November 14, 2009
(No, the first decade of the 21st century doesn't technically end until 2011. Save your bellyaching. But we've had nine NHL seasons and one stolen from us since 1999-2000, and Yahoo! Sports has decided it's time to rank the best and worst of the last "decade." Enjoy, and snark freely in the comments.)
As we continue our rankings of the best in the last decade, it's time to look back at the best single-season performances from players in the 2000s.
We're going for the total stats picture, and not just one facet (goals, for example). Looking back at the last 10 years, there have been some awesome performances, but only a few that cracked the NHL record book in a significant way.
Some criteria to keep in mind: This is a regular-season list. History matters, as far as records and awards. So does context, when considering where that particular season falls in with a players' career. The differences between the NHL before and after the lockout should be kept in mind in a grain-of-salt way, although they're not a primary consideration here. Oh, and if your favorite forward isn't here, it's because we tried to make room for defensemen and goalies.
With that, the 10 best individual statistical seasons of the last decade are ...
When a player has 62 goals and 149 points in a season to his credit, Jagr's 2005-06 campaign probably won't get the credit it deserves. But 54 goals and 123 points on a defense-oriented Rangers team was remarkable. The problem: He didn't lead the League in any major offensive category, and only won the Pearson as the players' MVP. You'll find out why later.
Iggy's 52 goals are still a career-best, and he led the league in goals and points (96) in a season that also saw him win the Pearson. (Jose Theodore(notes) won the Hart for the Montreal Canadiens.) Iginla led the NHL in goals per game (0.63), goals created per game (0.49) and even-strength goals (35) in 82 games. Terrific season for a true star.
An absolutely dominant season from the Hart Trophy winner, as Forsberg led the NHL in points (106) and assists (77) while helping Milan Hejduk(notes) to the NHL lead in goals (50). Forsberg would finish with 29 goals on the season. The two money stats: Both Forsberg and Hejduk were an incredible plus-52 on the season, and Forsberg's 106 points in 75 games gave him a higher points-per-game average (1.41) than Mario Lemieux's (1.36), despite Mario's 91 points in 67 games.
7. Pavel Bure, Florida Panthers, 1999-2000
We mentioned Iginla's even-strength goals, and that's one of the most mind-blowing numbers in Bure's masterful 58-goal, 98-point season for the Panthers: He scored 45 goals playing 5-on-5 hockey, the highest total of the decade and 17th all-time in the NHL. Bure led the NHL in game-winning goals (14, and fourth all-time) as well as shots (360). He actually scored more goals (59) the following season, but his plus/minus fell from plus-25 to minus-2.
At 35 years old, one of the best defensemen in NHL history posted 80 points in 80 games. He was a plus-25 and won the Norris Trophy (you know, as usual). In the context of his career, it'll likely be Lidstrom's greatest offensive season.
Lidstrom has the context, but Green has the history. Green's NHL record for defensemen with goals in eight consecutive games grabbed headlines, but it's his 31 goals overall that was the outstanding achievement. He was the first NHL D-man to break 30 since Kevin Hatcher in 1993, scored 73 points in 68 games and was a plus-24. James Mirtle ran the numbers and calculated that Green had the second-best goal-scoring season for a defenseman in NHL history. Yet in true hockey fan fashion, all anyone remembers are his invisibility in the playoffs later that year and losing the Norris to Zdeno Chara(notes) ...
There's only one reason why Jagr's 2005-06 season isn't ranked higher, and his name is Joe Thornton. Splitting his season between the Boston Bruins and the San Jose Sharks thanks to that infamous trade, Thornton posted the highest point total of the decade (125) with a 96-assist season that ranks 16th in NHL history and 3rd for players not named Gretzky or Lemieux. He won the Art Ross and the Hart. Only downside: He helped Jonathan Cheechoo(notes) score 56 goals, a number that would eventually drive fantasy hockey owners into madness as the decade progressed.
3. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 2000-01
The comeback year for Mario, and one of the most impressive offensive seasons in recent NHL history -- given the sample. Lemieux's 35 goals and 41 assists in 43 games gave him the NHL lead in goals per game (0.81), assists per game (0.95), points per game (1.77) and goals created per game (0.68). His points-per-game average was the highest of the decade and the best in the League since Jagr in1996.
If you want to project what this total might have been had he played 82 games, Mario's no doubt higher on your list. But we're going to deal with the real numbers here, and they landed him a Hart Trophy nomination in 2001 and at No. 3 on this list.
2. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals, 2007-08
The highest NHL goal total since Mario's 69 in '96, Ovechkin's 65 goals and 112 points earned him the League lead in both categories and the Hart Trophy for MVP. He led the league in even-strength goals 43 AND power-play goals (22). In total, Ovechkin led the NHL in 11 different offensive categories in 2007-08. One assumes he's got a better offensive season still in him; but so far, his achievement as a 22-year-old (!) player is his masterpiece.
In fact, it's the best performance of the decade. For a forward. Which brings us to ...
Again, we have to consider context here. His goals-against average (2.18, third) didn't lead the League and wasn't among the best of the decade. But in the context of Brodeur's career, he posted the second-best save percentage (.922, third in NHL) while facing the most shots in his career (2,011 in 78 games, second in NHL).
In the context of NHL history, his 48 wins is the highest total for a goalie ever. His 12 shutouts led the NHL; and if you strip away all the names from the 1920s, it's third-highest total in League history behind Tony Esposito (15) and Dominik Hasek(notes) (13) for a single-season. He won the Vezina, though Sidney Crosby's(notes) 120-point season earned him the Hart.
Honestly, Brodeur and Ovechkin are neck and neck at the top of this list. If the argument is that Brodeur can't lead this list if he didn't lead the League in GAA and save percentage, that's a fair argument. But so is the fact that one of the best goalies in NHL history posted his most impressive statistic season at 34 years old, post-lockout and seeing more rubber than an interstate. And ask Roberto Luongo(notes) and Evgeni Nabokov(notes) how tough it is to reach 48 wins.
(Cue Devils homer accusations in 3...2...)