After another weekend off for NHL Saturday, we hit a milestone season in professional hockey history, for several reasons: First, the World Hockey Association folded and “merged” with the National Hockey League, infusing the NHL with a lot of talent; second, another four-year Stanley Cup dynasty run ensued, this time for the New York Islanders; and third, this season marks the arrival of the Great One in the collective consciousness of sports fans.
Hang on to your stick, folks, as the wild ’80s are here …
1980 Hart: Wayne Gretzky (original, confirmed)
Three forwards cleared the 12-Point Shares threshold for this season, led by our pick last year for this award, Los Angeles Kings center Marcel Dionne (13.53). He was followed by Montréal Canadiens right wing Guy Lafleur (12.76) and Edmonton Oilers center Wayne Gretzky (12.62), who took home the hardware in the vote at the time.
The Canadiens topped the Norris Division with 107 points, while the Kings trailed behind Montréal by 33 points in the standings—finishing under .500 in the process. Meanwhile, the Oilers also finished under .500 in the Smythe Division, although all three teams did make the postseason.
With the margin in the standings, it is clear that the Canadiens would have made the playoffs without Lafleur, but Edmonton—one of the WHA teams absorbed by the the NHL—did manage to grab the last playoff spot in the Campbell Conference by just two points over the Washington Capitals, while the Kings actually had a comfortable cushion of 11 points over the Detroit Red Wings (the “best” team in the Wales Conference to miss the postseason).
What this shows us is that Gretzky was the difference between playoffs or no playoffs for Edmonton, while the other players’ teams had larger margins for error in case their stars went down. That’s why the Great One will get to keep this award. His stats—tops in the league for assists (86) and points (137) in 79 games—were just a hint of what was to come in his stellar and unique career.
1980 Vezina: Don Edwards & Bob Sauve (original), Tony Esposito (revised)
The Buffalo Sabres posted 110 points to register the second-best record in the league, and their two goaltenders—Don Edwards and Bob Sauve—shared the Vezina as the Sabres, by far, led the NHL in fewest goals allowed (201). Edwards, who won this award from us in 1978, was second in the league for goalie PS (11.45). Chicago Black Hawks stalwart Tony Esposito actually posted the highest PS total in the sport for the year (13.96).
How does this shake out for the Vezina, though? Esposito, our 1971 Vezina pick, led the Black Hawks to the Smythe Division title with 87 points, while playing a league-high 69 games in net. He also topped the NHL in saves and shutout, with average numbers (2.98 GAA, .903 S%) in this era of crazy scoring.
Edwards played in just 49 games while posting 2.57 GAA and .893 S% numbers, and Sauve was actually better than Edwards (2.36 GAA, .901 S%). So, Edwards’ PS mark was based on volume, and clearly, his backup was a superior netminder in the 32 games he appeared.
Thus, we give this award to Esposito, at age 36, which is pretty impressive, in terms of being this good for so long.
1980 Norris: Larry Robinson (original), Ray Bourque (revised)
The two best defensemen in the league were Boston Bruins rookie Ray Bourque (11.82) and Montréal Canadiens veteran Larry Robinson (11.41), who took home our Norris in 1977 and our Conn Smythe in 1978. This is a tough call, as both teams were very good and made the playoffs in the Wales Conference by a mile. Bourque, however, was the better blue liner in terms of defensive PS (7.07 to 5.90).
Boston, as a team, also gave up fewer goals than Montréal, so we’re going to give this slight nod to Bourque for his excellent on both sides of the puck: 17G, 48A, plus-52 rating, and 73 PIM.
1980 Calder: Ray Bourque (original, confirmed)
Bourque won the Calder vote, and we will confirm it, as the next-best rookies were Philadelphia Flyers goalie Pete Peeters (8.8 PS) and Detroit right wing Mike Foligno (6.2 PS). Peeters did help the Flyers to the best record in the NHL (116 points, including a 25-0-10 streak that set an unbeaten record that still stands). His 29-5-5 mark for a rookie netminder is stunning, in truth, even if his other numbers weren’t special (2.73 GAA, .893 S%).
1980 Conn Smythe: Bryan Trottier (original, confirmed)
The New York Islanders, after finishing with the fifth-best record in the league, won the first of four straight Cups with a six-game victory over Philly in the Stanley Cup Finals. Isles center Bryan Trottier won the Conn Smythe vote by posting 29 points in 21 games to lead his team. He also tossed in 16 PIMs, too.
N.Y. goalie Billy Smith was 15-4 in the postseason, with 2.70 GAA and .903 S% marks, but no one else on the Islanders really separated themselves from the pack. Phil Myre, the backup Flyers goalie, was the best on the Philadelphia team, but he only played in 6 games, posting a 5-1 record with a sterling 2.50 GAA and a very good .920 S% to really outplay Peeters when it mattered.
Four different Flyers skaters posted more points than games played, so it was a team effort on the offensive side for them. That really leaves us with Trottier’s dominant performance for the Islanders, as Myre just didn’t play enough in the postseason to warrant true consideration. If he had played as much as Smith with those numbers, we’d be looking at a different debate—and perhaps a different Cup champ.