Last week, I wrote about Jack Hughes and gave my thoughts on which bonuses he may reach in his entry level contract. In the comments of that post, reader ConchoPete brought up this possibility:
Not this season but he could be the first devil to get 100 pts. This has to to be the oldest franchise in the league that has never had a 50 goal or a 100 pt player. As far as this year I think Hughes will get 25g and 65pts.
Pete raises the point that the New Jersey Devils have never had a player score 50 goals or 100 points in a single season. As far as his assertion that the Devils are the oldest franchise in the league to not have either, he is right - for the modern era. According to Hockey-Reference, there have been 196 instances of a player scoring at least 50 in a season - and none of them were Devils. Sure, the Wild and the Blue Jackets and the Golden Knights and the Predators never had one either but the Devils predate those organizations by decades. Ditto for 100+ points: it happened 282 times in NHL history per Hockey-Reference and not once did it involve the Devils.
This is a good time as any to think about what it would take for a Devil to reach either milestone. And whether the Devils have someone - Hughes, perhaps - who may actually have a shot at reaching those marks one day. Blue skying is where you wonder about how to solve a problem regardless of its practicality. Let’s blue sky some thoughts about the subject.
Wondering What it Takes for a Devil to Score 50+ Goals
Let’s focus on the last 20 years of NHL hockey as it is more relevant to where the game is today. The high-scoring 1980s are only a memory as the NHL average number of goals scored per game constantly has been under three since 1999-2000. In fact, the 2018-19 season is the first time since 2005-06 where the NHL average in goals rose above three and without a massive uptick in power plays. After the 2004-05 Lockout, the league wanted to enforce obstruction and the whistles were constant. Anyway, the league average of 3.01 goals of 2018-19 is an increase from 2.91 goals so we could see this number hold steady or possibly increase in next season and beyond. Still, this is a far cry from where things were then.
In the last twenty years, since goal scoring was more at a premium, not many players hit the 50-goal mark. According to Hockey-Reference, it happened 28 times and eight of them belong to Alex Ovechkin. He truly is an all-time goal scoring machine. Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl hit the mark last season and became the first NHLers to do it since 2015-16. Draisaitl joins the group of doing it at least once, which includes some true standouts in Malkin, Hejduk, Lecavalier, Perry, Crosby, and Sakic. Those who have done it more than once are even more astounding: Bure, Iginla, Heatley, Kovalchuk, and Stamkos. These are among the best players in the NHL over the last two decades. And even some of the best like Malkin and Crosby were not able to do it more than just one time. This is a difficult goal to meet. However, there are some common threads among these players that I would think anyone would need to meet in order to have a shot at 50-goals.
Common Threads: Must-Haves
First: You need to play the vast majority of the season. To score 50 goals in 82 games, you need to score just under 0.61 goals per game. Missing a few games requires a higher rate of scoring, which is difficult enough to manage. Among the 28 seasons who have hit the mark in the last twenty years, 15 of them played in every single game. The fewest amount of games played was 72, which was Ovechkin’s 2009-10 season where he just hit 50 goals and took 382 shots to do it. Scoring goals is challenging enough in a game where the hottest shooters still get stopped around 80% of time in a season. Missing games only adds to the challenge. Health matters. Fatigue matters. Getting into games matters.
Second: You need to shoot the puck and shoot it a lot. Out of the 28 seasons, 26 of them yielded a shots-per-game rate of 3.54. Even those who had a relatively high good shooting percentage needed to keep firing away to get to the mark. And if you’re Ovechkin, you did not even need that because the man is the definition of succeeding by volume. The only exceptions to this were Milan Hejduk’s 2002-03 (50 goals in 82 games) and Leon Draisaitl’s 2018-19 (also 50 goals in 82 games). Their sticks were just that much hotter as their shooting percentages for the seasons exceeded 20%. So they could get away with a lower shooting rate. Even then, they averaged over 2.8 shots per game so it was not as if they were not able to generate shots too.
It is notable that Hejduk and Draisaitl were the only players of the 50+ goal club of the last 20 years club to have a shooting percentage over 20%. Not that the other players shot poorly, but they had that sweet spot of shooting the puck at a percentage better than usual while having a high volume of shots. The percentage of shots going into the net is mostly not in control of the player, but being able to get into a good spot, get open, and get a strong shot off quickly are things that a player has more control in achieving.
Third: You need to succeed at even strength and receive prime power play time. This should not be a huge surprise but it is worth pointing out. The majority of any game is played at even strength and so anyone aspiring to reach 50-goals needs to perform really well and contribute in that aspect of the game. All 28 seasons on the list saw the player score at least 25 even strength goals and the majority scored at least 30. Whether or not the player was a true driver of play is up for debate, but they were at least providing a lot of direct value in these situations.
They also provided plenty of value for their team’s respective power plays. All 28 seasons also had at least 11 power play goals scored by the player in their high-scoring season. The man advantage supplemented their production enough to get them over the 50-goal mark. This may be an assumption but I believe all of these players performed on the top units for their team’s power play. Why wouldn’t a team put one of their most productive players on their primary power play unit? Even if they weren’t, they still managed to be productive. However, do note that power play production was usually less than their even strength production. Only Kovalchuk in 2005-06 - a season notable for its large amount of power plays - managed to have more PPGs (27) than EVGs (25). Being able to produce on the power play is a must but it is not going to supplant the work that needs to happen at even strength.
As a quick aside, shorthanded goals were not really huge factors here. They’re not common to begin with and most of the 28 seasons had one or none shorties credited to the player. I can agree that anywhere you can get a goal is great in order to reach this plateau, but it not as critical as being a key part of the power play and the team’s offense at even strength.
Fourth: You need to be a contributor to others, or help others as they help you. With the exception of three of Ovechkin’s 50-goals seasons, everyone else who hit the 50-goal mark in the last twenty years also had at least thirty assists. And twelve of these seasons managed to achieve a higher rate of assists and total number of assists than goals. Granted, it is a bit easier to get assists since every goal can have up two awarded; but I do not think it is a coincidence that almost everyone who has scored 50+ in the last twenty years also had over 80 total points. Just as the scorers needed their linemates to make good reads and passes and defensemen to do their jobs in getting stops and starting breakouts, the scorers were able to do the same for their teammates. Selfishness is necessary given the high rate of shots needed to reach this mark, but only to a point. This is very much a rising tide tends to raise all boats situation.
Fifth: You need to stay on the team. This may not be theoretically true but history is a strong indicator that sticking with one squad might as well be a requirement. No one has achieved the 50-goal mark in the last twenty years and has played for multiple teams in a season. Even if you include the league’s entire history, it only happened twice where a player was traded in the season and they still cracked 50 goals: Dave Andreychuk in 1992-93 and Craig Simpson in 1987-88, who nearly did it all for Edmonton. If a player is lighting it up, then a team may be more willing to keep them than to sell them at the deadline. And even for teams with little to play for, the player may end up being a key part of the future - best not to make the team even worse. Related to this, do not expect to trade for someone and then have them hit the mark. Maybe in the following season or so, but not within it.
Those are the “musts” in my opinion: be healthy, shoot the puck a lot, perform well and contribute at even strength and power play situations, and facilitate offense for others as they do it for you.
Common Threads: Preferences
There are three other factors that I would consider to be “preferable” for this mark to be achieved. Being on a good team would still help a lot for achieving 100 or more points for a player. Again, it has happened and happened recently for non-playoff teams (e.g. Draisaitl last season, Kane last season, McDavid in the last two seasons) or teams that were in the middle of the league standings (e.g. Jagr in 2005-06). But as the better teams in the league tend to have more players that perform well, that can only help anyone score more.
The second preferable factor is to be very consistent. That may seem odd since a goals per game rate of 0.61 requires some consistency. Consider this: Ovechkin hit 50 goals in 72 games in 2009-10. Take a look at his game log from Hockey-Reference. In that season, he only scored a goal in 35 of those 72 games. He did not even score in half of his games played. What helped him a lot was that in 14 of those 35 games, he scored at least two goals. More specifically, he had one hat-trick and thirteen two-goal games. In those fourteen games, Ovechkin scored nearly 60% of his goals for that season. Having a streak of goals or multiple multi-goal games helps a lot to meet this mark while also reducing the pressure of needing to score in so many games.
The third preferable factor is to be in your prime years. According to Hockey-Reference, the majority of those 28 seasons were by players in their age 26 years or younger. Age is dependent on the player’s birthdate as of February, so consider them to be 26/27 or younger. This is a preference because there have been examples of players doing it in their late 20s and early 30s. But those players are Bure, Iginla, Sakic, Ovechkin, and Jagr. Those are Hockey Hall of Famers or sure-fire future ones.
How Close Have the Devils Been To 50+ Goals?
The franchise record for goals in a season was achieved by Brian Gionta in 2005-06. Gionta scored 48 goals in 82 games with an impressive 14 goals in his last 24 games. He was plenty productive with Scott Gomez and when Patrik Elias returned to hockey, he played like a man on fire - and Gionta (and Gomez) were further ignited. The EGG line cracked a lot of goalies. Still, Gionta was just two goals shy of the elusive 50-mark.
Let’s go back to that 0.61 goals per game rate. There were two Devils who exceeded that value in franchise history and played more than just a few games per Hockey-Reference. Back when the team was in Colorado, Paul Gardner scored 0.65 goals per game in 1977-78. Pat Verbeek, the previous franchise record holder for goals in a season, had 0.63 goals per game in 1987-88. However, both fell short because of the amount of games that they played. Verbeek scored 46 in 73 games. Had he maintained his rate and appeared in more games, this post would not be here. Gardner played in even fewer games. He only made 46 appearances, so he only had 30 goals that season. Both are reasons why the first “must” on the list is to play the vast majority of the season.
Do The Devils Have Anyone Who Can Score 50+ Goals?
I do not think so. It remains to be seen how much of a shooter, much less scorer, Jack Hughes may become. What made scouts and fans drool over his potential is related to how he reads the game and moves on the ice. That may lead to being a top producer, but not necessarily a top goal scorer.
As far as the other Devils, no one on the current team really has this potential. No Devil has scored 40 goals in a season since Zach Parise’s amazing 2008-09 campaign, although Taylor Hall was close in his Hart Trophy-winning 2017-18 season with 39 goals. Still, it would presume a lot of a 28-year old Hall to shoot even better and more than he did in that campaign. What about the Pride of Montvale, New Jersey? I like Kyle Palmieri but et us look at the facts. He has never scored more than 30 in a season. He hit 30 goals only once and that season was four seasons ago. He does not shoot the puck well enough or often enough or possibly stay healthy enough to get there again. He’s not it.
What’s more enticing to think about is the 100-point plateau.
Wondering What it Takes for a Devil to Earn 100+ Points
100-point seasons are more common place than 50-goal seasons. In the NHL’s history, there have been 86 more seasons of players hitting triple digits in points than to score fifty or more goals. In the last twenty seasons, there have been 42 seasons of 100+ points being achieved - much more than the 28 seasons of 50+ goals. Whereas only two players broke fifty goals last season, six players earned more than 100: Nikita Kucherov (128, broke Jagr’s 127 for most in a single season since 1999-2000), Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane, Draisaitl, Crosby, and Brad Marchand. And there have been more than one player to have achieved this more than twice: Crosby (six times), McDavid (three times), Joe Thornton (three times), and Malkin (three times). The list of names reveals that not just top shooters have met this mark but also top playmakers. Yet, most of the common threads for what it takes to be a 50+ goal scorer are also needed for what it takes to be a 100+ point scorer - with some adjustments.
Common Threads: Must-Haves
First: Just as with goals, you need to play the vast majority of the season. To get to 100 points, you need to earn 1.21 points per game in an 82-game season. The more games that are missed for one reason or another and that means a higher rate is needed. Similar to the 50+ goal scorer list, over half of the 42-season group (23 to be exact) played in all 82 games as per Hockey-Reference. 39 of those seasons were for players who played in at least 77 games - only five games were missed. No one ever hit the mark in the last twenty years and played fewer than 72 games: Ovechkin’s 2009-10.
Second: You need to be consistent. This was preferable for goals, but it is down-right necessary for points. Let’s go back to that 2009-10 season game log for Ovechkin. While he only scored a goal in 35 of those 72 games he played in, he registered a point in 56 of those 72 games. Ovechkin was held to without a point in only 16 games in that season. That is still a lot; Ovechkin was helped out by registering at least two points in 35 of those 56 games. Even so, in those 16 games, Ovechkin was rarely pointless for more than two games. He was never pointless for three games in a row. That is what I mean by consistency. Remember, a point-per-game rate is not enough. It needs to be 1.21 or better and that lowers the margin for non-production.
Third: You still need to be a fairly frequent shooter. As this is for points, a player does not need to be just bombing away constantly to reach the goal. However, everyone who achieved this goal in the last twenty years averaged at least two shots per game when they did it. Even pass-first playmakers like Henrik Sedin, Joe Thornton, Claude Giroux, and a season of Peter Forsberg registered over 160 shots in their respective 100+ point seasons. The thing about being an excellent distributor in any sport is also recognizing when it is best to make it yourself. They understood that even though it was not to a point where they took matters into their own hands every shift. Given that 32 of the 42 seasons of 100+ points involved averaging three shots per game, it is much more favorable to be incredibly productive by being productive on the puck.
As far as goal scoring itself, 39 of the 42 seasons in this group had players score 30 or more goals. Two of the three that missed that mark had 29 goals. And 25 of those 39 seasons had 40 or more scored. Getting to 50+ goals is not necessary to get to a 100+ points, but those who want to hit triple digits need to provide a good amount of goals themselves. That requires shooting the puck and shooting it decently well.
Fourth: You absolutely need to help your teammates out. Out of those 42 seasons, only one had fewer than 50 assists: Ovechkin’s 2009-10 season, which is definitely an outlier considering all of the others. Even so, Washington’s #8 Ace still had 47 that season, which is a very good number. The majority of the group earned at least 60 assists with some providing an exceptional number of helpers. This is not a coincidence. That every goal can have up to two assists makes this achievement more possible but it also points to what needs to drive this number. Helpers. Goals absolutely matter but the player needs to be involved in others scoring goals too. While assists are not exactly in correlation with contributing offense, they absolutely play a role and picking them up whenever possible is necessary to amass a large number of points. The analytics clique may hand wave away the secondary assist as “noise,” but the goal is 100 or more points, not to please Matlab Micah.
Fifth: You still need to stay on the team. As with the goals, this may not be theoretically true but history is a strong indicator that sticking with one squad might as well be a requirement. In the last twenty years, only Joe Thornton managed to be dealt in 2005-06 and break 100 points. (Aside: He put up 125 with an extremely impressive 92 points in 58 games with San Jose and 97 assists total. He won the Hart that season. Good job, Boston?) While it happened a few more times in NHL history, it was five times out of 282. Just as with the goal-scoring, if a player is racking up the points, then a team may be more willing to keep them than to sell them at the deadline. And even for teams with little to play for, the player may end up being a key part of the future - best not to make the team even worse. Related to this, do not expect to trade for someone and then have them hit the mark. Maybe in the following season or so, but not within it.
And Sixth: You still need to make it happen at even strength and receive significant power play time to supplement the production. While there were a few seasons in the last twenty seasons where the player who broke 100 points did not even score ten power play goals, they did set others up on man advantages. However, as it is with goals, the majority of points earned were at even strength. Making the power play successful for the team helps tremendously but the base of massive production still needs to be at even strength.
Common Threads: Preferences
There are two other factors that I would consider to be “preferable” for this mark to be achieved. Being on a good team would help a lot. Sure, some of these seasons were achieved for non-playoff teams (e.g. Draisaitl last season, Bure in 2000-01) or teams that were in the middle of the league standings (e.g. Jagr in 2005-06, Lecavalier in 2006-07). But as the better teams in the league tend to have more players that perform well, that can only help anyone score more points. Just as it was for Ovechkin in Washington, it was not a coincidence (among other examples) that Crosby and Malkin broke the century mark on some really good Pittsburgh teams - teams that were good because they were so productive.
The second preferable factor is to be in your prime years. According to Hockey-Reference, the majority of those 42 seasons were by players in their age 26 years or younger. But unlike how it was for goalscoring, the majority was only slight: 25 seasons out of 42. The remaining 17 saw players at age 27 or above hit the mark with more than just a few doing so in their thirties. Ten players did it in their age 30 season and six of them did it for the first time in their third decade of life: Marchand (30), Giroux (30), Daniel Sedin (30), Martin St. Louis (31), Daniel Alfredsson (33), and Joe Sakic (first at 31, second at 37). It is better to go for this achievement when the player is about to enter or is in his early-to-mid 20s since that is typically when their prime happens. However, it is more possible to achieve this mark at an older age given that there are more opportunities to get points and they can still hit the other achievements that I think are needed to get to this mark.
How Close Have the Devils Been To 100+ Points?
The franchise record for points in a season was achieved by Patrik Elias in 2000-01. He was the best player on The A Line and he just kept producing. He ended up with 96 points and finished third in the NHL in points that season. Elias is one of those players that I wish Corsi, scoring chances, expected goals, and so forth was around when he was breaking out. I think they would have demonstrated how dominant he was back then. He’ll just have to settle for out-scoring every other Devil in history in a single season and being one of four Devils ever to break 90 points in a season (Kirk Muller in 1987-88, Parise in 2008-09, and Hall in 2017-18)
That states, what about the rate of points. Has anyone met or exceeded 1.21 points per game? Yes. Taylor Hall did so in 2017-18 with a 1.22 point per game rate. Hall missed six games that season and was not 100%. Had he been able to get into those games and maintain his rate of points, then he would have had 100 and further cement himself as having the greatest individual season by a forward in Devils history. He’ll have to settle for being the only Devil to win the Hart. No Devil, assuming a minimum of 20 games played, has even come close to 1.2 points per game in a season per Hockey-Reference. Hall remains as the high-water mark for this category.
Do The Devils Have Anyone Who Can Score 100+ Points?
I think there are two legitimate options: one for the short-term and one for the long-term. They are both unlikely, for different reasons.
The short-term is Taylor Hall. He achieved the rate of points needed. He has demonstrated that he can be a dominant offensive force. He is the most talented player on the team right now. He will be receiving top-line minutes and likely a distributor on the power play. It is unlikely just because there are a lot of things that can derail a 100-point attempt. Injuries can happen again. Hall is coming off knee surgery, so it is a legitimate question to see how he will come back. That is fine in general but to achieve and maintain a point-per-game rate above 1.21, he cannot afford any “off games” to come back. That in of itself is a concern: the amount of consistent production is high and that not only means Hall has to keep succeeding but so does his teammates. And we cannot ignore that Hall is not really in his prime; he’s still excellent but he’s not 25-26 anymore either. At least, older players have had a little more success at this mark than they do at 50+ goals. Among all other Devils, Hall is the immediate hope at this reaching this plateau.
The long-term is exactly who ConchoPete brought up: Jack Hughes. I do not know how good or how prolific of a goal scorer he will become. I do know that how he passes the puck, how he reads the play, and how he moves all over to make those offensive plays happen will absolutely help him be a productive player in the NHL. I agree with Pete that it will not happen right away. If it does, then we should be incredibly happy (and demand that Shero gives him an eight year extension on July 2, 2022 before he gets even more expensive). Should Hughes hit the potential many think he has, he’s going to be a fantastic player and the points will come down like rain in a storm. Do not be surprised if he breaks out in a huge way well before he’s even 25. Provided that the Devils remain a good team and put the right players around him, it is definitely possible.
There is also an even longer shot on the squad in Nico Hischier. He’s only 20 and he has already put up 99 points in 151 games. This is without receiving prime minutes or a main role on a power play unit. Last season showed how much he could do without Hall on his wing for most of the season, and his 47 points was second on the team in points (Palmieri led with 50). He’s been consistently healthy as a young player, which also bodes well for the possibility of achieving a lot of production. Hischier has shown no issue with getting anywhere on the ice to make a play to help out his team. It remains to be seen who will be the top center in New Jersey and it remains to be seen how he can get a more favorable role on a power play. But should it all come together, Hischier could quickly remind everyone that he is not to be ignored.
Needless to say, I’m very excited for the next few seasons of Devils hockey at forward.
I understand this was a lot, but that typically happens with blue skying. You just think of the angles that you can and dig into those and see if something that you may not think is possible actually is. Currently, I think 100 points is a more achievable mark for the Devils on the current roster. It is still unlikely and a lot is required, but I think the talent lends itself towards that avenue than someone going on a tear and end up with 50+ goals. Of course, I stand to be proven wrong in the future.
Now I want to know your thoughts. What do you think it takes for someone to score 50 goals and/or 100 points (other than the obvious: scoring a lot)? Do you think the Devils have anyone who can do this now or in the near future? Do you think the Devils will get someone else who may be able to achieve either? Would you like more posts thinking out loud (or written down) about larger hockey concepts? Please let me know your answers in the comments. Thanks to ConchoPete for the question and thank you for reading.