Recently, we took a fun look at how the legendary Wayne Gretzky could have played a few more seasons, based on his leading his team in scoring even in his final few seasons. Surprisingly, there are a handful of players whose final season scoring exceeded the Great One's, including several fellow Hall of Famers. This week, we'll take a fun look at them.
Most Points in Final NHL Season
Age Player Season Team GP G A PTS
28 Hakan Loob 1988-89 Calgary 79 27 58 85
36 Frank Mahovlich 1973-74 Montreal 71 31 49 80
39 Jean Beliveau 1970-71 Montreal 70 25 51 76
30 Mike Bossy 1986-87 NY Islanders 63 38 37 75
35 Jaromir Jagr 2007-08 NY Rangers 82 25 46 71
34 John McKenzie 1971-72 Boston 77 22 47 69
30 Bengt Gustafsson 1988-89 Washington 72 18 51 69
35 Kenny Wharram 1968-69 Chicago 76 30 39 69
28 Pekka Rautakallio 1981-82 Calgary 80 17 51 68
31 Yvon Lambert 1981-82 Buffalo 77 25 39 64
Most of these players could have continued to play in the NHL, because they did in fact continue to play professionally, either in Europe, like Loob, Jagr, Gustafsson and Rautakallio, in the WHA, like Mahovlich and McKenzie, or even the AHL like Lambert. A few had their careers cut short by injury, like Bossy and Wharram, leaving Beliveau as the only one to voluntarily hang up his skates prematurely.
Off to Europe
Hakan Loob was on fire when he left the NHL. In 1987-88 he scored 50 goals and 106 points thanks to an insane 25.3% shooting percentage, then won the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames. He played seven more seasons in Sweden, and was third in league scoring in his final season there, with 49 points in 40 games. To date, he is the only player to exceed Gretzky's 53 final-season assists.
Most Assists, Final NHL Season
Hakan Loob 58
Wayne Gretzky 53
Ray Bourque 52
Bengt Gustafsson 51
Jean Beliveau 51
Pekka Rautakallio 51
J.C. Tremblay 51
As for Jaromir Jagr, he's still active in the KHL and may yet return before he turns 40 late next season. At the moment, his final season with the Rangers may have been his worst since he was a teenager, but it still stands as the fifth-best final NHL season of all time.
Pekka Rautakallio is the only defenseman to make this list, having enjoyed his best NHL season at age 28 before deciding he preferred playing back home in Finland, where he played five more seasons, followed by his final two in the Swiss league. It may be more correct to award the best final season for a defenseman award instead to 39-year-old Al MacInnis, who also scored 68 points for the St. Louis Blues in his penultimate season. Since he played only three games before suffering an eye injury and then retired when the following season was lost to the Lockout, it seems only fair to recognize that as his final season instead.
World Hockey Association
A couple of players extended their careers in the WHA, like Frank Mahovlich and John McKenzie. Mahovlich played four more seasons in the WHA, the first two of which he continued to score over 80 points. The Hall of Famer eventually retired at age 40, having scored 38 points in 72 WHA games.
As for McKenzie, he enjoyed his third-best season and won the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins skating alongside legends like Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr and Johnny Bucyk. What a change in scenery it must have been to play for the Philadelphia Blazers of the WHA, playing with Andre Lacroix and Danny Lawson instead. McKenzie played all six WHA seasons, for six teams, finishing up with 47 points at age 41 with Gordie Howe and the New England Whalers.
Injuries forced the league's best goal-scorer to retire prematurely. Bossy's final season was the only one in which he failed to score at least 50 goals, and it broke an amazing streak of six straight 110-point seasons. It was nevertheless the most goals scored in a final NHL season, and by a wide margin.
Most Goals, Final NHL Season
Mike Bossy 38
Frank Mahovlich 31
Kenny Wharram 30
Darcy Rota 28
Blaine Stoughton 28
Gerry Heffernan 28
If you don't count those who played fewer than 20 games in their final campaign, we can add several more 30-goal scorers to the list, including:
Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert, who scored 36 goals and 75 points for the New York Rangers before coming back for 19 games the following year.
Lowell MacDonald, who scored 30 goals and 73 points in 69 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins at age 34 before shoulder injuries restricted him to 22 games over the next two seasons, forcing his eventual retirement.
Tom "Hawkeye" Webster scored 30 goals and 67 points as a 22-year-old for Detroit in his only full NHL season before heading to the WHA.
35-year-old Vic Hadfield enjoyed only his third 30-goal season for the Pittsburgh Penguins before a knee injury early the following season ended his career.
Tom McCarthy, one of only two players drafted ahead of Wayne Gretzky in junior hockey, bounced back from his Bell's Palsy to score 30 goals in 68 games at age 26 with the Bruins in his final NHL season.
Like McCarthy, Grant Mulvey enjoyed only his second 30-goal season with the Chicago Blackhawks, at age 25. Unfortunately, a knee injury forced his early retirement.
Hall of Famer Bobby Bauer set a personal high of 30 goals in 58 games for the Boston Bruins before retiring so he could head back home to play for the Kitchener Dutchmen in the OHA Senior league. Five years later, he played one more game at age 36 the night they retired the jerseys of the Kraut Line (Milt Schmidt and Woody Dumart), and scored two points.
Bossy also holds the record for the most points per game in a final season. Here are all those who scored at least a point per game in the final NHL campaign:
Mike Bossy 1.19
Buzz Boll 1.13
Frank Mahovlich 1.13
Gerry Heffernan 1.12
Jacques Lemaire 1.10
Jean Beliveau 1.09
Hakan Loob 1.08
John Mahaffy 1.04
Gordie Drillon 1.02
Ziggy Palffy 1.00
Minimum 20 GP
Bossy wasn't the only one fate robbed of a few more seasons, Kenny Wharram was coming off his second-best season when a heart attack ended his career during training camp at age 36.
Despite playing some of his most productive hockey, the hero of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinals Yvon Lambert was cast off on waivers by Montreal, playing his final NHL season in Buffalo, followed by final two seasons in the AHL, scoring 70 points for the Rochester Americans at age 33.
That leaves us the legendary Jean Beliveau, who retired after winning his 10th Stanley Cup with a career-high 22 point postseason effort. Just like Gretzky, he led his team in scoring in his final season, and his 51 assists were the second-most in his storied career. Despite being 40, Beliveau could have played several more seasons, and might even have helped the team extend their dynasty for a couple more years.
That's all for this week, please drop me a line to add a comment if we left somebody out.
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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