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Every number has a story, some that will surprise you

by John Kreiser /
You don't have to be a mathematician to love numbers -- especially hockey numbers. Each tells a story of its own, whether it's 1,963 (Wayne Gretzky's career assists, more than any other player's points total); 1,767 (Gordie Howe's record for games played, just 11 more than Mark Messier, who opted to retire before breaking the record) or 5,771 (players listed as playing in at least one NHL regular-season game)

If, as the saying goes, every picture tells a story -- well, so do a lot of the numbers we never think about.

Here are a few of the more interesting NHL facts and figures involving position players that you might not have known:

Ready, aim fire -- In 2008-09, Alex Ovechkin became only the second player in NHL history to take more than 500 shots on goal in a season. His 528 shots are second in League history to the 550 taken by Boston's Phil Esposito in 1970-71, a season in which Espo shattered NHL scoring records with 76 goals and 152 points.

But the record for shots on goal (a stat first officially tabulated in 1967-68) in a career isn't held by either Ovie or Espo.

In fact, the mark is held by the man who gave up No. 7 to Esposito when the Bruins retired his number years later. Hall of Famer Ray Bourque never came close to Esposito's single-season record (his highest total was 390 shots, in 1995-96). But by firing away for 21 seasons, Bourque retired in 2001 with ownership of the career mark for shots on goal with a whopping 6,266.

That's an incredible 840 more than the runner-up, Marcel Dionne, who holds the mark for forwards with 5,366. He's followed by Al MacInnis (5,157), Mike Gartner (5,090), Wayne Gretzky (5,089) and Brendan Shanahan, the leader among players active in 2008-09 with 5,086. They are the only players to exceed 5,000 shots for a career.

Plus signs -- Bourque was also an impressive plus-528 during his 21 NHL seasons. But that's only good enough to be a distant second on the all-time list since the stat was first made official in the 1960s. Hall of Famer Larry Robinson is the runaway leader in career plus-minus at plus-730, a mark that's not likely to be broken anytime soon. Besides Bourque, only Gretzky (plus-518) and Bobby Clarke (plus-506) are more than plus-500 for their careers. The active leader is Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom at plus-409. Dallas' Jere Lehtinen is next at plus-159.

Robinson's 1976-77 season, in which he was plus-120 for a Montreal team that lost only eight games, is one of two in which a player was more than plus-100 for a full season. Bobby Orr holds the record with a plus-124 rating in 1970-71.

Working overtime -- For a couple seasons in the early 1990s, the NHL played an 84-game schedule -- 41 home games, 41 away games and two "neutral-site" contests that were played in non-NHL cities. The League returned to the 82-game schedule in 1995-96, but not before leaving two men holding a record that will be tough to break unless the schedule gets longer.

In 1992-93, center Jimmy Carson was traded from Detroit to Los Angeles and wound up setting an NHL record by playing in 86 games. The mark was tied in 1993-94 when forward Bob Kudelski split the season between Ottawa (42 games) and Florida (44).

Five players -- Bill Guerin, Glenn Anderson, Mark Lamb, Rem Murray and Joe Reekie -- are next with 85. Guerin (2000-01) and Murray (2002-03) have played in the most games since the schedule reverted to 82 games.

Where did he find the time? -- Players who pile up lots of penalty minutes are rarely big scorers -- among the 15 most-penalized players in 2008-09, only St. Louis' David Backes (31) had more than 20 goals.

Nor do today's players pile up penalty minutes at the rate their predecessors in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s did. Daniel Carcillo, who split the season between Phoenix and Philadelphia, led the NHL in '08-09 with 254 PIM -- and was the only player to exceed 200. He scored three goals.

That's what makes Al Secord's performance in 1981-82 all the more remarkable. Secord scored 44 goals in '81-82, and did it while spending 303 minutes in the penalty box. Secord is the only player to score more than 40 goals and spend more than 300 minutes in the box in the same season. Dave "Tiger" Williams (35 goals and 343 PIM with Vancouver in 1980-81) is the only other player to score 30 or more goals while spending 300+ minutes in the box.

Secord must have learned something about the value of staying out of the box. In 1982-83, he cut his penalty minutes to 180 -- and boosted his goal total to 54.

Right place, right time -- There have been 85 seasons in NHL history in which a player has scored 10 or more game-winning goals (the single-season record for game-winners is 16 , accomplished by Boston's Phil Esposito in 1970-71 and 1971-72 and matched by Quebec's Michel Goulet in 1983-84). None of the 85 is more unlikely that Jeremy Roenick's 10 game-winners in 2007-08.

In 84 of the 85 seasons in which a player reached double figures in GWGs, he scored 25 or more goals (only three of the 84 had less than 30). Roenick's performance in 2007-08 was remarkable because he scored his 10 game-winners on just 14 goals -- an example of timely scoring that will be hard to duplicate.

Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup Champs GearFiring blanks -- Through 2008-09, nearly 1,300 non-goalies have skated in at least one NHL regular-season game without scoring a goal. None had as many chances as Steven Halko, a defenseman who played parts of six seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes from 1997-98 through 2002-03.

Halko had 15 assists in his 155 NHL regular-season games, but never managed to score a goal. That's the most games played by anyone in NHL history without scoring at least once.

Halko was no longer a Hurricane in 2003-04 when Carolina called up a defenseman named Brad Fast for his lone NHL appearance. Fast made the most of his chance, scoring a goal before being sent back to the minors. He's one of three players who've played only one NHL game and scored a goal -- the others are center Rolly Huard (Toronto, 1930-31) and defenseman Dean Morton (Detroit, 1989-90).

At least Halko managed to hit the score sheet -- unlike Gord Strate, a defenseman who played 61 games during parts of three seasons with Detroit in the late 1950s and never managed a point. No other player has skated in as many games without managing at least one point.

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