Peak and Pace

Mario Lemieux's sensational and unique career offers the perfect canvas to illustrate our latest season and career metrics. "Mario Lemieux 001" by rchdj10 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

These four seasons handpicked from Lemieux’s career generate several observations. First, for those scoring at home, Lemieux does not match Gretzky’s single season adjusted point peak of 170, maxing out at 165 adjusted points in 1988-89, albeit in four fewer games played. Close, but no cigar. He does, however, produce 71 adjusted goals that season – two more than The Great One’s best of 69. In the Adjusted NHL, Wayne Gretzky will not have the highest goal total in a season. But will Mario hold the title in the end?

NEW STATISTIC:Peak or Adjusted Peak (Pk or AdPk): The maximum number of goals, assists, or points reached by an individual in any single season; peak amounts need not be in the same season.Example: Jarome Iginla’s season-high for goals (52, 2001-02), assists (55, 2006-07) and points (98, 2007-08) represent his Peak totals. Iginla’s season-high for adjusted goals (60, 2001-02), assists (55, 2006-07 and 2008-09), and points (110, 2001-02) represent his Adjusted Peak totals.

We also identify that by Lemieux’s age-30 season in 1995-96 that the offensive haven of his and Gretzky’s youth is winding down – he is penalized only 2 goals and 3 assists from his original 161-point tally. By Lemieux’s iconic 2000-01 return from retirement, he is credited additional points (+6) in a half-season, a result of the stifled offensive climate he has rejoined. The four seasons highlighted above compare to our baseline, as follows:


Environmental FactorBaseline1989199319962001
Total Goals per Game6.007.487.266.285.52
Total Assists per Game10.0012.5012.2310.469.40
Regular Season Games per Team8280848282
Number of Skaters per Team1818181818

Incredibly, from Lemieux’s 85-goal, 199-point signature season in 1988-89 to his miraculous 2000-01 comeback season, 26% fewer goals are scored in an average NHL contest. A 100-point season by a player in 1988-89 has become the equivalent of a 74-point season only thirteen years later!

But let’s get back to our original question – peak Gretzky vs. peak Lemieux. We’ve normalized the numbers, but how do we navigate the disparity in games played during their peak seasons? Gretzky deserves credit for maintaining his worldly production over more games, and as such, bests Lemieux’s highest single season point total in the Adjusted NHL. However, in order to identify Lemieux’s best season – let alone his best season against Gretzky’s best season – we need a way to adjust for missed time. Fortunately, I’ve developed new statistics to achieve exactly that.

Whether a function of acute injury, distress from wear and tear, surgeries, rest, suspension, personal reasons, coaching decisions, or myriad other reasons, hockey players frequently miss time. Of the 558 skaters dressing for opening night for their respective franchises, only 106 (19%) played in 82 games or more in 2018-19, the NHL’s last complete season. Most leaderboards include per-game counting stats for goals, assists or points to provide context as to the rate at which players accrued scoring totals. These are valuable figures, but in the spirit of adjusted statistics, the results may easily be taken further. Meet our newest measure – Pace. Pace can be applied to both the NHL’s unadjusted counting figures, and more commonly in this space, to adjusted statistics.

NEW STATISTIC:Pace (+): The number of goals, assists, or points scored by an individual per 82 games played. Example: In 1996-97, Peter Forsberg is credited with 86 points in 65 games. Forsberg’s Points Pace is 108 PTS+ in 1996-97 (i.e., [86 Pts ÷ 65 GP] x 82).

The application is simple. Consider Lemieux’s 85 goals, 114 assists, and 199 points across 76 NHL games in 1988-89. Applying that performance over 82 games, his goal scoring pace is calculated at 92 (i.e., [85 G ÷ 76 GP] x 82); doing the same for assists and points, we get paces of 123 assists and 215 points, respectively. Any measure of Pace will have a plus (+) sign at the end of it to define it is as a pace statistic, as opposed to a raw counting number. In the case of 1988-89 Lemieux, he performed to a Pace of 85 G+, 123 A+ and 215 PTS+.  

NEW STATISTIC:Adjusted Pace (Ad+): The number of adjusted goals, assists, or points scored by an individual per 82 games played. Example: In 2011-12, Evgeni Malkin is credited with 122 adjusted points in 75 games. Malkin’s Adjusted Points Pace is 133 AdPTS+ in 2011-12 (i.e., [122 AdPts ÷ 75 GP] x 82).

Pace, of course, can be applied just as easily to adjusted statistics. This is a highly effective contextual measure, as Adjusted Pace neutralizes any performance both to the scoring environment and across an 82-game timeframe. With Lemieux’s adjusted totals from 1988-89 in hand (71 adjusted goals, 94 adjusted assists, totaling 165 adjusted points in 78 adjusted games) and executing the same calculation, 1988-89 Lemieux performs to an Adjusted Pace of 75 AdG+, 99 AdG and 174 AdPTS+. Adjusted pace can be applied to every individual skater season ever played, smoothly comparing each offensive performance in NHL history in a neutralized environment.

By combining Lemieux’s three Adjusted Pace statistics (G+/A+/PTS+) in a single stat line, we can then say his Adjusted Pace Line in 1988-89 is 75/99/174. This trio of digits serves as a key summarized measure for The Adjusted NHL. Not only will this be used in the lens of a single season, but it can also just as easily be deployed over a stretch of seasons, or with a single team, or, across an entire career. Adjusted Pace stats open significant doors in evaluating highly frequent incomplete seasons, and as we’ll further observe, a player’s career efficiency. Our regular adjustments normalize over an 82-game schedule, but Pace performance smoothly pro-rates output across 82 games played – a significant distinction when it comes to games a player is sidelined.

NEW STATISTIC:Pace (or Adjusted Pace) Line: A combination of the pace of goals, assists, and points scored by an individual, expressed together in a G/A/PTS format over 82 games.Example: In 1993-94, Cam Neely is credited with 50 goals, 24 assists and 74 points in 49 games.Pace Line:                                       83/40/124Adjusted Pace Line:                         77/38/115Example: In his career, Cam Neely is credited with 395 goals, 299 assists and 694 points in 726 games.Pace Line:                                       45/34/79Adjusted Pace Line:                         39/28/67Uses: In his career, Cam Neely “slashed 39/28/67” or “played at an adjusted pace of 39/28/67.”

Let’s further illustrate the power of Pace, specifically using the Adjusted Pace (“Ad+”) rates of Lemieux’s selected four best seasons identified earlier.


F, Pittsburgh PenguinsUnadjustedAdjustedAdjusted Pace

With Adjusted Pace, we’ve taken Lemieux’s best seasons above and extrapolated his adjusted production had he played in 82 games in each year. Remarkably, Lemieux’s best adjusted point pace is neither his dazzling 199-point season or his 160 points in 60 games resurgence following two months of radiation treatment. His 1995-96 campaign comes out on top as Lemieux’s adjusted peak (183 AdPTS+). Though it is certainly splitting hairs given the off-ice considerations in the respective seasons, we will select 1995-96 as the Lemieux’s peak season to challenge Gretzky.

Gretzky’s 1983-84 showcases his best Adjusted Pace. Though it was only his fourth-best season by unadjusted points (205) and third-best season by adjusted points (163), this is the only season in Gretzky’s first seven that he missed more than a single game – his 87 goals and 118 assists were earned over only 74 games. Unlike so many interrupted seasons in Lemieux’s career, this is the only ‘what if’ season for Gretzky. Six missed games at the peak of The Great One’s powers may have impacted the all-time season records, as his totals were five goals and 10 points away from his own plateaus.

So, let’s get our answer – Peak Gretzky vs. Peak Lemieux.


PlayerAgeSeasonUnadjustedAdjustedAdjusted Pace

Adjusted scoring paces exceeding 176 points each is irrefutably incredible. But the debate is settled – Peak Lemieux is better than Peak Gretzky. Just kidding! Of course, it would be irresponsible to award a champion of an all-time debate from such a fine line.  A difference of approximately four goals and three assists over 82 games – after pro-rating for missed games – is not going to be the nail in the coffin we may have hoped for when comparing these two legends. In terms of peak, is it just one season? Is it a stretch of seasons? Need the seasons be consecutive? How much credit is earned by playing more games at a similar pace? All valid questions that cannot be answered objectively.

What we can answer objectively is that after leveling the playing field under our comprehensive methodology, Lemieux’s goal, assist and point-scoring pace edges Gretzky’s in their single best seasons. Of course, there is value in playing more games at such a high level, making arguments for Gretzky’s single season output over Lemieux’s efficiency equally viable. Given a few more games in either season, each could have meaningfully titled the scale in their direction.

Clearly, the margin is razor thin between the two in terms of their most dominant single season performances. NHL scoring levels fluctuated so dramatically that Lemieux scoring 44 fewer points in four fewer games – just twelve seasons apart – produces a greater adjusted scoring pace. As we’ll be evaluating these two all-time greats from a career perspective later in our journey in the Adjusted NHL, we need not deliver our verdicts yet based on a few seasons. But to answer our original question: Gretzky’s adjusted peak production is greater, but Lemieux’s adjusted peak pace prevails.