Mario Lemieux‘s career can be difficult to measure. We know he was an unrivaled physical talent in size and skill. We know his offensive production was in another stratosphere. We know his career was a fraction of what it could have been due to injuries, illness, and a four-season retirement at 31 years old. How can we use adjusted statistics to measure a career that scarcely resembles anyone else’s?
915 regular season games. That’s it. While Lemieux’s career was tragically short, it also managed to also be extremely long in duration. His rookie season (1984-85) at age 19 came only four year after Gordie Howe‘s final retirement. His first Stanley Cup season (1990-91) at age 25 was Jaromir Jagr‘s rookie season. His final season (2005-06) at age 40 was played in the limelight of Sidney Crosby‘s debut. Yet spanning 22 hockey seasons, the lifetime Penguin exceeded 70 games on only five occasions.
So, what was Mario’s best NHL season?
MARIO LEMIEUX, UNADJUSTED & ADJUSTED STATISTICS, SELECTED SEASONS
GP = Games Played; G = Goals; A = Assists; PTS = Points; Ad = Adjusted
At first glance, identifying Lemieux’s best year is obvious – 1988-89. By both adjusted and unadjusted totals, his age-23, Gretzky-esque season is his greatest output by goals, assists, and points. But his statistical dashboard is a chaotic thread of dominance across abbreviated seasons, gaps, and eras of play. His zenith is so long and diverse that the four potential top seasons selected above span his age-23 season and age-35 seasons. This 13-year odyssey includes Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment and recovery, debilitating back pain, a 44-month retirement, a Hall of Fame induction, and multiple comebacks.
As a result, Lemieux’s best work is a hodgepodge of less than complete seasons in vastly different settings. Below is a summary of the environments for the candidate seasons for Mario’s best work.
FAVOURABILITY OF NHL SCORING ENVIRONMENT, SELECTED SEASONS
|Total Goals per Game||6.00||7.48||7.26||6.28||5.52|
|Total Assists per Game||10.00||12.50||12.23||10.46||9.40|
|Regular Season Games per Team||82||80||84||82||82|
|Number of Skaters per Team||18||18||18||18||18|
Baseline = Neutral Environment per Adjusted Statistics
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! Lemieux’s timeline only further emphasizes the need for adjusted statistics, even within a career.
Adjusted Pace: Season
In order to identify Lemieux’s true best season, we need a way to adjust for missed time. Whether a function of acute injury, illness, distress from wear and tear, surgeries, suspension, personal matters, coaching decisions, or myriad other reasons, hockey players frequently miss time. Of the 906 skaters getting into a game in 2018-19, only 106 (or 11.6%) played a full schedule in the NHL’s last pre-COVID 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 useful figures, but in the spirit of adjusted statistics, we can express this in a more scalable way.
When referring to any season going forward, meet our newest Adjusted Hockey-developed stats – Pace and Adjusted Pace. These measures can be applied to the NHL’s unadjusted figures, and more commonly in this space, to adjusted statistics. Each offers an easy way to express production over a familiar, 82-game schedule.
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 offensive pace is calculated at 92 goals, 123 assists and 215 points, respectively. Any measure of Pace will have a plus sign (+) at the end of it to identify it is as a pace statistic, as opposed to a raw counting number. In the case of 1988-89 Lemieux, he performed to a mesmerizing Pace of 85 G+, 123 A+ and 215 PTS+.
Pace (G+, A+, PTS+)Unadjusted goals, assists, or points per game expressed over 82 games played.
Example: In 1998-99, Eric Lindros is credited with 93 points in 71 games.
Lindros’ points Pace is 107 PTS+ in 1998-99 (i.e., [93 Pts ÷ 71 GP] x 82).
Pace can be applied to every individual skater season ever played, smoothly comparing the efficiency of each offensive performance in NHL history. Adjusted Pace, meanwhile, is a more effective contextual measure, neutralizing any performance both to the scoring environment and across 82 games. With Lemieux’s adjusted totals from 1988-89 in hand (71 adjusted goals, 94 adjusted assists, 165 adjusted points in 78 adjusted games), 1988-89 Lemieux performs to an Adjusted Pace of 75 AdG+, 99 AdG and 174 AdPTS+. By using an 82-game rate on a level playing field, Adjusted Pace opens significant doors in evaluating highly frequent incomplete seasons, and as we’ll further observe, a player’s career.
Adjusted Pace (AdG+, AdA+, AdPTS+)Adjusted goals, assists, or points per game expressed over 82 games played.
Example: In 1998-99, Eric Lindros is credited with 106 adjusted points in 71 adjusted games.
Lindros’ adjusted points Pace is 122 PTS+ in 1998-99 (i.e., [106 AdPts ÷ 71 AdGP] x 82).
What does Adjusted Pace tell us about Lemieux’s top seasons?
MARIO LEMIEUX, ADJUSTED PACE, SELECTED SEASONS
AdG+ = Adjusted Goal Pace; AdA+ = Adjusted Assist Pace; AdPTS+ = Adjusted Points Pace
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 at 183 AdPTS+. Though it is certainly splitting hairs given the off-ice considerations, 1995-96 is Mario’s most outstanding neutralized pace. We can now compare Lemieux’s best seasons by Adjusted Pace to, well, everyone else’s – Morenz, Richard, Howe, Beliveau, Orr, Gretkzy, Jagr, Crosby, McDavid. (These types of articles will be the feature of many future posts on this site.)
By combining Lemieux’s three Adjusted Pace statistics (AdG+/AdA+/AdPTS+) in a single stat line, we can then say his Adjusted Pace Line in 1995-96 is 78/104/183. This trio of digits serves as a key summarized measure for Adjusted Hockey. Not only can it 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: Career
We’ve established that Adjusted Pace is an excellent measure to frame an individual season in a familiar way. But what if we take it further and express Adjusted Pace across full careers? Instantly, you can take a player’s lifetime output, eliminate the noise of the era they played in and the length of their career, and express it in an understandable, contextualized way. Having adjusted for each individual season, career Adjusted Pace becomes a highly valuable tool.
Let’s take Adjusted Pace for a spin with some examples:
- Mario Lemieux, NHL stats: 690 G, 1,033 A, 1,733 PTS in 915 GP
Adjusted Pace: 55/82/136. Over the course of his career, an average Mario 82-game season in a neutral environment is 136 points. This is the best rate of all-time, albeit in 617 fewer AdGP than Gretzky. Before adjustment? 155 PTS+. The overall favourable environment of his day scales back Lemieux 16 points per 82 games.
- Jean Beliveau, NHL stats: 507 G, 712 A, 1,219 PTS in 1,125 GP
Adjusted Pace: 36/51/88. “Le Gros Bill,” a cherished icon, holds up very well as the years pass. His 88 AdPTS+ remain an all-time top-20 mark a half-century after his retirement.
- Patrick Marleau, NHL stats: 566 G, 631 A, 1,197 PTS in a record 1,779 GP
Adjusted Pace: 28/30/59. Marleau’s career is rightfully celebrated as the longest of all-time via games played. But is a 59-point per season forward a Hall of Famer?
- John LeClair, NHL stats: 406 G, 413 A, 819 PTS in 967 GP
Adjusted Pace: 37/37/73. A relatively short career, but averaging 37 adjusted goals per season is rarified air. For comparison, Hall of Fame power forward Cam Neely is at 39/28/67, but maintained over roughly three fewer seasons of games.
- Erik Karlsson, NHL stats (through 2020-21): 143 G, 482 A, 625 PTS in 788 GP
Adjusted Pace: 16/53/69. Through 12 NHL seasons, Karlsson’s 69 points are stunningly fourth all-time among defencemen (min. 500 AdGP). Even with an inevitable decline ahead, only 10 others at his position exceed 60 AdPTS+. All are in the Hall of Fame.
This is just a sneak peak of the potential of Adjusted Pace in shedding light on player performance. With this measure available, we’ve unleashed a valuable weapon to contextualize and compare any individual NHL season, or any NHL career. Adjusted Pace can also assist with evaluating Hall of Fame candidacies, and will be a critical piece of our PPS Player Cards.
So, let’s go ahead and fill in Jarome Iginla‘s adjusted pace to our sample player card. The snapshot of a neutralized “Iginla season” spanning his 20-year NHL career is a pace of 37 goals, 38 assists, and 75 points. That’s averaging 37 adjusted goals per 82 games… for 19.3 complete seasons! LeClair, noted above, delivered his impressive adjusted pace over six fewer seasons of games than Iginla. Neely’s pace, meanwhile, was maintained over only 49% of Iginla’s career length. Yes, Iginla still topped Hall of Famer Cam Neely’s career pace by eight adjusted points per season, but did so for double(!) as long. We’re further seeing the utility of having adjusted paces available, including how they fit into the player cards.
Before we wrap up our introduction to Adjusted Statistics, we’ll pause to scrutinize the concepts in our journey to date.