Sometimes we get to our NHL Saturday series each week; sometimes, we do not. We apologize, for the NHL really is the last bastion. Historically speaking, though, it’s the least interesting, due to its small size until expansion in 1967. Therefore, it gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop sometimes. Sorry, hockey fans!
But back to the awards, as the Edmonton Oilers continued their dynastic run with a third Stanley Cup title in four seasons …
1987 Hart: Wayne Gretzky (original, confirmed)
The Great One won another Hart vote, as he finished almost 7 Point Shares ahead of the next-best forward in the league. That’s saying something, again, about Edmonton Oilers center Wayne Gretzky, as we confirm his Hart win again—handing him this trophy for the eighth consecutive time.
Gretzky (17.57) was way ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins center Mario Lemieux (10.61) in the sabermetric measurement, and his traditional statistics were the usual: 62 goals, 121 assists, 183 points, plus-69 rating, 42 even-strength goals, and 7 short-handed goals. All those numbers topped the NHL.
One thing to note, however: This was the last Gretzky led his peers in Point Shares, so either he started slowing down, or the league started catching up to him at age 27 … or both. Time will tell, of course, in this space.
1987 Norris: Ray Bourque (original), Larry Murphy (revised)
Meanwhile, four defensemen finished in the Top 10 for PS overall, and they all topped the double-digit threshold: Boston Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque (13.55), Washington Capitals blueliner Larry Murphy (11.86), Philadelphia Flyers veteran Mark Howe (10.52), and Calgary Flames youngster Al MacInnis (10.11). Bourque got our nod here in 1980 and 1984, while Howe took home our hardware in 1983. This is a crowded field!
The Capitals had the least amount of playoff wriggle room, with only 14 points in the standings to spare. All the other teams cruised into the postseason. Does this mean Murphy was more valuable than Bourque? Probably, so let’s do a numbers comparison:
- Bourque: 23G, 72A, +44, 36 PIM, 334 SOG (which topped the league)
- Murphy: 23G, 58A, +25, 39 PIM, 224 SOG
There is a volume argument here for Bourque, who only scored 23 times despite taking so many shots. But Bourque also topped Murphy in defensive PS (6.38 to 5.72). We can’t deny Bourque was the better blueliner, but we still think the Capitals needed Murphy more than Boston needed their guy. That value is all the difference to us.
1987 Vezina: Ron Hextall (original), Bob Sauve (revised)
One goaltender stood out above all the rest, and that was Philadelphia Flyers rookie Ron Hextall. His 13.79 PS mark was about 4 PS better than Chicago Blackhawks journeyman Bob Sauve (9.80). With no other goalie posting double digits sabermetrically, it’s hard to deny Hextall the Vezina he won in the vote at the time.
But the Blackhawks barely made the postseason, by just a few points in the Norris Division standings, while the Flyers posted the best record in the Wales Conference. Philadelphia would have made the playoffs, regardless of who was in the net. That doesn’t take away from Hextall’s quality; it just redefines his value.
Sauve posted a 19-19-5 record for a team that finished 29-37-14. His fellow goaltenders in Chicago were just a combined 10-18-9. Ironically, we took away a shared Vezina from Sauve in 1980, but we’re going to give it to him here, because even though he wasn’t “great”? He was the difference between the postseason and the offseason for the Blackhawks (who changed their nickname into one word starting with this season, for the record).
1987 Calder: Luc Robitaille (original), Ron Hextall (revised)
We suspect since Hextall won the Vezina vote that the media gave the Calder to Los Angeles Kings left wing Luc Robitaille instead, despite his mere 6.8 PS total—less than half of what Hextall posted. That makes no sense, even though the Kings barely snagged the final playoff slot in the Smythe Division.
Robitaille may have been the difference between the playoffs and not for L.A., but his minus-19 rating and one-sided game (only 0.4 dPS) are glaring holes in a typical rookie’s game. He also had a rookie linemate—center Jimmy Carson—who posted 6.2 PS himself, also with a better negative rating (-5) and a better dPS (0.8). The two of them together should have split any votes for their collective effort, giving Hextall the nod. Oh well.
Hextall is going to get this trophy from us for his traditionals: 37 wins and .902 save percentage, both numbers which led the NHL. He also topped the league in a few other categories, including 66 games played in net. The guy was a workhorse for the best team in the Wales Conference, and he stood out as a rookie for sure, much more than the Kings duo did.
1987 Conn Smythe: Ron Hextall (original), Wayne Gretzky (revised)
An epic Stanley Cup Final between the Oilers and the Flyers went 7 games, with Edmonton winning the last game at home by a 3-1 margin. Hextall won the Conn Smythe vote for posting a 15-11 record in the postseason with a 2.76 GAA and a .908 save percentage, but Philadelphia also had two skaters who posted more than a point per game in the postseason (LW Brian Propp and C Pelle Eklund).
Hextall’s numbers in the Finals were not as good (22 goals in 7 games on a .903 S%) as his overall playoff marks. Meanwhile, four Oilers posted more points than games played, including Gretzky’s 34 points in 21 games, while Edmonton’s primary goaltender, Grant Fuhr, went 14-5 with a 2.47 GAA and a .908 S%. He was arguably superior than Hextall, and remember, Edmonton was only 6 points better than Philly in the regular-season standings.
This is our issue: Hextall was worse in the Finals than he was the rest of the playoffs, and it’s clear the emotion of pushing a slightly better team to 7 games weighed heavily on the voters’ minds. But this was not Roy in 1986 at all. Hextall doesn’t really deserve this award when he had good skaters on his side, too.
We’re giving it to Gretzky: He only scored 5 goals in 21 postseason games, but his 29 assists show he was at his all-time best distributing and making his teammates better. Fuhr would be our very close second choice, as Andy Moog started the other two games in net for Edmonton with ugly numbers (4.00 GAA, .784 S%).