when joe thornton's (or adam oates's) HHOF candidacy gets brought up, one of the first things people say is "guy led the league in assists 3 times. case closed." in thornton's case, it was three straight.
list of guys who led the league in assists three or more times, with the number in parentheses if higher than three: sedin, thornton, oates, jagr, gretzky (16), lemieux, orr (5), esposito, mikita, howe, lach, cowley, joe primeau, frank boucher. discounting the guys who played during or before WW2 (including lach, who to be fair had his best years after it), and also ignoring the most recent three (sedin, thornton, oates), that's a ridiculous group. the highest of company an offensive player can keep.
this is where you have to humour me, because i'm going to use henrik sedin as an example and some of you guys are going to roll your eyes. i'd been thinking about this since the end of last season but didn't want to jinx it. but barring an injury to crosby and a ridiculous hot streak, henrik clearly isn't going to lead the league in assists for a fourth straight time so now i can talk about it.
but what i want to ask is, what if he did lead the league this year? which is to say, what if a hypothetical player who wasn't a multiple hart/ross winner led the league in assists four times (amassing a total behind only orr and wayne) while contributing very little in terms of goal scoring (so, you could also extend this to thornton and oates). that elusive fourth assist title: how would it have changed the all-time ranking of sedin or thornton or oates?
- what if: forsberg had gotten hurt in '03 and big joe leads the league?
- or gretzky gets hurt in '91 and oates racks up another number one?
- or, in the completely hypothetical case, but i think this is the most interesting question: what if henrik had been awesome this year and crosby had been less awesome and he led the league in assists for a fourth straight time? that would be completely unprecedented outside of what the two greatest players of all time had done.
would you have to then include this player, who is a superstar but a pretty low rung superstar in the grand scheme of things, in any discussion of the top 10 playmakers of all time?
First thing that came to my mind is, that id H. Sedin leads the league in assists for 4 straight years, it tells a lot of his great playmaking but maybe it tells even more about the competition level the league currently has. I am not sure if I am selling Henrik short here but i never felt that he is all-time great playmaker. Obviously he is one of the best in his time, but i think Thornton as a better all-time playmaker.
I am not sure if Oates leading the league in assists one more times changes my percpection about him a lot if at all.
Lots of things here. First off, Henrik is a late bloomer. He didn't have a PPG season until his 8th year in 2008-'09 and has only had 20+ goals in a season twice. 776 points in 924 games puts him at 0.84 PPG in his career and if he is on a decline which it seems he might be, I can't see that number getting higher. That PPG stat is similar to several players no one would imagine putting in the HHOF. Now, granted they didn't peak like Henrik with a Hart, Art Ross, two 1st team all-stars and three years leading the NHL in assists, but he was at the top for such a short time and I am not sure he is even there anymore.
If there ever was a player who needed to win a Cup it was him. 2011 looks worse and worse for the Canucks. Henrik was -11 that entire postseason and was invisible in the finals against Boston while players like Marchand and Recchi on the other side made an impact against Vancouver. That hurts him and if there is a player who can become the exception to the rule when it comes to HHOF enshrinement it could be him. If he retired tomorrow is he in the HHOF? I don't think so. So what can he do from here on in?