Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Most Obscure and Unlikely 50-Goal Scorers Ever

Vic Hadfield, New York Rangers, 1971-72
78 games, 50g-56a-106p

Hadfield enjoyed the double-edged advantage of playing on the famous GAG (Goal-A-Game) line, alongside legends Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert. On one hand, his Hall-inducted linemates helped Hadfield nearly double his previous career-best of 26 goals. On the other hand, Hadfield remains an obscurity to most fans, and the only member of the GAG line not to be enshrined in the Hall. Hadfield is better remembered for his role in the 1972 Summit Series (leaving Team Canada on good terms as a healthy scratch but being skewered by the Canadian media) and for throwing Bernie Parent's mask into the crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Ray Sheppard, Detroit Red Wings, 1993-94
82 games, 52g-41a-93p

If Shep was as good at hockey as he is at golf, he might've scored 50 every season. Unfortunately, he simply couldn't skate worth a damn and found himself bouncing around the sunbelt after leaving a super-stacked Wings team just before their dynasty got off the ground. Nevertheless, a guy who scored 50 goals after being traded for $1 has got to be smiling at the end of the day.

Craig Simpson, Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers, 1987-88
PIT - 21 games, 13g-13a-26p
EDM - 59 games, 43g-21a-64p

Unlikely? He was the 2nd overall draft pick in 1985, won 2 Stanley Cups in Edmonton, scored a Cup-winning goal, was traded for Paul Coffey, and posted a solid 35 goals as a followup to scoring 56. Yet what makes Simpson's achievement unlikely is that he was actually traded in the midst of his career year. The move from Pittsburgh to Edmonton, where he was placed on a line with two guys named Messier and Anderson, accounted for the last 43 goals of his season. He later retired due to chronic back injuries and became the annoying color-commentator on the EA video game series.

Al Secord, Chicago Blackhawks, 1982-83
80 games, 54g-32a-86p

As one of the NHL's early-model power forwards, Al Secord always had the tools to score 50 -- he broke the 40-goal mark three times despite struggles with a severe hip disorder. What makes Secord exceptional is that he was actually on the ice often enough to score 50, despite also being one of the league's elite brawlers. In the '81-'82 season he managed to score 44 goals and an arresting 303 PIM. The following season he put up Cam Neely numbers -- 180 PIM, 54 goals -- a decade before Neely's prime. Sadly, Secord slipped slowly into obscurity and finished his career in the minors.

Jonathan Cheechoo, San Jose Sharks, 2005-06
82 games, 56g-37a-93p

Of course, Cheechoo's career is far from over at age 28. But it's safe to say, based on his play since he won the Richard Trophy three years ago, that he will likely never match his 56-goal output of the 2006 season. 20 years from now we'll consider his '06 season a footnote to Joe Thornton's banner year -- unless, of course, Cheechoo once again finds himself skating alongside another Hart-winning center.

Rick Kehoe, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1980-81
80 games, 55g-33a-88p

The epitome of quitting too soon, Kehoe actually retired as the Pens' all-time goal scoring leader... 6 games into the debut season of a rookie named Mario (in his defense, the decision was forced by a neck injury). Kehoe was the centerpiece of the lovably awful early-80's Pens, earning a Lady Byng alongside his 55-goal tally in '81. Despite his record-setting outburst that season, Kehoe never did better than 33 in any other season.

Dennis Maruk, Washington Capitals, 1981-82, 1982-83
80 games, 50g-47a-97p
80 games, 60g-76a-136p

"Pee Wee" Maruk is the Rocket Richard of obscure superstars, following his 50-goal season with an astonishing 60 the following year. A familiar figure only to Caps fans, who have him to thank for numerous team records, Maruk skated alongside legends like Jean Pronovost and Mike Gartner in Washington. In the '83 season Maruk recorded an eye-popping 136 points and 128 PIM, perhaps one of the greatest unheralded feats in hockey history. Numerous injuries derailed his career, and he faded away as a consistent 20-goal scorer in Minnesota. Still, he deserves extra credit for sporting one of hockey's best handlebar 'staches.

Wayne Babych, St. Louis Blues, 1980-81
78 games, 54g-42a-96p

At face value, it seems startling that Babych scored twice as many goals in '80-'81 as in any other season of his career, and especially that he never again eclipsed 20 goals. But longtime Blues fans can tell you what a missed opportunity Babych's career represented for their franchise. He was one of the league's best up-and-coming players when he severely tore his rotator cuff during a preseason fight, an injury from which his career never recovered. Babych suffered the indignities of the waiver wire, stints in Quebec and Harford, and finally a 6-game exile in the AHL before succumbing to injuries.

Danny Grant, Detroit Red Wings, 1974-75
80 games, 50g-36a-86p

By dropping the name "Danny Grant" into a conversation, you can instantly separate a casual Red Wings fan from one who might slash your tires for wearing a Blackhawks jersey. Grant was a decent sniper for Minnesota, fives times scoring at or near the 30-goal level (at a time when scoring 50 was much less common). But his surprise trade to Detroit turned out to be the seminal moment in his career -- upon arriving in the Motor City he was placed on a line with Marcel Dionne. Dionne exploded for 121 points, Grant scored 50, and the Wings looked to have the basic tools for a dynasty despite a lousy record. But the next season Dionne was in Los Angeles and Grant was suffering the first of numerous leg injuries; five years later, the "Little Beaver" was in the middle of five consecutive 50-goal seasons, and Danny Grant had retired.

Guy Chouinard, Atlanta Flames, 1978-79
80 games, 50g-57a-107p

Playing for the Flames during their Atlanta days automatically labels any player as obscure, since it's a fair bet that no more than a few thousand people can actually remember seeing you in person. Chouinard had the distinction of breaking pretty much all of Atlanta's scoring records at the tender age of 23, when he abruptly doubled his scoring output from the previous season. Despite the promise of his young career, Chouinard quickly slid into mediocrity and retired before the age of 30.

Gary Leeman, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1989-90
80 games, 51g-44a-95p

This is the entire summary of Gary Leeman's career, as offered by Wikipedia: "Gary Leeman (born February 19, 1964 in Toronto, Ontario) is a former professional ice hockey player in the NHL". Leeman is probably the unlikeliest of all the 50-goal scorers, struggling for years to crack the 30-goal plateau while on a line with Russ Courtnall and Wendel Clark. Enter Eddie Olczyk, and inexplicably his scoring total nearly doubled... but he never got past 17 again. It was during this magic season that he engaged in the greatest non-fight of all time. His best-recognized legacy is that he was traded to Calgary for Doug Gilmour.

Honorable mention:
Rick MacLeish, Philadelphia Flyers, 1972-73
Rick Martin, Buffalo Sabres, 1973-74, 1974-75
Pierre Larouche, Pittsburgh Penguins/Montreal Canadiens, 1975-76, 1979-80
Danny Gare, Buffalo Sabres, 1975-76
Blaine Stoughton, Hartford Whalers, 1979-80, 1981-82
Mike Bullard, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1983-84
John Ogrodnick, Detroit Red Wings, 1984-85
Stephane Richer, Montreal Canadiens, 1987-88, 1989-90
Hakan Loob, Calgary Flames, 1987-88
Jimmy Carson, Los Angeles Kings, 1987-88
Brian Bellows, Minnesota North Stars, 1989-90
Kevin Stevens, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1992-93
Milan Hedjuk, Colorado Avalanche, 2002-03

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would add Cam Neely's 50 goals in 49 games in '93-'94 to the unlikely category.