As we turn the corner into the 1990s on NHL Saturday this week, we enter a new era of professional hockey in North America. Last week, we mentioned that we’d see the return of sanity to goaltending, and this decade will prove that defense still mattered in the sport. To wit, the top three players in the league were not forwards in 1990.
So, here we go with the annual awards show for a season where the Edmonton Oilers won their fifth Stanley Cup in a seven-year span—the last real dynasty in league history …
1990 Hart: Mark Messier (original), Wayne Gretzky (revised)
The top four forwards in the league were separated by barely half a Point Share, which creates an interesting analysis for us: St. Louis Blues right wing Brett Hull (11.79), Detroit Red Wings center Steve Yzerman (11.77), Los Angeles Kings center Wayne Gretzky (11.32), and Oilers forward Mark Messier (11.28). The Great One topped the NHL in assists and points (142); Hull led the league in goals (72) and shots on goal (385); Messier took the vote.
This comes down to overall team quality to us: The Blues had a 13-point playoff cushion, while the Red Wings missed the postseason by 6 points. Edmonton had a 26-point cushion for the postseason, while L.A. had just a 9-point margin of error for the Cup tournament. That means Gretzky carried the most value here, by far, in terms of his PS total contextualized by team need.
We’re not sure what the voters were thinking, in truth: Gretzky registered a plus-8 rating on a team that finished 34-39-7 and in fourth place among Smythe Division teams. Without the Great One, the Kings quite possibly do not make the playoffs, and that cannot be said of any of the other candidates. This is Gretzky’s ninth Hart nod from us, but it’s the first one where he didn’t win the vote as well. Obviously, this is the most ever in this space.
1990 Norris: Ray Bourque (original), Al MacInnis (revised)
Three defensemen finished in the Top 10 for Point Shares, as Boston Bruins star Ray Bourque (12.51) actually topped the league, followed closely by Calgary Flames stalwart Al MacInnis (12.08). Buffalo Sabres veteran Phil Housley (11.20) was third in the positional rankings and 10th overall in the league. Bourque won the vote, for the third time in four years, although we’ve already given him three nods ourselves (1980, 1984, 1988).
The Bruins posted the top record in the league (46-25-9, 101 points), and they had a 70-point gap for the postseason, which is unreal. That really means Bourque’s value takes a hit, and even though he topped the league in PS, he only topped his position by less than a half PS. So, can we justify giving him this award?
MacInnis—who has never won this award from us, or the actual vote at the time to date—contributed to a 35-point playoff cushion in Calgary, while the Sabres finished just 3 points behind the Bruins in the Adams Division, also having a ginormous advantage for the postseason.
That means we’re giving this award to MacInnis, who had less margin for error in his game than Bourque did, and posted almost as good a PS mark, nonetheless. His numbers—28G, 62A, 82 PIMs, and a plus-20 rating—are very good, even if this seems like nitpicking in our analysis. But hey, we want to be consistent.
1990 Vezina: Patrick Roy (original), Jon Casey (revised)
Three goalies finished in the Top 10 overall for league PS, and the vote winner was Montréal Canadiens rock star Patrick Roy (11.85). Right behind him were Minnesota North Stars veteran Jon Casey (11.45) and Sabres youngster Darren Puppa (11.40). We know the Sabres had a huge margin for error, while the Canadiens did, too, finishing five points behind Buffalo in the Adams Division.
What about Minnesota? They finished fourth in the Norris, just six points ahead of the Red Wings. That makes Casey the most valuable here, by far. This is two times in a row we’ve taken the Vezina away from Roy, and it’s not because he’s not good. But he was also playing on a good team, and in this case, the North Stars were not good—and they may have missed the postseason without their star goalie.
Casey did top the league in wins (31, tied with Roy), while posting 3 shutouts overall. Roy had the better overall numbers, which is why he won the vote, but again, with context, it’s clear Casey had more value to his team than Roy did to his squad.
1990 Calder: Sergei Makarov (original), Mike Modano (revised)
Our top three rookies this time around are an impressive bunch: Calgary Flames right wing Sergei Makarov (6.8 PS), North Stars center Mike Modano (5.7), and Chicago Blackhawks center Jeremy Roenick (4.7). The vote, perhaps sentimentally and symbolically, went to Makarov, a 31-year old veteran from the Soviet Union hockey machine. We love(d) the guy, but we cannot, in good conscience, give him this award. He was no rookie.
Modano is in the same position as Casey was above, while Roenick played for the Norris Division winners, who finished 12 points above Minnesota in the standings. Therefore, we will re-assign this award to Modano, who had a Hall of Fame career and is one of the best Americans to ever play in the NHL.
His traditionals: 29G, 46A, and 63 PIMs in 80 games. He contributed 29 points on power plays, and his 16.9 shot percentage was the third-highest mark of his 21-year career. Modano definitely deserved this award as a teenager playing with the big boys, most effectively.
1990 Conn Smythe: Bill Ranford (original, confirmed)
The Oilers topped the Bruins in five games for the Cup championship, and Edmonton goalie Bill Ransford took the Conn Smythe vote for posting a 16-6 record in the postseason with a 2.53 GAA and a .912 S%. Those are good numbers, but is anyone else a candidate here?
The champs had five skaters score more than a point a game in the playoffs, led by Messier and left wing Craig Simpson, each with 31 points in 22 games. So there was plenty of offense to go around. For Boston, only right wing Cam Neely (28 points in 21 games) and center Craig Janney (22 points in 18 games) stood out on the ice. But in the Finals, Janney didn’t post a single point, and Neely was held to 4 points in 5 games.
Bruins goalie Andy Moog—who won 3 Cups with Edmonton in the 1980s—was pretty good, posting a 13-7 mark overall with a 2.21 GAA and a .909 S% in the playoffs. Yet in the Finals, Moog’s save percentage dropped to the .866 level. Not good! So, we will confirm Ranford’s hardware here, with little debate. This is the only award for the season we confirm, too.