Wayne Gretzky’s record for most points in an NHL regular season has stood since the mid 1980’s. It is said to be an unbreakable mark, but as with any seemingly untouchable record in professional sports, it will be unbreakable until it’s broken. The record has been set at ‘unbreakable’ levels on sixteen occasions since inception of the league in 1917-18.
Joe Malone of the Montreal Canadiens held the first record for total points in a single National Hockey League season. All he had to do for this was to be the league’s scoring leader in its first season. Assists were not recorded in that inaugural season but Malone’s total of 44 goals in 20 games was in itself an outstanding feat and set the standard. To put that total into perspective, applying Malone’s goal scoring pace over the current 82 game schedule would produce 180 goals.
Malone broke his own record just two years later as a member of the Quebec Bulldogs. Joe played four more games than in 1917-18 and added four more points for 48 in 1919-20. This mark stood until the 1927-28 season when Howie Morenz of the Montreal Canadiens totalled 51 points. However, Morenz’s total was accomplished over a much longer 43 game schedule.
Cooney Weiland is not a household name in the hockey world. However, Weiland, while a member of the Boston Bruins during the 1929-30 season, shattered Morenz’s record with 73 points in 44 games. That season, six players would better the 51 point plateau. As for Weiland, he would retire with a respectable eleven season NHL career but would never contribute more than 38 points in a season again in his career.
Over a decade passed before Weiland’s mark would be topped. With the aid of a longer fifty game regular season schedule, Doug Bentley tied the record with 73 points in 1942-43. The following season, Herb Cain of the Boston Bruins would add nine points to the record, increasing it to 82 in 48 games. Just three seasons later, Cain would be demoted to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League where he would play out his professional hockey career.
The legendary Gordie Howe would be the next player to own the record. It took Mr. Hockey 22 more games than Cain to add just four points to the record. In 1950-51, Howe had an even 43 goals and 43 assists for 86 points. The following year, Howe equalled the record and the season after that, 1952-53, Howe increased it by nine points to 95.
The next increase would be a mere point in 1958-59 as Dickie Moore of the Montreal Canadiens would contribute 96 points in the same 70 games as Howe. The record would increase by the same increment in the mid 1960’s as teammates Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita of the Chicago Blackhawks would each get 97 points in 1965-66 and 1966-67 respectively.
The late 1960’s brought expansion to the NHL and doubling the size of the league overnight, increasing the length of the schedule and watering down the talent was catalyst to a new level of offense. Phil Esposito came into his own during the 1968-69 season and provided the Boston Bruins with 126 points. Two seasons later, Esposito would increase the record to 152 points, a number that most thought could never be broken.
Along came a kid from Brantford, Ontario, Canada and the league’s record books were never the same. Wayne Gretzky, in just his second season in the NHL, provided the Edmonton Oilers with 164 points. The following season, the impossible was accomplished with The Great One’s 92 goals, 120 assists and 212 points. The 212 points would be eclipsed by none other than Wayne Gretzky himself during the 1985-86 season when he had 215 in 80 games, but the 92 goals stands as an NHL record today.
Is the record breakable? Of course it is. The game has changed and the offensive numbers have dropped since the mid 1990’s but things can change on a dime. A simply amazing player could emerge. Rule changes could provide a more offensive game. Retraction or expansion could significantly affect the level of talent. Just as Joe Malone’s record was thought unbreakable ninety years ago, Gretzky’s might falsely be thought of as unbreakable today.