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NHL Centennial

NHL scoring leaders through the years

From Joe Malone to Wayne Gretzky, list has changed since League began in 1917

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / Managing Editor

Wayne Gretzky became the NHL's all-time leading scorer on Oct. 15, 1989 when a last-minute goal for the Los Angeles Kings against the Edmonton Oilers gave him 1,851 career points. 

With that goal, he passed Gordie Howe, who had held the all-time scoring lead since April 6, 1980. 

Gretzky, who retired after the 1998-99 season with 2,857 points, has held the scoring title ever since.  

Here's a look at how the record has progressed since the League began play Dec. 19, 1917:

Joe Malone

Malone, a star during seven seasons in the National Hockey Association, didn't miss a beat when he moved to the NHL in 1917. He scored five goals for the Montreal Canadiens on the League's first night and led the NHL with 44 goals and 48 points. After scoring seven goals in eight games during the 1918-19 season, Malone again led the NHL in 1919-20 with 39 goals and 49 points while playing for the Quebec Bulldogs. He retired after the 1923-24 season with 175 points, including 143 goals.


Cy Denneny

Denneny, a forward for the Ottawa Senators, scored 36 goals in 20 games in 1917-18 and 34 in 1920-21. He surpassed Malone's total midway through the 1922-23 season and became the first player to reach 300 points, on Feb. 27, 1926. Denneny retired after the 1928-29 season with 333 points (248 goals, 85 assists) in 328 games, all but the last three with the Senators.


Howie Morenz

Morenz, a star with the Canadiens from 1923-34, passed Denneny on March 19, 1932. Morenz scored 30 or more goals twice, led the NHL in scoring in 1927-28 and 1930-31, and was the first player in League history to reach 400 points. After three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers, he returned to the Canadiens in 1936-37 and was showing flashes of his old form when he sustained a career-ending leg injury on Jan. 28, 1937. When Morenz died on March 8, 1937, he was the NHL career scoring leader with 472 points (271 goals, 201 assists).


Nels Stewart

Stewart led the NHL in scoring once, when he had 42 points (34 goals) as a rookie in 1925-26. But Stewart was among the League's most consistent point producers during seven seasons with the Montreal Maroons and eight more split between the Boston Bruins and New York Americans. Stewart passed Morenz for the career lead Nov. 24, 1938, and retired in 1940 owning NHL records for goals (324) and points (515).


Syd Howe

The first Howe to own the NHL all-time scoring lead was a consistent point producer during his 16 seasons, most of them with the Detroit Red Wings. Howe never led the League in goals or points, and he was named to a postseason All-Star team once, in 1944-45, when he made the Second Team after he had 53 points in 46 games. He passed Stewart by getting point No. 516 on March 8, 1945, and retired in 1946 with 528 (237 goals, 291 assists).


Bill Cowley

Howe remained atop the all-time scoring leaderboard for less than two years before Cowley, one of the best passers of his era, moved past him with his 527th point on Feb. 12, 1947. Cowley, who spent 12 seasons with the Boston Bruins after one with the St. Louis Eagles, retired at the end of the 1946-47 season with 548 points (195 goals, 353 assists).


Elmer Lach

As the center of the Canadiens' famous "Punch Line" with Richard and Toe Blake, Lach won two NHL scoring titles and led the League in assists three times. He passed Cowley on Feb. 23, 1952; needing two points for the record, he had a goal and three assists in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Lach had passed Cowley's NHL career record for assists (354) six days earlier. However, Lach was the first No. 1 scorer to see his record broken before he ended his NHL career; he had 610 points before being passed by one of his linemates and finished his career after the 1953-54 season with 623 (215 goals, 408 assists).


Maurice Richard

Richard passed Lach by scoring a goal and assisting on two others in the Canadiens' 7-2 win against the New York Rangers on Dec. 12, 1953, giving him 611 points. The record-setting point came a little more than a month after Richard passed Nels Stewart on the all-time list for goals. But Richard's record didn't last as long as his career, which ended after the 1959-60 season when he retired with 965 points and a then-record 544 goals.


Gordie Howe

Howe assisted on a second-period goal by Alex Delvecchio and scored a power-play goal early in the third period of his 888th NHL game to move past Richard. Howe ended the 1959-60 season with 73 points, the 10th of 20 consecutive seasons he finished in the top five in scoring. Howe went on to nearly double his record-setting point total while holding the title of the top scorer in the NHL for nearly 30 years. He had a goal and an assist in his final NHL game, April 6, 1980, giving him 801 goals and 1,850 points.


Wayne Gretzky

Gretzky idolized Howe while he was growing up, and he wasn't even 30 before he began erasing many of Howe's marks from the NHL record book. Gretzky took the regular-season record Oct. 15, 1989, when a last-minute goal for the Los Angeles Kings against the Edmonton Oilers gave him 1,851 points. Gretzky spent another decade adding to his totals, retiring after the 1998-99 season with NHL records for regular-season goals (894) and points (2,857). 

Those will be tough to beat; Jaromir Jagr, 44, of the Florida Panthers is second in regular-season scoring (1,894 points through Saturday), and the youngest active player with more than 1,000 points is Alex Ovechkin, 31, of the Washington Capitals.

Video: Wayne Gretzky passes Gordie with 1851 all-time points

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