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Saturday, December 26, 2009

With All Due Respect To The Rocket – The Colonel

A couple of weeks ago, all the rage of discussion was whether or not to change the names of several of the NHL’s trophies given annually for excellence in our favorite sport. Many flat out said, “NO!” to any change, believing new monikers rudely discard NHL history. Others new to the sport and not knowing much of the frozen past, or other fans desiring some measure of modernity to their sport’s hardware, said they are for a transformation.

I say both of them are right. In terms of recognizing goal scoring leader(s) each year, any appropriate trophy must be transformed to take into account Hockey history. With all due respect to Rocket Richard, he is the wrong, singular person with which to recognize goal scoring excellence.

What’s In A Name?

Firstly, we must look at why the trophy is named after Maurice Richard. Back in his day, he was an unwillingly influential man, capable of reaching outside the rink both to have riots borne in his name and to quell them with his words. On the ice, The Rocket was amazing in his time by both achieving the markers of 50 goals in 50 games in the 1944-45 and the first to score 500 markers in his career. Without question, he is a player to honor in the sport of Hockey as he was with his 1961 induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame with a waiver of the three-year waiting period for selection.

For those who do not know, the award in his name has only been in the NHL since 1999 when it was donated to the League by the Montreal Canadiens. A great idea at the time, the League graciously accepted this trophy and has been bestowing it upon the top goal-scoring player(s) ever since. With the donation of this trophy, the Canadiens got to honor the League and name it after their man. The problem is, with all due respect to Maurice Richard, Montreal named it after the wrong man.

It’s Wayne Gretzky, right? This trophy should be named for the guy who scored 50 goals in only 39 games, a record-setting 92 goals in a single season, or a career record of 894 goals in the NHL. I mean, for 20 seasons the man averaged 44.7 goals per year, for crying out loud. Name it after him, he’s the best, done deal, right?

Here at On Goal Analysis, we submit the Canadiens in donating the trophy should have named it after their man. But the right man was Joe Malone.

Why Call It The Joe Malone Trophy?

The 1917-18 season was the first official year of the NHL. It was a different era when the game was played differently, a reason many folks want to discard his achievement so handily. Malone nevertheless scored 44 goals in 20 total games for the Montreal Canadiens, the only time an NHL player has ever averaged more than two goals-per-game (GPG) at season’s end. Malone’s closest challenger was Cy Dennehy in that same year, scoring 36 goals in 20 games for a 1.8 GPG average. Malone also notched a greater-than-one-GPG average in four of his seven NHL seasons and holds the record for goals in one game (7). He, too, was appropriately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950.

His 2.15 GPG average cannot be merely dismissed because he only played 20 games that season, or because in his day players tended to skate shifts that were minutes long in length.

As far as GPG averages go, not even Bossy, Gretzky, Hull, Kurri, Lemieux, Neely or Richard from the modern era had scored even 30 goals by Game 24 in any given season. In Wayne Gretzky’s record setting season of 50 goals in 39 games, he did not get his 43rd goal until Game 37 – at Game 20 he ‘only’ had scored 21 times.

Indeed in this current NHL season, the top five goal scorers at their Game 20 mark with their total goals and GPG average were:

Ovechkin – 18 G’s / .9 GPG

Gaborik – 16 G’s / .8 GPG

Kovalchuk – 16 G’s / .8 GPG

Stamkos – 14 G’s / .7 GPG

Heatley – 12 G’s / .6 GPG

The closest one with even a slight, outside chance of besting Gretzky’s record to 50 goals is Ovechkin. As of stats from 23 December games, he would only have to score seven hat tricks and three, two-goal games in his next 10 contests. That feat, while not impossible has a next to zero chance of happening and would get the asterisk by it because it would not have been done by his team’s 39th game due to games lost for injury and suspension.

And as for the argument that Malone’s achievement was simply fueled by those multi-minute shifts, we’d like to point out that looking at Time on the Ice (TOI) per shift, the likes of Kovalchuk (1:08), Ovechkin (1:05), and Malkin (1:00) all average a minute or more of ice team every time they go over the boards. To a man, these three players are on the ice for more than one full period per game and the top two in TOI are not even averaging one GPG this season.

The simple fact is nobody other than ‘Phantom Joe’ Malone in the history of the NHL has scored at an equal to or greater than two GPG average by Game 20 or beyond. The scoring trophy donated a decade ago by the Montreal Canadiens should therefore have been named for their other man, Joe Malone. Unless…

Truly Recognizing Goal Scoring In The NHL

Here at On Goal Analysis, we advocate an emphasis on recognizing the art of placing the puck in the net. It is, after all, one the handful of reasons a fan is involuntarily driven to rise up out of their seat during a game. We say do so with three trophy presentations in a season.

The NHL could memorialize the only time a player has crossed the 2.0 GPG average in a season by awarding the Joe Malone Competition Trophy. The goal of this award would be for a player with at least a 1.0 GPG average to be the closest to equaling or beating a 2.0 GPG average by their team’s 20th Game in any given season. The League would need to determine an appropriate method of recognizing that a player actually met or beat the 2.0 mark, such as his name being etched on a gold ring of the trophy versus every other winner below 2.0 in silver. (There would not be much gold, if any, on this trophy.) Getting one player to that gold plateau would require determined tactical play and sacrifice by a team. The only practical way to get a goal scorer to beat Gretzky’s record, much less come close to Malone’s, is for there to be a concentrated team effort of double – and extended – shifting for a top scorer like an Alexander Ovechkin. They would need to ensure their man has every opportunity out on the ice when an opposing team pulls their goalie or a delayed penalty is called.

What would seem to make more sense after the Joe Malone Competition Trophy i awarded is for the Rocket Richard Trophy to be given next in a given season to the first goal-scorer to cross the 50-goal threshold. The NHL could either choose to award it by equivalent numbers of games played by a player or take the draconian approach and pass it to the first person to do it on the calendar.

Nobody has surpassed Gretzky’s singular achievement of 92 goals scored in the 1981-82season. No further comment is needed than to say the trophy for the NHL’s leading scorer each year should be named after The Great One.


The most prolific scorer in terms of GPG in a single NHL season is Joe Malone. His 2.15 GPG average has never been equaled since he did it in the NHL’s inaugural season. Arguably, the NHL’s trophy for the scoring champion could be named after him and not Rocket Richard.

Doing so, however, somehow discredits Richard’s history as the first player to score 50 goals in a season and the first to cross the 500-goal mark in a career. It also discount’s Gretzky’s 39 goals in 50 games, 92 goals in one season and 894 goals in a career.

For those who cannot see it possible to rename the League’s scoring trophy after Joe Malone, On Goal Analysis recommends an option that would emphasize NHL history and generate season-long excitement across the League and for fans of the game. We recommend putting into place a system to award the Joe Malone Competition Trophy for the player with the highest GPG average above 1.0 after 20 games, the Rocket Richard Trophy for the first player to 50 goals in a single season, and the Wayne Gretzky Trophy for the most goals scored in a season, all to place a true emphasis on awarding excellence in the art of the goal.

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