10. Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Montreal Canadiens, 1944-45
Richard established an NHL benchmark for greatness during the 1944-45 season when he became the league’s first 50-goal scorer, accomplishing the feat in a 50-game season. In a season in which Richard didn’t win a Stanley Cup ring or even the scoring title, the significance of 50 in 50 cannot be diminished. It would take another 16 years before anyone else would manage to score as many as 50 goals in a season (Bernie Geoffrion, in a 64-game season). Not until Mike Bossy scored twice in the final five minutes of the Islanders’ 50th game in 1980-81 did another player match Richard’s feat. For the Rocket, the 1944-45 season blasted him into iconic status, making him a superstar in the NHL and a living legend in his home province of Quebec. Considering it was the only season Richard would score 50 goals speaks volumes to how important that number was and still is today in hockey lore.
9. Phil Esposito, Boston Bruins, 1970-71
In the 1970-71 season, the Bruins set league records for goals (399), wins (57) and points (121), and it was Esposito who led the way. In 78 games, Espo shattered the league record for goals with 76, to go along with 76 assists for a league-record 152 points. It would take a decade before Wayne Gretzky would topple those marks. Boston players dominated the scoring race that season, with Bobby Orr, John Bucyk and Ken Hodge following Esposito in the scoring race, giving the B’s the top four overall scorers. Despite the Bruins’ being upset in the playoffs by a rookie goalie named Ken Dryden, this would be a special season for Esposito, as he captured the first of four straight scoring titles and became the first player ever awarded the newly created Lester B. Pearson award for top player as voted by the players.
8. Gordie Howe, Detroit Red Wings, 1951-52
Howe’s longevity in the game is second to none. In six different seasons over a 12-year span, Howe was honored as the NHL’s MVP. Choosing between these seasons is difficult, but throw in an Art Ross Trophy and a perfect playoff run to a Stanley Cup title and it makes sense that the 1951-52 season stands out as Mr. Hockey’s best and one of the best individual seasons ever. In 1951-52, Howe was the leading producer on the “Production Line,” playing alongside Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay. Howe finished the season with a league-best 47 goals and added 39 assists to capture the scoring title by 17 points over Lindsay. In the postseason, Howe and the Wings dominated, winning eight straight games. Howe scored twice in his Stanley Cup finals debut.