With nearly every sports organization on the planet on pause at the moment as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel it’s an opportune time to reminisce about some special moments in sports history
On this day in 1991, Brett Hull recorded his 86th goal of the season with the St. Louis Blues. It remains the greatest goal-scoring performance in NHL history from a player not named Wayne Gretzky.
Hull accomplished the feat in the second period of his team’s regular season finale after taking a stretch pass from defenceman Paul Cavallini and slapping a wobbling puck from the top of the circle between the legs of Minnesota North Stars goalie Brian Hayward who was a good 15 feet out of his net cutting down the angle. The Blues ended up winning the game and finishing the season second in both the Norris Division and Clarence Campbell Conference.
Gretzky’s 92 goals in 1981-82 is the all-time record. The Great One’s 87-goal campaign in 1983-84 ranks second overall and is tops from a goals-per-game standpoint.
The night before netting his 86th, Hull had tied Mario Lemieux’s mark of 85 that the Penguins icon hit two years prior.
Those three forwards are the only players to ever score more than 80 goals in a single season.
There have been 14 instances of a player reaching 70 goals and this trio makes up more than half the list with Gretzky doing it four times, Hull thrice and Lemieux twice. Phil Esposito, Alexander Mogilny, Teemu Selanne, Jarri Kurri and Bernie Nicholls round out the list.
Hull was a sixth-round selection of the Calgary Flames but traded to the Blues during his rookie season. Hull scored 41 in his sophomore season in St. Louis before a remarkable three-year stretch during which he potted 228 goals in 231 games en route to earning three consecutive goal titles. Oh and FYI, not one of those 228 goals was an empty-netter. Not. One.
Many of Hull’s goals in his early career with the Blues were set up by Adam Oates, one of hockey’s elite playmakers.
“To be able to play with a guy that loved to set up a goal as much or more than score a goal, how can you ask for anything more than that?” Hull told NHL.com back in 2012 prior to Oates being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. “He was so smart, so hockey smart, that he saw things in where to go and how to beat guys that I didn’t even fathom — and I thought I knew the game. He saw what everybody was doing, on our team and on their team. It was a treat to play with him.”
Hull and Oates (a classic fantasy hockey team name by the way) finished 1990-91 second and third in scoring, respectively, behind none other than Gretzky.
Oates had 115 points and his 90 assists were second only to Gretzky’s 122. Astoundingly, Oates did that in a mere 61 games played, while Hull added 45 assists to finish with 131 points and ended up winning the Hart Trophy as well as the Lester B. Pearson Award. Hull finished second to Gretzky in Lady Byng voting with only 22 penalty minutes on the season compared to Gretzky’s 16 PIMs.
Hull also had a league-leading 29 power-play goals that year on his team’s top unit alongside Oates.
“Adam mastered the power play in the way that nobody else did,” Hull said. “He played down low on his right side and it worked. He’d get one look at the net, the defenceman would have to turn his stick to the net, and that left a perfect lane for him to pass it to me.”
The son of Blackhawks and Jets legend Bobby Hull had 26 multi-goal games that year, including four hat-tricks, but never scored more than three in a single game. Hull scored his 50th goal in his 49th game of the season and his best stretch was a one-month run from Jan. 22 to Feb. 23 during which he scored in 13 consecutive games, amassing 22 goals and 37 points as the Blues went 10-3.
Hull added another 11 goals in 13 post-season contests but the Blues were eliminated by the North Stars in the second round.
According to Hockey-Reference’s era-adjusted statistics algorithm, Hull’s 86-goal campaign is the most impressive season in NHL history from a goal-scoring point of view just ahead of Alex Ovechkin’s 65-goal effort in 2007-08.
“I don’t think the numbers do it justice,” Oates said of Hull. “He was just a fantastic hockey player and we had great chemistry. The year he scored 86 goals, I can’t tell you how good that was.”