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Iginla holds place among greatest goal-scorers

by Rob Vollman

Jarome Iginla of the Colorado Avalanche is poised to become the 19th player in NHL history to score 600 goals.

Digging deeper into the numbers, an argument can be made that Iginla is one of the top 10 goal-scorers in history, possibly one of the top five.

To illustrate why Iginla statistically ranks higher than 19th among goal-scorers, consider the two players immediately ahead of him: Jari Kurri, who scored 601 goals, and Dino Ciccarelli, who scored 608.

Those Hall of Fame members began their careers in the 1980-81 season and were nearing their end when Iginla made his debut in 1996-97. That means Kurri and Ciccarelli scored their 600-plus goals in the high-scoring 1980s, when scoring was 25 percent higher than it is today, and avoided most of the low-scoring "dead puck" era Iginla had to contend with. That makes it unfair to compare their goal totals with Iginla's in absolute terms.

When making adjustments for the differences in average NHL scoring levels, Iginla moves up to fifth since the 1967 expansion, and Kurri and Ciccarelli drop to 31st and 26th.

Era-Adjusted Goal Scoring Leaders, 1967-68 to 2015-16
Years Active Player Games Played Goals Era-Adjusted Goals
1990-pres. Jaromir Jagr 1584 733 677
1979-1999 Wayne Gretzky 1487 894 644
1992-2014 Teemu Selanne 1451 684 634
1986-2006 Brett Hull 1269 741 625
1996-pres. Jarome Iginla 1429 599 585
1987-2009 Brendan Shanahan 1524 656 581
1986-2006 Luc Robitaille 1431 668 557
1983-2006 Steve Yzerman 1514 692 553
1988-2009 Joe Sakic 1378 625 553
1979-2004 Mark Messier 1756 694 540

To adjust a player's goal totals for the different scoring levels throughout history, his goals are divided by the League-wide average of goals per game that season, then multiplied by the modern standard of 5.33 goals per game. Once added up for all players and every season, Iginla has outscored all but four players: Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Gretzky, Teemu Selanne and Brett Hull.

Consistency has been a key factor in Iginla's success. From 2000-01 and 2011-12, Iginla had 11 straight 30-goal seasons. The streak was broken by the 48-game 2012-13 season, after which he scored 30 goals once more, with the Boston Bruins. Given that he had a 28-goal and a 29-goal season immediately before the streak, and a 29-goal season immediately after his season with Boston, Iginla wasn't very far removed from breaking the NHL record of 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons, shared by Mike Gartner and Jagr.

Consistency hasn't been the only driving factor behind Iginla's scoring dominance, and comparing his numbers with Gartner's illustrates another reason Iginla is among the top 10 goal-scorers in League history: peak scoring. Gartner's 520 era-adjusted goals in 1,432 games may rival Iginla's career numbers, but Gartner never reached the same single-season heights.

At Iginla's peak between 2001-02 and 2003-04, he won the Rocket Richard Trophy twice by leading the League in goals, scoring a combined 130 era-adjusted goals over that three-season span; Gartner's three-year peak was 101. Unlike Gartner, Iginla was undisputedly the best goal-scorer in the League for several seasons in his mid-20s.

Peak Three-Season Era-Adjusted Goal Scoring, 1967-68 to 2015-16
Player Career Era-Adjusted Goals Peak Scoring
Brett Hull 625 172
Wayne Gretzky 644 164
Alex Ovechkin 475 164
Steven Stamkos 287 153
Phil Esposito 485 152
Mario Lemieux 535 150
Pavel Bure 394 148
Teemu Selanne 634 146
John LeClair 378 141
Peter Bondra 461 138
Ilya Kovalchuk 403 135
Jaromir Jagr 677 135
Jari Kurri 429 133
Jarome Iginla 585 130
Dany Heatley 358 130
Steve Yzerman 553 130
Keith Tkachuk 502 130
Mike Bossy 393 130
Markus Naslund 381 128
Guy Lafleur 401 127

There have been players with higher peak scoring levels than Iginla (Mario Lemieux and Pavel Bure), but very few of them matched his longevity.

Once adjusted for the lower-scoring nature of the era in which Iginla played, Jagr, Gretzky, Selanne and Hull are the only players whose goal-scoring achievements arguably exceed Iginla's. Though this ignores those who played primarily before the 1967 expansion (Charlie Conacher, Maurice Richard, Bobby Hull, and Gordie Howe), Iginla ranks as one of the top 10 goal-scorers in NHL history.

How much higher can Iginla go? At 38 years old, and signed through the 2016-17 season, Iginla has up to 127 more games remaining. Based on his 39 goals in 119 games with Colorado, he could catch Brett Hull for fourth place. With one more 20-goal season at age 40, he could catch Selanne and Gretzky, and move into second place behind Jagr.

Regardless of how the numbers are adjusted for the different scoring levels, and of how the importance of each player's longevity is balanced against their peak, it's clear Iginla's achievements place him in very select company, and that he'll go down as one of the sport's greatest goal-scorers.

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