Ah, the one-season wonder of the NHL. Hero one day and goat the next, a one-season wonder can go from rags to riches in a matter of months, only to tragically plummet back to his heretofore inferior status, never to be heard from again. It’s a cruel reality. It’s like baking the most delicious apple pie that has ever tantalized your taste buds, losing the recipe, and knowing you’ll never again realize the culinary conquest that you’ll harken back to forever.
This list is about established players who labor away on a third or fourth line on some Western Conference cellar dweller and then all of a sudden spark a magical connection with a new linemate in which the stars and planets align for an entire season unlike any he’s ever had. Like when pucks just seem to suddenly find their own way into the back of the net, and he finds the speed and adeptness no one knew he had. Everything is finally right in the world, until trades or injury or shiny new contract offers disrupt the chemistry and it vanishes forever, revealing the fluke of a season for what it really was.
It’s a total letdown for fans, teammates, general managers and especially the poor sap who has to endure the lifelong comparisons to songs like “Kung Fu Fighting” or “Closing Time,” which erupted for a while but ultimately became the one-hit wonders we all know and despise today.
Fleeting unattainable like the shadows of careers that might have been, try to sympathize with these 15 one-season wonders who had a totally fluke season in the NHL.
15 Brian Gionta (2005-06)
Rochester, New York native Brian Gionta had quite the fluke season in 2005-06 as a member of the New Jersey Devils’ notorious “EGG” line, which included himself, Patrik Elias and natural playmaker Scott Gomez. That year, Gionta, with the help of the other two-thirds of the prolific offensive trio, exploded for a Devils-record 48 goals after a previous career high of just 21. He added 41 helpers, led the team with a total of 89 points, posted a team-high +18 plus-minus record and recorded another seven points in nine playoff games for good measure. Since then, the 16-year veteran has only gotten as close as 29 goals and 60 points in a single season, as he begins to approach the twilight of his on-ice career.
14 Bobby Carpenter (1984-85)
The Washington Capitals took Bobby Carpenter with the third overall pick of the 1981 NHL draft, and for his first three seasons in the world’s best hockey league, he did not disappoint. Without missing a single game, Carpenter put up solid and consistent 67-, 69- and 68-point seasons to kick off his career. And then the 1984-85 season happened. Whether it was something in the Washington D.C. water or just a drawn-out series of very fortunate events, the centerman out of Massachusetts exploded for career highs in goals (53) and assists (42) in his fourth season, for a total of 95 points, good for second on the team and seventh in the league. His 53 lamp-lighters made him the first American-born player to reach the 50-goal plateau, but after that one spectacular season, he would never again score more than 56 points over his final 14 years in the league.
13 Chris Simon (1999-2000)
Who says a bruiser can’t enjoy a little offense once in a while? Chris Simon apparently took a break from his normal role as a menacing enforcer during the 1999-00 season with the Washington Capitals and masqueraded as a more-than-serviceable top-6 forward. In fact, Simon scored 29 goals, 12 more than any other season in his career, to lead the team in that category, while also contributing a career-high 20 assists. His 49 points were by far the high-water mark of his 15 seasons in the league, as he dropped back down to a mere 20 the following year. And to be fair to his enforcer status, he still led the team in penalty minutes that year with 146, though it was a far cry from his high of 250, which he reached twice.
12 Blair MacDonald (1979-80)
Blair MacDonald has The Great One to thank for his appearance on this list. MacDonald, a two-team veteran right winger in the WHA, made the transition to the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, and he found himself in the right place at the right time. After averaging 56 points in his first six years as a pro, MacDonald found himself on a line with Wayne Gretzky during the 1979-80 season, and as you might guess, his offense exploded like a rocket into outer space. While skating on a line with the greatest player who ever lived would automatically make just about anyone look good, MacDonald made it count on the score sheet by notching a career-high 46 goals and 94 points. Unfortunately for MacDonald, he would be replaced on a line by talented Finn Jari Kurri, and without a legendary setup man like Gretzky, his offensive output slowed to a trickle, and he wouldn’t even sniff 60 points again.
11 Joe Juneau (1992-93)
Even though he was a rookie, Joe Juneau is a case study too hard to ignore. Juneau was a standout college player, amassing 213 points in four years at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. After some contract disputes, Juneau made his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins towards the end of the 1991-92 season and had an impressive 19 points in 14 games. The next season, his official rookie campaign, the 23-year-old French-Canadian posted a whopping 102 points on 32 goals and 70 assists. His 70 assists set an NHL record for assists in a season by a left wing and garnered him a selection to the 1993 NHL All-Rookie Team. Whatever momentum Juneau brought with him in to the league apparently dissolved during the ensuing offseason, because Juneau would never even get within 30 of his 102-point high and averaged a disappointing 41 points per season until he retired in 2004.
10 Gary Leeman (1989-90)
The rise and fall of Gary Leeman played out like a TV drama on ice. After gaining success as a standout defenseman in the WHL, Leeman transitioned into a forward when he arrived in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1983 in order to better utilize his offensive talents. After three full-time seasons in The Show, he was making steady progress, improving his point totals each year and even established himself as a top-line winger on the Leafs’ “Hound Line” along with Wendel Clark and Russ Courtnall. And then, in the 1989-90 season, Leeman went off. He potted 51 goals, 19 more than he had ever had before, and added a career-high 44 assists to lead the team with 95 points. But then the bottom fell out on Leeman’s career. To the dismay of Maple Leafs fans and ownership alike, he would struggle just to make the gameday roster in the six seasons after his highlight-reel 1989-90 campaign and never mustered more than 32 points again.
9 Jose Theodore (2001-02)
While he was a pretty solid goalie for a lot of years in the NHL, Jose Theodore’s marquee 2001-02 season with the Montreal Canadiens was unmatched, based solely on his extraordinary stonewalling of the rest of the league’s shooters between the pipes that year in particular. Out of nowhere, Theodore became a near impenetrable barrier. In 67 appearances, he recorded an NHL-best 1,836 saves and an unheard of .931 save percentage, leading the Canadiens into the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. For his troubles, he was awarded both the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP and the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in addition to his 2002 Second All-Star Team selection. In 10 more seasons, he’d wouldn’t approach the same GAA or save percentage and never got his hands on any more performance-based hardware.
8 Hakan Loob (1987-88)
Called the “Gretzky of Sweden” by then Calgary Flames general manager Cliff Fletcher, Hakan Loob turned out to be a pretty good NHL player when he made the move to North America in 1983, but the Gretzky comparisons were a stretch. After a decent rookie season in 1983-84 in which he had 30 goals and 55 points, Loob led his team in goals the next two campaigns with 37 and 31 respectively before a poor 1986-87 season saw his stock drop a notch or two when he recorded just 18 goals and 44 points. To say he recovered well would be an understatement. The following year, Loob broke out of his shell to score 50 points and 56 assists, plowing past the 100-point mark and becoming the first Swedish-born player to score 50 goals in a season. He nabbed a Flames-record five hat tricks along the way and earned a trip to the 1988 All Star Game. After one final good-but-not-great season in the league the following year, Loob returned to his native Sweden to play seven more seasons before retiring in 1996.
7 Ray Sheppard (1993-94)
Ray Sheppard had a pretty solid 13 years in the NHL, but there’s one season that stands out as the clear and surprising outlier. He burst onto the scene with 65 points during his rookie campaign with the Buffalo Sabres in 1987-88 but settled down over the next three seasons without going back over the 50-point mark. It was when Sheppard arrived in Hockeytown, USA to play with the Detroit Red Wings that his scoring touch really blossomed. After two seasons with the Wings in which he had 62 and 66 points, Sheppard must have found his niche, because he erupted for 52 goals – good for sixth in the league – and 93 points during his third season in Detroit. He averaged 1.13 points per game that year, and it was the only time in his career he had point-per-game numbers. The following year, he dropped off to just 40 points and never did have more than 60 thereafter.
6 Jonathan Cheechoo (2005-06)
If Joe Thornton had an official fan club, Jonathan Cheechoo would be a platinum-level member. Cheechoo was an unremarkable winger for the San Jose Sharks in the early 2000s, with 37 goals in 147 career games and little threat to do anything spectacular. But in Cheechoo’s third season, when Joe Thornton arrived in a trade from the Boston Bruins and was plopped onto a line with Cheechoo, the pair combined to make pure magic in the offensive zone. Cheechoo manufactured a league-high (and completely unexpected) 56 goals, thanks in large part to Thornton’s own league-high 96 assists, earning the Maurice Richard Trophy and leading the Sharks into the playoffs. The next season, Cheechoo managed 37 goals, but his rapid offensive decline was already in motion. He only lasted four more unproductive seasons in the league before spending some time in the minor leagues and then eventually Russia’s KHL, where he still plays today.
5 Warren Young (1984-85)
Like Blair MacDonald, Warren Young was a one-season prime beneficiary of playing on a line with one of the game’s greatest passers to ever step foot on ice. Young bounced around for a few years between the minors and the Minnesota North Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL after a successful college career with Michigan Tech in the 1970s. He finally landed a fulltime gig with the Penguins for the 1984-85 season, but since he hadn’t done anything to write home about in previous short stints in the league, not many people anticipated what happened next. He got placed on a line with young, fresh-faced rookie sensation Mario Lemieux, and that’s how Young instantly went from no-namer to top gamer. He scored 40 goals and 72 points playing alongside Lemieux that year, finishing second on the team in both categories. But he was dealt to Detroit the following season, and as the story goes, his goal-scoring dropped off a cliff without the help of his playmaking linemate. He was back in the minors just two years after his breakout season and never again had a season quite like the one in Pittsburgh in 1984-85.
4 Mike Krushelnyski (1984-85)
Mike Krushelnyski came out of nowhere in 1984-85 to join the Edmonton Oilers, where he had a fluky-good season. After playing parts of three seasons with the Boston Bruins in the early 1980s, Krushelnyski arrived in Edmonton in 1984 and often played wing on a line with Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri. That first season in Edmonton will forever be a memorable one for him, because he scored 43 goals, 45 assists and had a +56 plus-minus rating, career highs in all categories by a longshot. After that season, Krushelnyski only managed as much as 62 points, 26 off the pace of that career season, but he did hoist the Stanley Cup three times as part of the Oilers dynasty of the 1980s, so at least he’s got that going for him.
3 Scott Bjugstad (1985-86)
After three years with the University of Minnesota and a season on the U.S. Olympic team, St. Paul native Scott Bjugstad made his NHL debut with his hometown Minnesota North Stars in the 1983-84 seasons, appearing in five games, in which he had naught but two minutes in the penalty box and a -1 plus-minus rating. The following season, he played in 72 games with the North Stars and managed to post 15 points on 11 goals and four assists. In 1985-86, though, Bjugstad suddenly played outside of his mind, scoring 76 points, 43 of which were goals, and finished one goal short of team leader Dino Ciccarelli. After that it’s like he forgot where he left his talent. He struggled to make NHL rosters and spent parts of seven more seasons with the North Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings and their respective farm teams. He finished with 76 goals and 144 points in the league, meaning that his fluke season produced more than half of his entire career NHL goal and point totals.
2 Jacques Richard (1980-81)
The Atlanta Flames selected Jacques Richard second overall in the 1972 NHL draft and had high hopes for the youngster who dominated the QMJHL during his junior years with the Quebec Remparts. Unfortunately, Richard never lived up to his potential. After three years in Atlanta, Richard bounced around between the NHL and AHL until he somehow landed on a line with brothers Anton and Peter Stastny with the Quebec Nordiques in the 1980-1981 season. Surrounded by unmatched offensive expertise, Richard finally realized his potential, scoring career highs of 52 points and 51 assists and breaking the 100-point mark for the one and only time in his career. In fact, he never even had half that during his 10 other seasons in the league. He probably would have enjoyed more seasons like the one in 1980-81, but the third Stastny brother, Marian, joined the team the next season and took his rightful place on the line with his kin.
1 Wayne Babych (1980-81)
What’s a fluke season on steroids? Easy, Wayne Babych’s 1980-81 season with the St. Louis Blues. No, he wasn’t ON steroids that year, at least not that anyone is aware of, but to go from 27- and 26-goal seasons to shoot up to 54 and then never again score more than 20 after that, is unheard of. If anyone figures out how he pulled off The Season of Babych, we may just witness an athletic breakthrough for the ages. But until then, that performance will remain one of the great unsolved hockey mysteries of our time – right up there with the Brett Hull skate-in-the-crease-goal non-call in in 1999. After Babych’s fluke 54-goal, 96-point season, he would only ever get as high as 54 points again before calling it a career in 1986.
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