The NHL’s Five Most Unbreakable RecordsJoel Auerbach/Getty Images
Hockey fans love records. Whether it’s goals or saves or penalty minutes, we can all recite a handful of league marks and argue over which current star is most likely to break them.
Unfortunately, the shifting nature of the pro game has left many of the league’s most famous records all but out of reach. Nobody’s ever going to get close to Wayne Gretzky’s 2,857 career points, or Teemu Selanne’s 76 goals as a rookie, or Glenn Hall’s 502 complete games. The same can probably be said for Bobby Orr’s +124 rating, and Dave Schultz’s 472 penalty minutes in a season, and any number of other longstanding records that were set in eras when the game was played differently.
But those are the ones that most fans know. Today, let’s dig a little deeper to find five obscure records that are virtually unbreakable, at least anytime soon. You may not have heard of at least a few, but that’s OK. Read on, and they might even win you a few bar bets.1
1. Most Goals Scored in One Game (in Which the Player Did Not Play)
It’s a relatively common refrain among hockey fans. “Right up until he scored that goal, I didn’t even notice him out there,” we’ll say about some notoriously enigmatic sniper. “He was invisible. I didn’t even realize he was playing.”
But late in the 2013-14 season, Nathan Horton took it one step further: He managed to get credit for scoring a goal in a game in which he quite literally did not play.
This one ends up being kind of complicated, as the “game” actually spans across two different matchups. On March 10, 2014, the Stars and Blue Jackets met in Dallas. At about 2:44 into the first period, Horton scored to give Columbus a 1-0 lead. Minutes later, the goal was all but forgotten when Stars forward Rich Peverley suffered a cardiac event and collapsed on the bench. Peverley survived,2 but the disturbing scene led to the game being postponed.
A makeup game was scheduled for one month later. But in the meantime, the NHL had to figure out how to handle the six minutes played in the first game. On the one hand, the league wanted to play a full 60-minute game, since fans were being asked to pay full price for tickets. On the other, it wouldn’t be fair to the Blue Jackets to start over from scratch, since they’d been leading when the original game was postponed.
The compromise: Horton’s goal would count, going into the official box score as being scored at the 0:00 mark of the first period,3 and the Jackets would start the game with a 1-0 lead.
But in the month between games, Horton was injured and couldn’t play in the rescheduled game. It all led to Horton getting credit for one of the strangest official stat lines in NHL history: no shots on goal taken, 0:00 of ice time, and one goal scored.
(This remained the most confusing and unimaginable accomplishment of Horton’s career right up until the following season, when he was traded for David Clarkson.)
2. Most Consecutive Stanley Cup Final Appearances by an Expansion Team
With the NHL starting down the path to adding teams for the first time in over a decade, it’s worth looking back at how past expansion teams have done. The record isn’t pretty. Some teams, like the Sharks, Senators, and Capitals, were embarrassingly bad for years before finally gaining respectability. Others, like the Ducks and Lightning, were merely below average. And some, like the Thrashers, Scouts, and Golden Seals, never found success in their new homes at all.
And then there were the St. Louis Blues, inarguably the most successful franchise team in the history of the league, if not in all of pro sports. In their very first season, they won their division and went to the final. In the next two, they were even better, appearing in the final twice more. From the moment they stepped foot on the ice, the Blues were the undisputed class of the West Division for three straight years.
That sounds impressive. And it is … just as long as you stop reading right about here.
The NHL’s expansion in 1967 spelled the end of the Original Six era, doubling the size of the league by adding six new franchises, including teams like the Kings, Flyers, Blues, and Penguins that are still around today. That was a good thing. But because this was still the NHL, they had to find a way to make the whole thing completely ridiculous. And that’s exactly what they did by coming up with the brainstorm of putting all six expansion teams in the same division.
That left the league with two divisions: the East, featuring the established six teams, and the West, featuring all of the terrible expansion teams. In that first expansion season in 1967-68, the Flyers finished first in the West with just 73 points, which would have been good for sixth in the East. That imbalance continued through the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons, with even the East’s very worst teams finishing ahead of almost everyone in the West.
But the playoff system was based on divisions, guaranteeing both the East and West the same four spots and assuring that each division would send one team to the Final. In each of the first three years, the West’s representative would end up being the Blues, who’d dutifully show up to face one of the East’s powerhouses. Not surprisingly, the Blues got creamed all three years, racking up a combined final record of 0-12.
It wasn’t until another round of expansion in 19714 that the league finally mixed the divisions and restored some competitive balance to the Final. The Blues lost in the first round that year, and they haven’t been back to the final since. At a lifetime 0-12, it’s hard to blame them.
3. Most Goals Scored in a Single Overtime
OK, we said that all of these records were virtually unbreakable, but we can probably go ahead and drop the qualifier on this one. It’s safe to say that nobody is breaking Ken Doraty’s record for most goals scored in a single overtime: three.
Today, fans are used to hockey overtime being sudden death. But in the NHL’s early days, that wasn’t always the case. In 1928, the league changed the rules to create a 10-minute overtime period in which a goal would not automatically end the game. That lasted until regular-season overtime was dropped altogether in 1943; when it was brought back in 1983, it was once again sudden death, and has remained that way ever since.
But that temporary quirk allowed Doraty to play the hero on January 16, 1934, when the Leafs and Senators headed into OT tied at 4. Doraty scored the eventual winner, then added two more before the extra period ended to give the Leafs a 7-4 win. That one overtime accounted for 20 percent of Doraty’s career production; he retired in 1938 with just 15 regular-season goals to his name.
For what it’s worth, Doraty also owns another overtime claim to fame: In 1933, he scored the winner in the sixth overtime of a playoff game between the Leafs and Bruins, which to this day remains the second longest game in league history.
As for anyone breaking his record of three goals in a single overtime, well, the closest anyone has come in the modern era is unofficially getting two on one shift.
4. Longest Shift
The Montreal Canadiens signed Alexander Semin a couple of weeks ago, leading many to wonder whether the notorious head case could possibly coexist with crusty coach Michel Therrien. But take heart, Habs fans; there is a precedent for this sort of thing working out. After all, Mike Keenan once won a Stanley Cup with Alex Kovalev.
That was back in 1994, when Kovalev was in his second NHL season and Keenan was known as being merely sadistic, but not yet completely nuts. The coach was already well established as a disciplinarian, though, and it was inevitable that he’d eventually have to lay down the law on the freewheeling Kovalev.
That moment came in February of 1994. Frustrated with Kovalev’s habit of staying out too long on shifts — a notorious superstar move that always drives coaches crazy — Keenan decided that the situation called for extreme measures. So with roughly five minutes left in the second period and the Russian youngster at the end of one of his typically elongated shifts, the coach decided to send a message. When Kovalev came to the bench, Keenan wouldn’t let him sit down, sending him right back out onto the ice. Then he did it again. He kept doing it for the rest of the period, refusing to let Kovalev come off for a rest until the horn sounded.
This was back before we had official time-on-ice stats, so the true length of the shift is up for debate. The official NHL video of the incident calls it five minutes, while most Ranger fans seem to remember it being more like seven, and Keenan recalls it as being closer to 10. At this point, we might as well go ahead and round it up to a full period.
Message delivered? Not really. In one version of the story that’s too funny not to just accept at face value, Kovalev didn’t even realize he was being punished, assuming instead that he was being rewarded for playing so well. He even scored a goal late in the shift, after which Keenan once again refused to let him near the bench.
Kovalev played in the NHL until 2013, occasionally doing weird or wonderful things. Keenan coached in the NHL until 2009, and was last seen in the KHL. And even with new rules that occasionally force players to stay out longer than they’d want, not too many have even come close to Kovalev’s five- (or seven-, or 10-) minute masterpiece.
5. Biggest Cap Hit
Ever since the NHL instituted a salary cap in 2005, fans have been keeping a careful eye on who makes what. That’s especially true at the very top of the charts, where the names of hockey’s top players are often found alongside the biggest individual cap hits.
For years, Alexander Ovechkin was the reigning king, coming in at just over $9.5 million based on a 13-year deal he signed back in 2008. This summer, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews took over the top spots, thanks to their new eight-year extensions that carry a cap hit of $10.5 million. Steven Stamkos may pass them both next summer, once his (yet-to-be-signed) extension with the Lightning kicks in.
And yet none of those guys holds the record for the single biggest cap hit in NHL history. In fact, they’re not even close. No, that record is held instead by former Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeremy Welsh.
It’s OK to admit that you have absolutely no idea who that is.
Welsh was an NCAA center who’d gone undrafted after three years with the Union College Dutchmen. Late in the 2011-12 season, the Hurricanes offered the then-23-year-old a contract to suit up for their final game of the season, which he signed on April 5, 2012. It was a standard entry-level deal, with a $92,500 signing bonus and a base salary well under $1 million, all prorated down to the one day actually remaining on the league calendar. So far, nothing especially interesting to see here.
But there’s a quirk in the CBA that’s meant to prevent teams from gaming the system by signing players to bonus-laden one-year deals after the season has started. It’s meant to cover rare cases like Mats Sundin signing with the Canucks halfway through the 2008-09 seasons, and it basically says that the player’s salary can be prorated for cap purposes, but the bonus can’t. Welsh signed with one day left in the season, meaning his bonus was counted as if he’d received that $92,500 on each and every day of the 185-day season. Add it all up, and his cap hit came out to an astounding $17.945 million.
That numbers looks like a typo, so much so that the sport’s salary cap bible, CapGeek.com, even had to create a special page titled “Is Jeremy Welsh’s 2011-12 cap hit a typo?”5 It’s even almost double what the league’s own rules would allow over the course of a full season — no player can carry a hit that’s worth more than 20 percent of his team’s cap over a full season.
But Welsh’s deal wasn’t for a full season. It was for one day. And for that one day, he carried the highest cap hit the league has ever seen, or ever will again for at least the next several years.
Welsh has played 25 career games for the Hurricanes and Canucks, scoring one goal and one assist, and spent last year in the minor leagues as part of the Blues’ organization. He may never make it back to the NHL. But even if he doesn’t, he can tells his grandkids stories about the time he was the highest-paid player in league history.
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