There hasn’t been a lot of good news for the Colorado Avalanche this year, so here’s something to cheer up Avs fans: Today marks an important milestone in franchise history. Yes, it’s been exactly 36 years since Jacques Richard scored his 50th goal of the 1980-81 season, becoming the first player in franchise history to join that exclusive club.
Modern fans could be forgiven for not being all that familiar with Richard; he doesn’t quite carry the name value of other Nordique/Avalanche 50-goal scorers like Michel Goulet and Joe Sakic. Richard was a journeyman who’d bounced around for most of the 70s, topping the 20-goal mark only once. But in his first full season in Quebec, he ended up getting put on a line with Paul and Anton Stastny, and the trio clicked. Richard scored 52 goals that year, and then only 24 more over the rest of his NHL career, making him one of the great one-hit wonders in league history.
The Nordiques/Avalanche aren’t alone here. When you look back at the list of players to be the first in a franchise’s history to hit the 50-goal mark, you run into a lot of names that are exactly the ones you’d expect to see. For the Canadiens, of course, it was Rocket Richard. For the Blackhawks, Bobby Hull. You get legends like Mike Bossy for the Islanders, Marcel Dionne for the Kings, and Johnny Bucyk and Phil Esposito (in the same year) for the Bruins.
But you also run into a handful of unexpected names, guys you wouldn’t expect to see in a particular franchise’s history books. Today, in honor of Richard’s milestone night, let’s look at five other unlikely players who were the very first in franchise history to hit the 50-goal plateau
A half-dozen Flyers have scored 50 in a season, including well-known names like John LeClair, Mark Recchi, Bill Barber, Tim Kerr and Reggie Leach. But the sixth member of that group is a bit of a surprise. It’s not Eric Lindros or Bobby Clarke, or even Jeff Carter. It’s the guy who was the first to join the club, Rick MacLeish.
MacLeish’s feat was maybe even more surprising given that it came in his first full NHL season, in 1972-73. The former first overall pick had played 43 games over two seasons and scored just three goals heading into the season, but caught fire to finish with 50 goals on the nose. He also had 50 assists, tying him with Clarke as the first Flyers to have a 100-point season.
MacLeish never hit those heights again, although he did have 49 goals in 1976-77. Those were his only two 40-goal seasons, and he finished his career with a respectable 349 over the course of 14 seasons, as well as the Cup-winning goal in 1974.
Toronto Maple Leafs
This name probably isn’t a surprise, in the sense that most old-time hockey fans know that beleaguered captain Rick Vaive was the first Leaf to score 50. But it’s still strange to think that it took until 1981-82 for a Toronto player to hit the mark; at 65 years, no franchise has taken anywhere near that long to finally have someone crack the milestone.
There were a few near misses along the way, most notably Frank Mahovlich’s 48 goals in 1960-61. Lanny McDonald and Darryl Sittler also topped 45 goals in the 1970s. But it wasn’t until Vaive came along and did it three years in a row that a Maple Leaf finally hit the mark.
If anything, the Leafs’ second 50-goal man was even more unlikely; that would be Gary Leeman in 1989-90. And the third was odd in its own right – in 1992-93, midseason trade pickup Dave Andreychuk became the first player (and still only) player to join the 50-goal club while scoring 25 or more for two different teams.
New York Rangers
Like the Maple Leafs, the Rangers are an Original Six team that can boast just three 50-goal scorers. The first of those came in 1972, but it wasn’t Jean Ratelle, Andy Bathgate or Rod Gilbert. It was winger Vic Hadfield.
Hadfield was in his eleventh season with the Rangers by the time that 1971-72 season rolled around, and he hadn’t exactly given much indication that he was ready to join the Rocket and the Golden Jet in what was still an exclusive club with just five members. His best goal-scoring season had come in 1968-69, when he’d topped out at 26. He’d only finished above the 20-goal one other time in his career.
But in 1971, he was named Rangers captain and put on a line with Gilbert and Ratelle, forming the wonderfully named GAG line, for goal-a-game. Just about everything went in that year, as all three players had at least 43 goals and 97 points.
Hadfield never got close to that mark again, topping out at 31 with the Penguins in 1975. He remains the only member of the GAG line who hasn’t had his number retired in New York, even though his goals record stood until it was broken in 1994 by Adam Graves.
The Flames have had more than their share of 50-goal seasons. They’ve enjoyed 10 in all, by eight different players, ranging from legends (Lanny McDonald) to modern legends (Jarome Iginla) to stars from of the glory years (Gary Roberts, Theo Fleury, Joe Nieuwendyk, Joey Mullen) to Hakan Loob (Hakan Loob).
But none of those Calgary stars were the first Flames to hit 50. In fact, the first Flames wasn’t a Calgary player at all. Remember, we’re talking franchise history here. And that means we’re headed back to Atlanta.
The 1978-79 Flames were quite possible the best last-place team in NHL history. They finished the season with 90 points, the league’s sixth-best record overall but good for just fourth place in the four-team Patrick. And their leading goal-scorer was a 22-year-old kid named Guy Chouinard.
Chouinard was in his third full season, and had scored a career-best 28 goals the previous season. But he blew up in 1978-79, potting 50 goals and finishing with 107 points. He’d never approach those totals again, but did have a pair of 30-goal seasons, and he stuck around for the team’s move to Calgary in 1980. When he was traded to the Blues in 1983, he left as the franchise’s all-time scoring leader.
Detroit Red Wings
The Wings’ list of 50-goal scorers is one of the stranger ones in the league. It’s Steve Yzerman a bunch of times plus one from Sergei Fedorov, and then a whole lot of “what?”. John Ogrodnick, sure, 50 seems high but he was decent. Danny Grant? That didn’t really happen. Ray Sheppard? Now you’re just making things up.
By comparison, the team’s first 50-goal man seems downright reasonable. Mickey Redmond may not be a Hall-of-Famer – heck, he only scored 233 goals in his career – but he actually hit the 50-goal mark twice, in both 1972-73 and 1973-74. And that came after a 40-goal season. Sure, those three years accounted for roughly 60% of the goals he’d score over the course of his career, but they still count. Back problems derailed his career after that second 50-goal season, and he’s since gone on a memorable broadcasting career.
So sure, Redmond was pretty good. But given the history of this franchise, you could be forgiven for thinking he might have been beaten to the mark by someone like Frank Mahovlich, Marcel Dionne or, oh yeah, Gordie Freaking Howe. Nope. Mr. Hockey’s best goal-scoring season came two full decades before Redmond’s first 50-goal season, back in 1952-53. He finished that season with 49.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.