We have arrived in 1996 on NHL Saturday, the season where the Detroit Red Wings set the all-time record for wins in a single season (62)—but didn’t win the Stanley Cup. Funny how that works, as the teams in all four major North American professional sports leagues with the regular-season wins records, respectively, didn’t win the championship in that season: the cheatin’ New England Patriots (16 wins in 2007); the Golden State Warriors (73 wins in 2016); and the Seattle Mariners (116 wins in 2001).
You just never can tell in sports, even when you think you can. Read on!
1996 Hart: Mario Lemieux (original, confirmed)
Two players from the same team topped the forwards this season: Pittsburgh Penguins center Mario Lemieux (17.37 Point Shares) and his linemate, right wing Jaromír Jágr (16.05). The only other two players under consideration here are Philadelphia Flyers center Eric Lindros (12.82) and Colorado Avalanche center Joe Sakic (12.78).
All of this needs context, as well: First, Super Mario missed most of the 1993-1994 season and all of the previous season while fighting Hodgkin’s lymphoma (!), and Lindros won the Hart vote and our nod last year. Second, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Avalanche, so hockey returned to Colorado after the Mile High City lost the Rockies to New Jersey in 1982. Third, usually two teammates cancel each other out in a situation like this when we’re talking about value.
So, here’s the deal: The Pens won the Northeast Division with 102 points and a 14-point postseason buffer. That means either Lemieux or Jágr is valuable enough on their own to keep Pittsburgh from a longer offseason. Philly won the Atlantic Division with 103 points and a 15-point playoff cushion, meaning Lindros was not as valuable. The Avs won the Pacific Division with a huge, 26-point safety net over the last qualifying playoff team in the Western Conference.
Even tossing sentiment aside, we have to give this award to Lemieux for being more valuable than Jágr, as Super Mario topped the NHL in assists (92), goals (69), points (161), power-play goals (31), and short-handed goals (8). That’s a clean sweep, really. Jágr did lead the league in even-strength goals (41), game-winning goals (12), and shots on goal (403). Jágr was better on defense, but the Penguins don’t score 362 goals, high number in the sport, without Lemieux’s puck magic. We confirm his Hart vote victory.
1996 Norris: Chris Chelios (original), Ray Bourque (revised)
We are not quite sure why Chicago Blackhawks legend Chris Chelios won the Norris vote: His 11.3 PS mark was pretty good, but it was not in the Top 10 overall for the league, which is usually the case for our top candidates here. As a defenseman, he also posted 5.6 defensive PS, but that was not in the Top 10 in that category, either. The Blackhawks also finished 37 points behind the Red Wings in the Central Division, so Chelios didn’t carry/lead his team to a grandiose regular season.
The only blue liner in the NHL Top 10 for PS was Boston Bruins star Ray Bourque (13.05 PS), and the best defensive guy in this category was Red Wings stalwart Vladimir Konstantinov (8.95 DPS, which topped everyone else by more than 2 DPS), who posted an 11.1 PS mark overall. The Bruins barely made the postseason, with just 5 points to spare in the standings, while Chicago had a 16-point cushion. All signs here point to Bourque, in truth, winning again, so we will re-assign this award, readily.
Bourque’s numbers as he wins his fourth Norris from us and the first since 1988: 20G, 62A, plus-31 rating, 58 PIMs, and 390 SOG. This was also his age-35 season, and Bourque would go on to play until he was 40 years old. Bourque is now tied with Denis Potvin and Paul Coffey for the second-most Norris nods from us overall.
1996 Vezina: Jim Carey (original), Felix Potvin (revised)
The five most-valuable goaltenders were Buffalo Sabres star Domink Hasek (14.77 PS), Toronto Maple Leafs youngster Felix Potvin (13.76), New Jersey Devils phenom Martin Brodeur (12.84), St. Louis Blues veteran Grant Fuhr (12.54), and Hartford Whalers backstop Sean Burke (12.47). Yet … somehow Washington Capitals whiz kid Jim Carey (9.9) won the Vezina vote. Will he win ours? This promises to be interesting, to say the least.
The Sabres missed the postseason by 15 points, and while that wasn’t Hasek’s vault, it dings his value significantly. The Maple Leafs made the playoffs with just 2 points in the standings to spare, so Potvin becomes our value leader in the clubhouse. The Devils, as the defending Cup champs, missed the postseason by 2 points, so Brodeur’s value also takes a hit there. The Blues, like Toronto, barely scraped by and into the Cup playoffs. The Whale? Came up short by 11 points in its playoff quest.
The Caps squeaked in to the postseason hunt by 3 points, so Carey did have value. But did he have more valee than Potvin or Fuhr? No. Carey did lead the NHL with 9 shutouts, and he may have been the “best” goaltender among these three finalists in our analysis. But time and time again, we’ve discussed value more than anything else. Potvin posted a 30-26-11 record for a team that went 34-36-12 overall. His backups were 4-10-1 and almost kept Toronto from making the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Fuhr was 30-28-16 for a club that went 32-34-16, with backups posting a 2-6 record. The dude played a lot of minutes overall, and they were quality enough to get the Blues into the postseason. The Caps were 39-32-11, and Carey posted a 35-24-9 mark. His backups were a collective 4-8-2. We see similar situations here, so we default to the PS sabermetrics, and that means this award belongs to Potvin. We don’t object to anyone who disagrees here, but it is what it is: Hail to the Cat!
1996 Calder: Daniel Alfredsson (original), Corey Hirsch (revised)
Ottawa Senators right wing Daniel Alfredsson (5.3 PS) won the Calder vote, but there were other worthy candidates: Los Angeles Kings goalie Byron Dafoe (6.9), Vancouver Canucks netminder Corey Hirsch (6.8), Chicago Blackhawks left wing Eric Daze (5.3), and Florida Panthers d-man Ed Jovanovski (5.2). That’s a lot of good rookies to choose from, so here’s our take.
The Senators were literally the worst team in the league, and Alfredsson wasn’t even the high guy on the PS totem pole. The Kings missed the postseason by a mile, while the Canucks snuck into the Western Conference playoffs by one point. The Blackhawks were comfortably into the postseason, and the Panthers had a 6-point edge for their Eastern Conference playoff slot. That really makes Hirsch the one we’re looking at here, with a 17-14-6 record for a team that went 32-35-15 overall.
His PS value was very high, and his on-ice contributions helped Vancouver get into the postseason. That’s all we need to know. Hirsch had a mediocre career, overall, but this was his one shining moment in the NHL, for sure.
1996 Conn Smythe: Joe Sakic (original, confirmed)
The Avalanche topped the Panthers in the Cup Final, sweeping all four games by a combined score of 15-4. The final two games were one-goal affairs, so Colorado buried Florida early and then held on for dear life, successfully. Sakic won the Conn Smythe vote for posting 34 points (18G, 16A) in 22 games, so it will be hard for anyone else to take his hardware away here as the star center topped his team in both goals and assists.
Goalie Patrick Roy did play well, too, however: 16-6, 2.10 GAA, and a .921 save percentage. He also won Game 4 of the Finals in triple overtime, 1-0, which is pretty clutch. We know how great he was in most situations like that, as well. But Sakic’s numbers are too hard to ignore, and even though he didn’t get a dime on the Cup-clinching goal, he was on the ice for it. We will confirm his award without much fanfare.