Pittsburgh Penguins v Toronto Maple Leafs

Last year Backhand Shelf reader/listener Nick put a chart together comparing Steven Stamkos’ goal output to the greatest seasons of all time here. The smart thing is, he didn’t use the raw stat of “goals” to make the comparison – he used standard deviations from the mean. It’s the most logical way to compare stats across generations.

This year he’s back with more, evaluating just how good Sidney Crosby’s numbers are. His assist total, specifically, is impressive.


- Commentary by Nick

First, a look at Crosby’s total goals (against some of the best seasons ever), which aren’t about to blow anyone out of the water.

crosby chart 1

Conclusion: Crosby definitely isn’t hanging with the greats as far as goals go (not surprising, since his season is impressive due to assists).

His points however (5.19 standard deviations from the mean) put him right in the middle of the greatness pack. The only people ahead of him are four dudes named Lemieux, Lemieux, Gretzky, and Gretzky. It’s safe to say his points totals are about as impressive as any season not had by Lemieux or Gretzky, and even then it’s right near Lemieux’s 1995-1996 season.

Because we’re dazzled by Crosby’s assists and not his goals, here’s the same graph with assists and points (instead of goals and points). Crosby’s point is the red diamond.

crosby chart 2

  • Here’s where it gets interesting. Crosby’s assists (5.94 standard deviations from the mean) and points (5.19) place him right in the middle of some of the best seasons ever. He’s higher in both stats than Jagr’s best season.
  • At the risk of setting the internet on fire… Crosby is outpacing the rest of the league in assists more than Lemieux did in his best seasons. I guess this is where I should be a buzz kill and provide the disclaimer: don’t forget that this season’s numbers really only amount to what would’ve been a third of a year in any other season, and I’m sure that Lemieux’s best 26-game stretch over that period was even more insane. But still, for the sake of headlines, how does “CROSBY: BETTER PLAYMAKER THAN LEMIEUX” sound? (Editor’s Note: love the idea, but chose to opt out.)
  • All jokes aside, though, Crosby’s definitely on pace for a legitimately great season. He’s currently performing better as a set-up man than Lemieux or Jagr did during their best seasons and is only slightly below Gretzky during his 92-goal year.
  • This wasn’t the point of the exercise, but Gretzky’s assists in 1985-1986 (the year he got 215 points) are almost two standard deviations ahead of anybody else. That’s ridiculous, and it’s probably evidence that Gretzky sold his soul to Satan. It’s probably as good a sign as any that this record will never be broken. For his assists to be as impressive as Gretzky’s that year (calculated using of standard deviations from the mean, which should correct for there being less goals in this era than in Gretzky’s), Crosby would need another 10 assists, for 43 assists in 28 games.
  • Round 2 of the disclaimer: the seasons on the graph were selected last year for their goals or points totals (to compare to Stamkos), not for their assists. So it’s possible that Adam Oates or someone has an equally impressive season, and it wouldn’t be wise to conclude that Crosby is having the 3rd-best playmaking season of all time. But still, we can say that he’s having an unbelievable first half, and that if he keeps it up his assists and points totals are certainly in the ballpark of with Lemieux’s and Gretzky’s best seasons.
  • Setting the internet on fire, part 2: how good could Crosby be if he was a better scorer than, say, Jakub Voracek (also with 12 goals in 27 games)? Maybe he’s sacrificing a few goals to get a ridiculous number of assists, since he’s had some respectable goals totals in the past, or maybe he’s more of an Adam Oates than Mario Lemieux. There’s plenty of ammunition to troll Pens fans with here: maybe Kunitz and Dupuis are carrying Crosby to the Hall of Fame. 20 of his 33 assists are at even strength, so Malkin and Neal aren’t the only guys deserving some of the credit.
  • Here’s the raw data from the second graph:
Player (year)

Std. Devs from mean

  Goals Points Assists
Jagr (1995-1996)




Lemieux (1995-1996)




Lemieux (1988-1989)




Gretzky (1985-1986)




Gretzky (1981-1982)




Crosby (2012-2013)




Last but not least, here’s a graph showing everyone’s games played (x-axis) and point totals (y-axis). Every dot on the graph is at least one player (guys with the same GP and PTS have their dots on top of each other, so you only see one). Not to start this whole process all over again, but Letang is comfortably in 3rd place despite having played less games AND being a defenseman. And St. Louis is having himself quite a playmaking season too, even though he’s in Crosby’s shadow.

And just in case anybody needed another wacky stat based on an even smaller sample size, Tobias Enstrom (a defenceman) has 11 assists in 13 games. If he had played every game and maintained his pace, he’d be in the St. Louis and Letang neighbourhood. Maybe he got lucky, or maybe he’s secretly the 3rd-best playmaker in the game.

crosby chart 3 fix