single seasons where a player produced over 30% EAGGR. Lemieux is the only scorer with multiple seasons hitting that mark. He had 31.7% during the 1992-93 season, followed by a 31.5% performance in 1996-97.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Lemieux’s goal-scoring is that it remained consistent throughout different eras. During the wide-open era of the ’80s, he was excellent with three consecutive seasons with at least 23.7% EAGGR to end the decade, including a 29.9% EAGGR campaign in 1988-89. Where Lemieux returned from retirement, right into the dead puck era, he did not miss a beat. After an almost four year absence from the NHL, he scored at a 29.3% EAGGR for the 2000-01 season. This showcases Lemieux’s natural goal-scoring talent and the hard work he put in to maintain those skills.
Using my EAGGR metric, I have determined that Mario Lemieux is the greatest goal scorer in the NHL since the Original Six era. Based on career average EAGGR, Alex Ovechkin is not far behind. Perhaps I will re-write this article in a few years with a different player at #1. Only time will tell.