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Let’s face it, Oilers fans, in the 45 years we’ve had a team in the National Hockey League we’ve been kinda spoiled. Right off the hop we were treated to the transcendent talent of the game’s all-time most prolific scorer at his creative peak. In modern times we’ve enjoyed the explosive brilliance of the greatest scorer in the 21st Century, or at least the first quarter of it. Not bad, not bad at all.

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The former is of course Wayne Gretzky, who reached the zenith of his considerable powers during the 9.9 seasons he was a member of the Edmonton Oilers, the last 9 of those in the NHL. Surrounded by a Hall of Fame-worthy supporting cast on a dynasty team during the modern game’s highest-scoring era, Gretzky’s annual scoring exploits in Edmonton will continue to stand apart for the foreseeable future. A further decade in 3 American cities featured diminished but still outstanding production which further boosted the Great One’s career figures into entirely unexplored territory.

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These days the leader of the pack is Edmonton’s own Connor McDavid, who has already joined an exclusive list of the sport’s greatest scorers. His 5 scoring titles place him in a group of just 5 others with that many Art Ross Trophies, joining Gretzky (10!), Gordie Howe (6), Mario Lemieux (6), Phil Esposito (5) and Jaromir Jagr (5).

NHL history Goals per Game by season

The modern NHL features 50% more teams than the league of Gretzky’s heyday, but dynasties are a thing of the past. Parity is the watchword, governed by a salary cap that ensures the talent gets spread around. It’s a more defensive, systems-oriented game. But in recent years scoring has finally been back on the rise and with it, scoring exploits. Some of the game’s most exclusive thresholds are being challenged, or in one case already achieved.

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The 3 milestones we’ll consider here were all achieved for the first time in the 1970-71 season by a pair of teammates on the Boston Bruins.

  • Centre Phil Esposito not only became the first NHLer to score 60 goals in a season, he would keep right on lighting the lamp to 70 and beyond, finishing with a remarkable 76. In the process he destroyed Bobby Hull’s not-that-old record of 58.
  • Defenceman Bobby Orr soared past his own NHL record of 87 assists set just 1 year previously, and became the first NHLer of any position to hit the century mark. He finished his most productive campaign with 102 assists.
  • Esposito added 76 assists to his 76 goals to become the first NHLer to reach 150 points. It was just 2 years after he became the first to reach 100, emphasizing the rapid ascent of offensive production during the expansion era.

With scoring on the upswing, all 3 of those thresholds — 70 goals, 100 assists, 150 points — became attainable for the subsequent quarter century or so. Each was achieved between 13-16 times, suggesting a roughly equal degree of difficulty.

But starting in the mid-90s, that difficulty level seemingly reached “impossible”, with all beyond reach. Until 2022-23, that is, when 1 of the 3 was achieved. That was the 150-point plateau scaled by McDavid, the first NHLer in 27 years to do so.

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150 points

Here’s the full list, in chronological order.

NHL history 150 points seasons

While McDavid’s was the 17th such season, he became just the sixth different player to achieve the mark. Gretzky did so a remarkable 9 times, including 7 consecutive seasons in Edmonton. Lemieux  4 times. Esposito, Steve Yzerman, Bernie Nicholls, once each.

Worth noting that prior to McDavid’s transcendent 2022-23 campaign, no NHLer this century had made it as high as 130 points, never mind 150.

2023-24

We’re now 2/3 of the way through the 2023-24 season, and suddenly the other 2 milestones identified here are both very much within reach, by different players on different teams.

Both McDavid and Toronto’s Auston Matthews have been the respective assists and goals leaders for some time. In recent weeks both have exploded in their respective specialties and are now “on pace” to achieve levels unseen for over 30 years. They shine through on this list of the NHL’s leading scorers Feb 07-27:

NHL scoring leaders Feb 07-27

The astonishing McDavid has outscored the best of the rest by 5 points over these past 3 weeks, this despite the astonishing fact he hasn’t scored a single goal over that period! That’s right, he’s matched his career-long goal drought of 10 games. All he’s done over that span is pile up a remarkable 23 helpers, 7 more than Toronto’s Mitch Marner and 11 more than anybody else in the league.

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For his part, even after being blanked on Tuesday night Matthews has piled in a dozen goals over his past 10 appearances, 4 more than any other competitor over that span, and now has an astonishing 52 on the season. No other NHLer has even reached 40 to this point.

100 assists

Just like that McDavid has 70 apples on the season in Edmonton’s first 56 games, 2 of which he missed with injury. With 26 games to play he’s on pace for 104. For perspective, the last player to hit the century mark was none other than the Great Gretzky way back in 1990-91.

NHL history 100 assists seasons

It’s a remarkable list. Orr is in the leadoff spot, and the magnificent Lemieux also reached the milestone in his top-scoring season. Otherwise, it’s all Gretzky, who reached the 100-assist level ELEVEN times… in consecutive seasons! His high-water mark of 163 assists in 1985-86 is far beyond reach and surely ranks as one of the most unbreakable of NHL records.

Now McDavid aims to be just the fourth (different) player to reach the triple digits, and the first in a third of a century. “All” he needs is 30 more apples in the final 26 games. Not exactly a gimme.

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70 goals

Matthews has emerged as a prodigious goal scorer, and in 2021-22 became the first NHLer in a decade to hit 60 in a season. In the process he became the first Maple Leaf to lead the league in this category since Gaye Stewart back in 1945-46, and the first Leaf to win a major trophy since Dave Keon copped the Conn Smythe in 1967. He’s a phenomenal sniper who deserves more credit than he generally gets in these parts.

He’s now on the cusp of leaving that 60-goal campaign in the rearview. He’s missed 1 of Toronto’s 58 games to this point, and currently projects to 74 goals on the season. That’s a level no NHLer has reached since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny both sniped 76 back in 1992-93.

NHL history 70 goals seasons

This milestone has been achieved 14 times, by 8 different players. Esposito was the first, but a decade later was eclipsed by Gretzky who posted 4 straight seasons of 70+ goals as an Oiler including the still-extant record of 92. Brett Hull with 3 and Lemieux with 2 also achieved the feat on multiple occasions, while Oilers great Jari Kurri along with Nicholls, Mogilny and Selanne hit 70 in their career-best season.

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So which feat is more difficult?

Surely it’s a pick’ em. One could make the case that 100 assists is slightly the rarer, having been accomplished 1 fewer time to this point in history, but surely that’s splitting hairs. Perhaps the fact that only 3 players — all-time “Top 5” greats Gretzky, Orr and Lemieux — have ever done so should be considered, compared to 8 different guys including a couple of (relatively speaking) lesser lights to achieve the 70 goals threshold.

But let’s face it, either mark would be an exceptional accomplishment.

Historical footnote

In all, our trio of high water marks — 70 goals, 100 assists, 150 points — have been achieved 44 times in NHL history. No fewer than 21 of those have been produced by members of the Edmonton Oilers.

19 of those were by Gretzky, with 1 each from Kurri and McDavid.

The Great One added 3 more 100-assist seasons and 2x 150-point campaigns as a King. That means he achieved the identified milestones a combined 24 times, 4 more than all other players in NHL history combined. It’s an astonishing legacy, the major portion of it achieved in Good Old Ourtown.

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