The 1980s were a crazy time for professional hockey, and this is going to be reflected on NHL Saturday for the next few months. Scoring was out of control, which means a lot of goals—much to the chagrin of goaltenders across the league, obviously. Just remember the statistics we share are not typos, folks.
Enough said. Let’s do it!
1981 Hart: Wayne Gretzky (original, confirmed)
Edmonton Oilers center Wayne Gretzky won another Hart vote after topping the league in Point Shares (14.31), while Los Angeles Kings center Marcel Dionne (12.82)—our 1979 winner of this award—and New York Islanders right wing Mike Bossy (12.02) were the next best. The Oilers barely made the playoffs, finishing just three points ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the last playoff slot in the league—so the Great One once again had value.
Meanwhile, the Kings finished with the fourth-best record in the league, and the Islanders cruised to the best record as the defending champions. Both Dionne and Bossy had great seasons, but they were replaceable as far as their teams still making the postseason. The same cannot be said for Gretzky and the Oilers.
He led the NHL in assists (109) and points (164) again while scoring 55 goals and posting a plus-41 rating for a team that outscored its opponents on the season by just one goal. Throw in 28 penalty minutes, and the best hockey player of all time was starting to ramp it up into his prime at just age 20.
1981 Vezina: Denis Harron, Michel Larocque & Richard Sevigny (original), Tony Esposito (revised)
The Montréal Canadiens allowed the fewest goals in the league (232 in 80 games), and their three goalies won the Vezina under the rules at the time. But neither Denis Harron (3.5 PS), Michel Larocque (6.3), nor Richard Sevigny (7.9) finished in the Top 10 for goaltender Point Shares—although Sevigny did top the NHL in GAA (2.40). So we have to revise this award, of course.
The Top 5 GPS earners were Kings goalie Mario Lessard (12.60); St. Louis Blues backstop Mike Liut (11.63); Chicago Black Hawks netminder Tony Esposito (10.81); Buffalo Sabres star Don Edwards (10.09); and Boston Bruins veteran Rogie Vachon (9.85). Remember, Esposito is a two-time winner in our minds here, while Edwards won the award—as well as the Calder—from us in 1978, and Vachon won our nod in 1977.
Again, L.A. readily made the postseason, as did St. Louis (with the second-best record in the league). Chicago finished just four points ahead of Edmonton, however, although the Sabres topped their division with 99 points—the same mark as the Kings. With 87 points, the Bruins also were securely in the postseason.
We look at this, again, in terms of value: Esposito, in his league-high 66 starts, was the difference between the postseason and the offseason for Chicago, even though his traditional numbers look unsightly to us today (29-23-14, 3.76 GAA, .893 S%). But he was out there a lot on his own doing what he had to do to get his team a win, finishing eighth overall in the league for Point Shares—the best player on a bad team that had no business winning.
1981 Norris: Randy Carlyle (original), Denis Potvin (revised)
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Randy Carlyle won the Norris vote, posting 8.5 PS for a 73-point team that barely made the postseason. His minus-16 rating is pretty rough, however. Meanwhile, Islanders blueliner Denis Potvin was the top D-line man in the league (10.96 PS) and posted a plus-30 rating.
Yes, we know the teams were of different quality: The Pens don’t make the postseason without Carlyle, but that negative rating is painful, as was his 6.6-percent shot rate. Potvin (9.7-percent shot rate) was a better decision maker, and while both players tallied over 100 PIM, their overall point totals were similar (83 for Carlyle, 76 for Potvin).
The reason we don’t give this to Carlyle is that his defense (3.0 dPS) was much weaker than his offense (5.4 oPS), while Potvin literally was the same force either with the puck (5.4 oPS) or playing to stop it (5.6 dPS). And if a defenseman is weak(er) on defense than someone else up for this award, that’s problematic.
This is Potvin’s fourth Norris nod from us (1976, 1978, 1979), although he won those award votes outright.
1981 Calder: Peter Stastny (original, confirmed)
Kings defenseman Larry Murphy (9.7 PS) was the top rookie, but Quebec Nordiques center Peter Stastny (8.6 PS) won the Calder vote. Minnesota North Stars goalie Don Beaupre (8.9 PS) was also in the discussion as the best first-year player in the league. All three teams made the playoffs—Los Angeles by the widest margin.
The North Stars were comfortably in the postseason as well with 87 points, while the Nordiques squeaked in by a slimmer margin with 78 points. We can see that as a reason for Stastny’s vote victory, as well as his 109 points (39G, 70A) and plus-10 rating on a team that was outscored on the year.
We’re going to confirm Stastny’s award on this basis, therefore. Like Esposito, the best player on a bad team that has no business being near the playoffs is hard to ignore in terms of value.
1981 Conn Smythe: Butch Goring (original), Mike Bossy (revised)
The Islanders defeated the North Stars in 5 games to win the Stanley Cup Finals for their second NHL championship in a row, and N.Y. center Butch Goring won the Conn Smythe vote (20 points in 18 games). He was not the top scorer on the team, however: We’re not sure why Goring won the award when three other skaters out performed him readily in the playoffs for the Islanders.
In fact, Bossy put up 35 points (17G, 18A) in just 18 games, while posting a plus-14 rating (third-best mark on the team). He also accrued just 4 PIM, showing the cleanliness of his high-scoring skill set. Meanwhile, goaltender Billy Smith (14-3, 2.54 GAA, .903 S%) played pretty well, too, all things considered, sitting for just one game in the playoffs.
We’re going with Bossy on this one, though, as that point-per-game mark (1.94) is just too insane to ignore. The guy was on fire and deserved this award, handily.
Check in every Saturday for our NHL awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!