17 times over the past ninety+ NHL seasons has the record for most points in a single season been set. At many points along the way, the record was thought to be unbreakable, including Wayne Gretzky's current mark of 215.
Wayne Gretzky’s record for most points in a single NHL season has stood for over two decades. Some say it’s unbreakable, but as with any record in professional sports, it will seem unbreakable until it’s broken. The record stood at an ‘unbreakable’ level 16 times before since the inception of the league in 1917-18.
Joe Malone of the Montreal Canadiens held the first record for most points in a single National Hockey League season. All he had to do to accomplish this was lead the league in scoring in its first season. Assists were not recorded in that first year but Malone’s total of 44 goals in 20 games was in itself a pretty amazing feat and set the standard. To put that total into perspective, applying that goal scoring pace over the present day 82 game schedule would produce 180 goals.
Malone broke his own record two years later while playing for the Quebec Bulldogs. Playing four more games than in 1917-18, Joe added four more points for 48 in 1919-20. This record would stand until the 1927-28 season when Howie Morenz of the Montreal Canadiens would total 51 points. However, Morenz’s total was accomplished over a much longer 43 game games.
Cooney Weiland is simply not a well-known name in the hockey world. However, Weiland, while playing for 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 go to a respectable eleven season NHL career but would never get higher than the 38 point mark again in his career.
Over a decade would pass before Weiland’s mark would be touched. With the aid of a 50 game schedule, Doug Bentley tied the record with 73 points in 1942-43. The following season, Herb Cain of the Boston Bruins would increase the record by nine points to 82 in 48 games. Just three short years later, Cain would be sent down to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League where he would finish out his professional hockey career.
The great Gordie Howe would be next to break the record. It would take Mr. Hockey 22 more games than Cain to add four points to the record. In 1950-51, Howe had an even 43 goals and 43 assists for 86 points. The following season, Howe would equal the mark and the season after that, 1952-53, Howe would increase the record by nine points to 95.
The increase would be a mere point in 1958-59 as Dickie Moore of the Montreal Canadiens would notch 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.