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Friday, November 13, 2009

Maurice Richard and the Myth of 50 in 50 (Part 2) - by Big Tex

In Part One, the two most common arguments used to defend Maurice “Rocket” Richard’s feat of scoring 50 goals in 50 games were exposed as myths. In the process of researching that article, however, I discovered a surprising truth in Richard’s achievement – a truth which makes his 50 in 50 even more unique than previously thought. In order to explain the uniqueness of the Rocket’s 50 in 50, I had to develop a new quantitative concept: Statistical Supremacy.

The name is based on the military concept of Air Supremacy, which is defined as “…the complete dominance in the air power of one side’s air forces over the other side’s during a military campaign.” (h/t Wikipedia). One step below Air Supremacy would be Air Superiority, which is simply one side having an advantage over their opponent.

As applied to hockey, Statistical Supremacy would be “the complete dominance of a given statistical category by an individual or (in the case of team stats) team.” After studying goal-scoring stats over the entire history of the NHL, I determined that “complete dominance” is achieved by scoring a minimum of 50% more goals than the nearest competitor. Statistical Superiority, by comparison, would be achieved by scoring a minimum of one more goal than the nearest competitor. The value of Statistical Supremacy lies in its’ utility: Length of season or high scoring vs. low scoring era are irrelevant. All that is measured is complete dominance of a given statistical category for one particular season.

In the 1944-45 season, Maurice Richard not only became the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season (coincidentally, a 50-game season), but he also became the first player in NHL history to achieve Statistical Supremacy (SS) in Goals, as his nearest competition – Boston’s Herb Cain– only scored 32. Despite a league average of 7.35 Goals/Game that season, despite the fact that 22 of 117 players in the NHL that season (18.8%) scored 20 or more goals, the Rocket still managed to set himself apart from the crowd. Until the 44-45 season, no one – not even Joe Malone, with his 44 goals in 20 games back in 1917-18 – had ever finished the goal-scoring race so far ahead of the pack.

Remarkably, Richard duplicated the feat just two seasons later. In the 1946-47 campaign (now a 60-game schedule, in which the Average G/Gm dropped to 6.32), he finished with 45 goals, trailed by Roy Conacher (DET) and Bobby Bauer (BOS), who each tallied 30. Though the Rocket had many good seasons ahead of him and retired with 544 goals to his credit, he never demonstrated SS over his competitors again.

There were a handful of others, however, beginning with Gordie Howe. Howe’s 1951-52 (47 goals) and 1952-53 (49 goals) seasons were SS. Nine years later, in 1961-62, Bobby Hull’s first 50-goal season was SS. The Golden Jet scored 54 in the 1965-66 season to achieve SS for a second (and final) time.

Believe it or not, Wayne Gretzky only achieved SS once, scoring 87 goals in the 1983-84 campaign. The last time an NHL sniper demonstrated Statistical Supremacy was in the 1990-91 season, when recent Hall of Fame inductee Brett Hull scored 86 as Cam Neely, Theo Fleury and Steve Yzerman tied for 2nd with 51 goals apiece.

When will we see another player achieve Statistical Supremacy over his peers? The last occurrence was almost nineteen years ago. Who among this generation’s best can do it – Ovechkin? Malkin? Kovalchuk? Nash? Gaborik? The NHL today is fortunate to have so many top snipers…but in the beginning, there was just one Rocket

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great piece. Malone getting 44 in 20 games is impressive.