Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Joe Who? After Adjusting for Era, Gaudreau Tops List of Best Career Starts in Team History

After his dramatic hat-trick against the Jets on Tuesday, make it 102 points in his first 115 NHL games for Johnny Gaudreau. If that is not impressive enough, what if I told you he actually surpassed the 100 point plateau in just 67 games?

Confused? Allow me to explain.

When it comes to gauging the impact the talented 22-year-old has had in his first season-and-a-half in Calgary, we've been operating under two rules:
  • Don't measure him by his size -- barely 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds with his skates on.
  • Don't assess him by how high he was drafted -- 103 players selected ahead of him in 2011.

It's time to add a third rule.
  • Don't compare his stats to guys that played in the 80s.

In racking up a ridiculous 20 points (13 goals, 7 assists) during this Flames franchise record-tying 10-game home winning streak (and becoming the first Calgary player to record two hat-tricks in the same season since Jarome Iginla in 2010-11), Gaudreau has repeatedly demonstrated his innate ability to come through with the big goal in the clutch.

However, despite the hype, he was not the fastest player to reach 100 points. Not even close. Dating back to when the Flames franchise relocated from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980, Joe Nieuwendyk -- also a former NCAA star -- owns that distinction by hitting the century mark in just 87 games. Doing it 115 games ties Gaudreau for fifth with Al MacInnis.

However, if you take a close look at this list, you'll notice a trend. Eleven of the top 12 played all or at least a large majority of their games in the high-scoring 80s where the 3-2 games of today finished 5-4. Add in four additional goals every game and what you get is a completely different era in the history of the NHL from what we're watching today. It's these significant differences that makes historical player comparisons difficult as you're not comparing apples to apples -- so-to-speak.

However, there are ways you can balance the eras and take away the advantage players in the 80s had and I've done so below. But first, let's begin with the easy stuff and the conventional numbers. 

Top 25 - Fastest to Reach 100 NHL Points in Team History

By "Team History" (versus "Franchise History"), this means since Calgary entered the NHL in 1980. The list excludes players that began their NHL career in Atlanta. In addition to the number of games each player took to record their 100th point, also listed for reference is the date on which that player recorded his milestone point. Current Flames are listed in red.

1. Joe Nieuwendyk (Oct. 10, 1988), 87
2. Sergei Makarov (Oct. 30, 1990), 93
3. Carey Wilson (Dec. 10, 1985), 113
4. Ed Beers (Mar. 20, 1984), 114
5. Johnny Gaudreau (Dec. 22, 2015), 115
5. Al MacInnis (Jan. 25, 1985), 115
7. Theoren Fleury (Apr. 1, 1990), 116
7. Dan Quinn (Mar. 7, 1985), 116
9. Gary Suter (Feb. 3, 1987), 124
10. Hakan Loob (Jan. 28, 1985), 127
11. Joel Otto (Dec. 28, 1986), 132
12. Jim Peplinski (Mar. 11, 1982), 149
13. Robert Reichel (Oct. 20, 1992), 150
14. Paul Ranheim (Dec. 7, 1991), 152
15. Kevin Lavallee (Oct. 21, 1982), 160
16. German Titov (Jan. 14, 1986), 161
17. Dion Phaneuf (Oct. 4, 2007), 162
18. Sean Monahan (Oct. 23, 2015), 163
19. Jarome Iginla (Dec. 3, 1998), 176
19. Colin Patterson (Oct. 11, 1986), 176
21. Gary Roberts (Nov. 6, 1989), 194
21. Cory Stillman (Mar. 3, 1998), 194
23. Matthew Lombardi (Mar. 25, 2007), 208
24. Jamie Macoun (Feb. 14, 1986), 217
25. Derek Morris (Apr. 5, 2000), 229
26. Mikael Backlund (Mar. 22, 2014), 240
27. TJ Brodie (Mar. 30, 2015), 262
29. Mark Giordano (Mar. 23, 2011), 271

Background: About Franchise History and Atlanta

There are two reasons why I'm using team history and not franchise history.

One is personal preference. For most fans in Calgary, 1980 and beyond is the only history they care about. Those eight seasons the team spent prior to that in Atlanta are rarely referenced.

Second is from a practical perspective. It's difficult enough to research and log this kind of stuff from the early 80s (e.g. You need to pour over newspaper archives). Once you get into the 70s, digging up game-by-game NHL stats is impossible.

Kent Nilsson
That said, in the spirit of filling out the whole picture as best I can and including the years in Atlanta for those that are curious, here are eight additional players that would factor into the above list. In red are players whose game totals are accurate. All three began their careers in Atlanta but reached the 100-point mark while playing for Calgary. For the others, the game total is estimated based on their points-per-game rate in the season they reached the milestone.

From a 'franchise history' perspective, you'll see that the fastest to 100 points was not Nieuwendyk but instead was the 'Magic Man' -- Kent Nilsson. After a 93-point rookie season in Atlanta in 1979-80, the then 24-year-old recorded his 100th NHL point in his fifth game wearing the Flaming 'C'. That first season in Calgary, Nilsson would amass 131 points to finish third in NHL scoring behind Wayne Gretzky (164) and Marcel Dionne (135).

Kent Nilsson (Oct. 16, 1980), 85
Tom Lysiak (1974-75, exact date n/a), ~113
Eric Vail (1975-76, exact date n/a), ~132
Paul Reinhart (Mar. 7, 1981), 141
Willi Plett (1978-79, exact date n/a), ~147
Guy Chouinard (1977-78, exact date n/a), ~149
Pekka Rautakallio (Nov. 20, 1980), 171
Ken Houston (1978-79, exact date n/a), ~201

Calculating the Differences in Era

As stated, my goal with this article was to balance out the different eras. Without boring you with all the technical mumbo jumbo, here's a brief overview of my thought process and the formulas that what went into the spreadsheet I created that for every player calculated the average goals scored per game by the Flames during the time period in which that player amassed their 100 points:
  • Each season was viewed separately and weighted based on the number of games the player appeared in that season. e.g. If the person played 10 games in a season in which the Flames averaged five goals per game and played 70 games in a season in which the Flames averaged three goals per game, then the average goals per game for the team during that player's era would be just above three.
  • Only Calgary's annual scoring totals were factored in and not league-wide scoring as this is strictly an exercise of comparing Flames players to Flames players. The intention is to not just put Gaudreau in the context of the 1988-89 NHL season, but to put him specifically on the 1988-89 Flames team.

Top 10 Players - Highest Scoring Era

This is the average goals per game scored by the Flames team during the time period (spanning at least two seasons in all cases) in which it took players to reach 100 NHL points.

1. Joe Nieuwendyk, 4.84
2. Gary Roberts, 4.55
3. Carey Wilson, 4.43
4. Theoren Fleury, 4.37
5. Paul Ranheim, 4.37
6. Sergei Makarov, 4.34
7. Joel Otto, 4.32
8. Colin Patterson, 4.29
9. Gary Suter, 4.27
10. Jamie Macoun, 4.24

The Flames team record for most goals was 397 in the 80-game 1987-88 season. That's nearly an average of five goals per game and is a mind-boggling number to today's standards. For Nieuwendyk, in getting to 100 points in 87 games, 75 of the games came that particular year when he had 92 points (51 goals, 41 assists) as a rookie. As a result, his goals-per-game is considerably higher than anybody else.

Top 10 Players - Lowest Scoring Era

At the opposite end of the spectrum is defenceman Derek Morris, whose first three seasons (of which it took him almost that entire time frame to reach 100 points) came during the Flames dead puck/Young Guns era in the late 90s where beginning in 1997-98, Calgary scored a meager 217, 211 and 211 goals respectively.

1. Derek Morris, 2.60
2. Jarome Iginla, 2.62
3. TJ Brodie, 2.62
4. Mikael Backlund, 2.63
5. Sean Monahan, 2.68
6. Matthew Lombardi, 2.73
7. Cory Stillman, 2.79
8. Johnny Gaudreau, 2.80
9. Mark Giordano, 2.84
10. David Moss, 2.86

It's no surprise that it's on this list that you find all five active members of the Flames.

Top 25 - Fastest to Reach 100 NHL Points in Team History

Now the fun part.

I took every player and inserted them into Nieuwendyk's era with the Flames so all the players would have a common denominator and one can more easily do a historical comparison.

The result is a much different but more fair list with more recent players climbing way up and bumping other players down. Now we can compare the impact players from different eras have had offensively.

In particular, you get a more true sense of how staggering the start to Gaudreau's career has been and you also get a new appreciation for what Sean Monahan has accomplished early in his career. Monahan hit the 100-point mark two months ago.

Listed is the spreadsheet-driven projected number of games it would have taken each player to reach 100 points had they joined the Flames for the 1987-88 season like Nieuwendyk did and enjoyed the luxury of being on a team that scored an average of 4.84 goals per game. 

1. Johnny Gaudreau, 67
2. Sergei Makarov, 83
3. Joe Nieuwendyk, 87
4. Sean Monahan, 90
5. Ed Beers, 93
6. Jarome Iginla, 95
7. Dion Phaneuf, 96
8. Al MacInnis, 99
9. Dan Quinn, 101
10. Carey Wilson, 103
11. Theoren Fleury, 105
12. Hakan Loob, 109
13. Gary Suter, 109
14. Cory Stillman, 112
15. German Titov, 112
16. Matthew Lombardi, 117
17. Joel Otto, 118
18. Derek Morris, 123
19. Robert Reichel, 123
20. Jim Peplinski, 127
21. Mikael Backlund, 130
22. Kevin Lavallee, 137
23. Paul Ranheim, 137
24. TJ Brodie, 142
25. David Moss, 155
28. Mark Giordano, 159

Adding in Franchise History and Atlanta

Again, make it 'franchise history' instead of 'team history' and the list changes including the name at the top. Insert Nilsson into Nieuwendyk's era and the crafty Swede climbs to the top of the list. Mind you, worth pointing out is Nilsson had already played two full seasons in the World Hockey Association prior to coming over to the NHL so he was older and more experienced than Gaudreau. Honourable mention also to Tom Lysiak and the 'Big Train' -- Eric Vail, who were both huge parts of those early Atlanta teams and rank high on this era-adjusted list.

Again, in red are players whose adjusted game totals are accurate per the same formula used in the era-adjusted numbers above. For the others, the projected adjusted game total is estimated based on their points-per-game rate in the season they reached the milestone.

Kent Nilsson, 62
Tom Lysiak, ~66
Eric Vail, ~83
Willi Plett, ~102
Guy Chouinard, ~103
Paul Reinhart, 110
Pekka Rautakallio, 136
Ken Houston, ~141

Final Word

The hot topic these days is Gaudreau's contract and what's it going to be worth and for how long. As you know, he is a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

One look at the historical comparisons above and where he fits in over the 36 years the Flames have been in Calgary tells you all you need to know about the kind of impact Gaudreau has had just a year-and-a-half into his NHL career. There's a whopping 16-game gap between him and the next guy on the list, Sergei Makarov, who came to Calgary when he was 31 years old and was already one of the best players in the world having played 11 seasons in Russia.

Of course, right after Makarov is Nieuwendyk, who is in the NHL Hall-of-Fame. That's pretty good company.

Gaudreau is going to get paid and he's going to make a lot of money and when it happens, it will also be one of the best investments this team has ever made and should be one of the safest also. He's competitive, he's driven, he's passionate and he's only getting better.

"He's pretty special. You look at that second goal. Pickpockets in New York City are not that quick," said Flames coach Bob Hartley after Tuesday's game. "He came from behind (in stealing the puck from Mark Scheifele) on two tries and never quit. He must have liked that wallet."

Hartley gets excited when he talks about Gaudreau's skill.

"He's so slick around the net and in tight areas. He's just like a magician out there," said Hartley. "I enjoy coaching him so much because not only he's skilled and a great scorer but he's a competitor. Second, third, fourth effort, it doesn't bother him. He gets on the ice, he's on a mission out there.

"He doesn't want free points. He doesn't want to float at the back and collect the easy goals. He's ready to pay the price, he's ready to go in the dirty areas to make plays and he's doing that."

Calgary has three more home games over the Christmas holidays. Do yourself a favour and get out and catch a glimpse of this kid live if you haven't yet had the chance. Sure, he's fun to watch on television but he's a real treat to see up close and and is well worth the price of admission.

Oh, and when you do head to the Saddledome, make sure you bring a hat and not one you're too attached to because the way it's going lately (Gaudreau is the first Flames player to record two hat-tricks in the same calendar month since Jarome Iginla in February 2003), you may be leaving the arena without it.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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  1. Kent Nilsson had 131 points in his first season with the Calgary Flames, or 100 points in likely around 60 games in 1980/81. The Magic Man was without question the greatest scorer ever in Flames history. No mathematics or analytics will be able to change that.

    1. My own personal memory of Nilsson was that he was awesome, indeed. I was only 10 years old then but I remember him as special. I recall watching a video once in which he hit the crossbar from centre ice five times in a row -- on purpose. While your argument is fair, Nilsson was also older and more experienced than Gaudreau given he played two full seasons in the WHA for the Winnipeg Jets before joining the NHL. So his 'first 100 NHL points' came after he had already piled up over 200 points in a good and similar pro league. With Swedish heritage on my mom's side, I always had a soft spot for the Swedes though and sure did love ol' Kenta.

  2. My only argument here is that the players back in the high flying 80's never got to play 3 on 3 overtime, in fact there wasn't regulation overtime until what was it? 1985 season?

    1. It's certainly a very hypothetical scenario and is more of a conversation starter than a debate solver. Lack of OT certainly factors in as you suggest. Other factors would be the calibre of teammates/linemates players had the benefit of -- is a deeper team better or worse for individual success? Volume of PP opportunities has also come down over the years so that works against more recent players. For fans of the team, they should be delighted to have a player that sparks such a debate though! Best, second best, third best.... For a team that's been in the NHL over 35 years, that's still a lofty perch. Cheers.

  3. Good points, in fact there weren't even 4-on-4s because of the Oilers Rule. Kent Nilsson 4-on-4 or 3-on-3 = Big Trouble.

    1. Agree with that. I would say, however, there were more 5-on-4's back in the old days when penalties were more prevalent. Depth of teams and quality of linemates/teammates also are variables. So many factors. It's a hypothetical argument and more of a conversation starter than a debate ender but it's a fun discussion nonetheless.