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Offence Wins Championships

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Photo credit:Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
8 months ago
Nothing irks me more than the tired, and incorrect, blanket statement of, “defence wins championships.” It is still repeated far too often. There are many different ways to win in sports, and right now in the NHL a surge in offence has led to offence being more important than it was for many years. It is great to see for someone who prefers offence.
Offence isn’t the only thing that will win you a Stanley Cup, despite the flashy headline, but the past two Cup winners averaged the most goals/game in the NHL playoffs. Vegas scored 4.00 goals/game this past spring, and Colorado tallied 3.86 goals/game en route to winning the 2022 Cup. Tampa Bay averaged the 2nd and 4th most goals in their Cup wins in 2021 and 2020. We’ve seen a significant increase in scoring over the past two seasons, and I see no reason why that should change in 2023/24. For the first time since 1993 and 1994, the NHL had more than seven 100-point players in consecutive seasons in 2022 and 2023. Last season saw 11 players produce 100+ points, including Connor McDavid becoming only the 4th player in NHL history to score 153 points. Steve Yzerman had 155, while Mario Lemieux did it four times (160, 161, 168, 199) and Wayne Gretzky had more than 150 points nine times (163, 164, 168, 183, 196, 205, 208, 212, 215).
Scoring is up and the best players are producing more. Last season the Edmonton Oilers became only the 14th team in NHL history, and first since 1996, to have three 100-point players. The NHL hasn’t had 10+ players score 100 points in a season in consecutive years since 1990 and 1991. But that could change in 2024.
In 1969, Phil Esposito was the first 100-point player in NHL history. He finished with 126 points. Bobby Hull (107) and Gordie Howe (103) also reached the century mark later that season. Since then, the chase for 100 points has been captivating. Offence grew in the 1970s through the 1980s and early 1990s, before clutching and grabbing made the game a slog-fest until the 2005 lockout. Offence grew again for a few years when the league actually enforced the rule book, (what a revelation) but we saw offence decline again through the mid-2010s. Thankfully, it has picked up recently and I expect it to continue for the next few years, and hopefully longer.
Here’s a year-by-year breakdown of 100-point players in the NHL since 1969.
Year100 Pt players
19693
19701
19714
19724
19734
19747
19757
19769
19773
19783
19797
Esposito and Bobby Orr reached 100 six times. Guy Lafleur (5x), Bobby Clarke and Marcel Dionne (3x) and Ken Hodge, Peter Mahvolich, Jean Ratelle, Darryl Sittler and Bryan Trottier did it twice. The 1969 and 1970 seasons had 76 games, then it was 78 games from 1971-1974, and then 80 games for the remainder of the decade.

1980s…

Year100 Pt players
19808
198111
198213
198311
198412
198516
198613
19877
198812
19899
Scoring increased in the 1980s, largely due to Wayne Gretzky and his high-flying Oilers style of player. Gretzky had 10 seasons with 100 points, Peter Stastny (7x), Mike Bossy, Dale Hawerchuk and Jari Kurri (6x), Dionne, Mario Lemieux and Denis Savard (5x), Paul Coffey, Bernie Federko, Michel Goulet and Mark Messier (4x) while Glenn Anderson and Mike Rogers reached the plateau three times. Edmonton players totalled 27 of the 113 seasons with 100 points.

1990s…

Year100 Pt players
199013
199110
19929
199321 (84GP)
19948 (84GP)
19950 (48GP)
199612
19972
19981
19992
The NHL added four games to the season in 1993 and 1994. The extra four games allowed five more players to reach 100 points, who otherwise wouldn’t have if the season was 80 games, but the other 16 would have tallied 100 anyway, which would have tied the 1985 season for most 100-point players.
Gretzky and Lemieux reached 100 points five times, Brett Hull, Adam Oates, Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne and Steve Yzerman (4x), Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr, Mark Recchi, Luc Robitaille and Jeremy Roenick did it three times.
After the 1996 season, the NHL saw a massive reduction in offence for the next eight seasons.

2000s…

Year100 Pt players
20000
20012
20020
20033
20040
2005Lockout
20067
20077
20082
20093
Offence was hard to come by in the early 2000s. Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, Jagr, Sakic and Joe Thornton were the only players to score 100 points in the first half of the decade. Then the lockout occurred, and mercifully the NHL decided to enforce the rule book when the NHL returned in 2006. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin each had 100 points in their first four seasons in the league to lead the decade followed by Thornton (3x) while Dany Heatley, Jagr, Sakic and Evgeni Malkin had two 100-point seasons.

2010s…

Year 100 Pt players
20104
20111
20121
20130 (48GP)
20141
20150
20161
20171
20183
20196
From 2011-2017 reaching 100 points was a difficult task. Seven consecutive seasons without multiple 100-point producers in any season was the longest stretch since the NHL had their first 100-point player in 1969. Even though many suggested the game was quicker and more skilled, offence was much more difficult to obtain for individual players. McDavid led the decade with three 100-point campaigns while Crosby, Patrick Kane and Nikita Kucherov did it twice. Only nine players managed a 100-point season during this decade.

2020s…

Year 100 Pt players
20201 (70GP)
20211 (56GP)
20228
202311
2024??
The first four years of this decade have already produced more 100-point men than we saw in the 2010s. Sixteen skaters have already done it with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl leading the way with three each, while Matthew Tkachuk has done it twice. COVID limited more players from joining the club, but with 11 skaters reaching 100 points last season the potential to have consecutive seasons with double-digit skaters with 100 points is very plausible, unless the injury bug bites too many of the top scorers.
Despite the recent offensive surge, we shouldn’t look at 100 points as an easy task. Far from it. You need elite skill, be consistent and often you need to avoid a serious injury. And even then, there is no guarantee. Jack Hughes and Mitch Marner finished with 99 points last season. They had great years but finished just shy of the century mark.
McDavid, Draisaitl, David Pastrnak, Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon, Jason Robertson, Tkachuk, Mikko Rantanen, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Elias Pettersson and Erik Karlsson were the 11 who reached 100 points last season. Orr and Coffey are the only D-men in NHL history to reach 100 points twice. If Karlsson reaches 100 again, it would be amazing, but the odds are low. RNH had a career-best season by 30+ points, so another 100-point campaign seems unlikely, but you never know. The other nine, if they remain healthy, will have a good shot. Add in Hughes, Marner, Auston Matthews, Brayden Point, Tage Thompson and Crosby and there is a decent chance we see 11 or more players in the 100-point club this season.
I hope the offensive trend continues. More offense leads to more lead changes which makes the game more unpredictable and exciting. The past two seasons sit first and second all-time for most comeback victories in NHL history. There were 551 in 2022 and 550 in 2023. Last season we saw 123 two-goal comebacks, the most in NHL history. In 2023 you saw 16% of games produce a third-period comeback, the 9th highest % all-time. The 2022 season was 5th at 16.8%.
Offence creates excitement which helps promote the game, and it is often a vital piece to winning a championship. I hope the 2024 Cup winner averages the most goals/game in the 2024 playoffs.
It is a trend I’d love to see continue.

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