If you listened to the TSN1200 pregame show on Friday, host Ian Mendes and the group had a discussion as to whether Erik Karlsson would ever reach 100 points in a season. Gord Wilson, the color commentator on the Senators’ radio broadcasts said the sky was the limit and he though Karlsson would reach the milestone at some point in his career.
It is a feat that has been done just 14 times by 5 different defensemen – Bobby Orr (6 times), Paul Coffey (5 times), Al MacInnis, Brian Leetch and Denis Potvin (once each). The last time it was done was 1991-92 when Leetch scored 102 points with the Rangers. That was the final season in a streak of 4 straight seasons a blueliner topped the century mark.
Since 2000-01, the highest scoring single season by a defenseman is just 80 points set by Nicklas Lidstrom in 2005-06. Karlsson has an outside shot at reaching the 80 point mark this season with a strong 11 points in his last 8 games. He has 12 points in his last 9 games played, so he is pretty hot right now, but to remain at that level might be too much to ask. Karlsson is undoubtedly the premier offensive defenseman in the game, with a higher points per game and also being in on a higher percentage of his team’s goals than any other top end defenseman.
The task of breaking 100 points for a defenseman is daunting in today’s NHL, but lets take a closer look at what it really means. Scoring is obviously down from where it was in the 70’s and 80’s, where it was run and gun. Orr and Coffey were obviously head and shoulders above anyone else when it came to offense, but they were also surrounded by high-octane offensive players. Guys like Phil Esposito and Wayne Gretzky helped them reach gaudy figures that were never thought of before, and would be ridiculous in today’s game.
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To get 100 points, even in the old run and gun NHL you had to be in on at least 30% of your team’s goals. Karlsson has done that in both his Norris season of 2011-12 and has also done so this season so far. But if your team doesn’t score 300 goals in a season then 33% isn’t going to be nearly enough. Since 2000, there have been just 4 teams to top the 300 goal mark in a season (over 12 full seasons). For reference, in the 7 seasons during which Coffey joined the century club 5 times (between 1983-83 and 1989-90), 71 teams topped the 300 goal mark. In the mid 80’s 300 goals for a team was average or even in many cases below average.
One hundred points in an 82 game season requires a per game point total of 1.22. Since 2000-01, only 4 defenseman have even had a point per game in any season in which they played at least 20 games. Kris Letang had the highest points per game in any season last year with a 1.09 PPG in just 35 games. Mike Green has done it twice and Lidstrom once.
Basically, this exercise has shown that Bobby Orr was pretty phenomenal, Paul Coffey was fantastic, Denis Potvin was a better player than color commentator, and finally, 80 is the new 100 in terms of defensemen scoring. A blueliner could get to 100 points in today’s NHL, but it would have to be the perfect offensive defenseman (Erik Karlsson) in the perfect situation (either Chicago or Pittsburgh) for it to happen. In other words, don’t hold your breath, because Karlsson, or any other defenseman for that matter, isn’t going to get there any time soon. There simply isn’t enough scoring in today’s game to let it happen naturally.