1. Sports
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

The Futility of "All Time" NHL Records

It's unfair to compare numbers recorded in different NHL eras.

By

Perhaps the most impressive point about the Chicago Blackhawks 2013 undefeated streak is that it sets a legitimate all-time NHL record.

The Blackhawks came away with points in their first 23 games of the season, winning 20 and losing three in overtime or a shootout.

That's never been done before.

In the days before regular season overtime, the three losses would have gone into the books as ties, as would the three shootout wins and four overtime wins during the streak.

Whichever way you want to look at it, and whichever era you want to compare it to, the 2013 Blackhawks have put up the best start to a season in NHL history.

It's a record that comes without an asterisk, without any relevant argument that the game is so much different now compared to 20, 50, or 100 years ago.

The same can't be said about many NHL records.

Most "all-time" marks are relatively meaningless these days, because teams play 82 games every year, as opposed to the 70-game seasons of 1950s and 1960s, or the 44 or 50-game seasons before that.

"All-time" playoff records are even more misleading.

They're practically useless, because the Stanley Cup Playoffs are twice as long as they were before 1968.

So it's inevitable that almost all individual playoff records belong to players from recent decades.

We also have to consider how radically the game has changed.

Statistical standards have varied over the years, as the NHL evolved.

A simple reference to hard numbers, with no context, tells a very narrow story.

(The evolution argument might be used to denigrate the Blackhawks' 2013 record. Detractors could claim that in the overtime/shootout era, many teams play to ensure at least one point, and that's why so many of Chicago's game were tied after 60 minutes. Wouldn't happen in the old days, they'll say.)

Looking at one prominent example of how history skews the historical record, consider the milestones reached by Martin Brodeur in recent years.

The Devils' goaltending legend is the NHL's all-time leader in games played, wins, shutouts, minutes played, and saves made.

He's also the only goalie to win at least 30 games in 12 straight seasons, and win 35 in 11 straight years.

He's an automatic Hall of Fame choice. Nobody can argue that.

But his long list of numerical milestones doesn't make him the greatest goaltender ever. Not without a fight.

Does more career wins make Brodeur (1993-present) better than two acknowledged giants: Terry Sawchuk (1950-70) and Jacques Plante (1953-73)?

How about Georges Vezina (1910-25) or Bill Durnan (1943-50)?

Pointless questions, not just because nobody saw them all play, but because hockey changes. And no position has changed more than goaltending.

NHL players have never been more skilled or fit than they are right now, the game never faster or more demanding.

It's hard to imagine a 44-year-old Plante playing in today's league, or a dissipated, alcoholic Sawchuk still holding a job at the age of 40.

So does Brodeur get credit for being born at the right time?

How many games would Georges Vezina win in 1960 or 2010? Another pointless question, because a modern Vezina would be a very different man than the one in the history books.

There are a few cases where history favors the old guys:

Alongside all his achievements, Martin Brodeur has also lost more games than any other goaltender, by virtue of having played so many of them.

It's safe to say that Glenn Hall's record of 502 consecutive games (1955-1962) will never be touched.

Henri Richard's 11 Stanley Cups in a career is untouchable as well.

But with a few exceptions, it won't be long before the record book is dominated by players who began no later than the 1970s. At that point, record-keeping becomes a disservice to history.

To properly represent the past, the NHL needs three sets of all-time records: pre-World War II, 1945-1967, and 1967-present.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.