The one season wonder – an inevitable phenomenon in any sport, one that raises hopes to the skies and sends them crashing back down faster than a Shea Weber bomb from the point.
The National Hockey League has been a breeding ground for one season wonders over the years. A player will either start their career off with a bang, a rookie season for the ages that results in a Calder Trophy on the mantle and a new slate of much higher expectations for things to come. Or, perhaps, a middling veteran had something click, and he went from a plodding third-liner to a goal scoring machine – “he’s finally unlocked his potential, it just took him awhile” they cheered from merry rooftops.
And then it all comes crashing back to Earth.
In reality, there’s nothing wrong with a one season wonder. If you take it literally, every player in the NHL has a “one season wonder” to a certain extent – every player is going to have that one year where they outperform all the projections. Some just hover around those numbers more consistently, while others give a career’s worth of production to one season and are never able to duplicate it again.
The problem, in reality, is that general managers have often reached and over payed for the “current big thing” – the player who shines during a contract year, the hot commodity on the trade block who validated early season inquiries with a 30-goal season.
Managers quickly forget about everything leading up to the great year and make major decisions based on a small sample size – never a recipe for success – and the result often ends up being everyone forgetting about the player’s past achievements just as quickly.
20. Brian Gionta
It might be a bit of a stretch to throw current Buffalo Sabres captain Brian Gionta into this list, as he’s had a very successful NHL career. However, there’s no doubting that his 2005-2006 counts as a blatant outlier in an otherwise average scoring career. Gionta paired up with Scott Gomez to defy the league-wide mentality that New Jersey was nothing more than a trap team with a great goalie (Martin Brodeur). Gionta turned on the red light a whopping 48 times and added 41 helpers for a career high 89 points.
While no one was asking Gionta to touch or top that mark, many had a reasonable expectation that he could at least come close. He never did. The following season (albeit slightly shortened by injury) he dropped to 25 goals and 45 points, and the closest he ever got to that magical season was a 29 goal effort in his second year with the Habs.
19. Bob Carpenter
The third overall pick in the 1981 draft, Bobby Carpenter did everything a top pick was expected to do in the NHL: break in early, put up points and play for a long time. Carpenter was incredibly consistent over his first three seasons, with point totals of 67,69 and 68. He broke out with 53 goals and 95 points in 1984-1985 – but he may have used up all his offense in that fourth season, as the closest he ever got to 95 points was a 56 point season (which he reached twice). Carpenter had a long, successful career, but it’s clear that something went askew following his big year.
18. Ken Hodge Jr.
Ken Hodge Jr. wasn’t necessarily expected to lead the Boston Bruins to glory the way his father did during the 1970s, but it certainly can’t be easy to don a jersey with a legendary name on the back – especially when it’s your father’s legacy you’re trying to repeat, or even best. It looked at first like the younger Hodge might be the real deal, after putting up 30 goals and 59 points in his rookie season.
That was as good as it got for Hodge Jr., though. He lasted two more seasons and never came close to fulfilling the promise he showed in 1990-1991.
17. Bernie Nicholls
Bernie Nicholls teeters on the one-hit wonder line because he did have several very productive seasons as a member of the Kings, specifically leading up to 1988-1989. In fact, Nicholls put up over 1,000 points in his career – it was more a matter of how it all went down that makes him a unique member (and likely the best player) of this list.
That happened to be the same season Wayne Gretzky arrived in L.A., and while the two didn’t play together exclusively, The Great One’s presence spurned Nicholls on, en route to a 70 goal, 150 point season.
Many wondered whether Nicholls had just tapped into another level of his skill, but alas, NichollsMania was short lived. Nicholls production dipped in his final season in L.A. before he moved on to play for the Rangers, Oilers, Devils, Blackhawks and Sharks. He only surpassed 70 points once over the final ten years of his career.
16. Chris Simon
Surprising, isn’t it? Not the name you were expecting to see on a list like this. We’re not even talking about it in terms of his fighting ability, either.
While Chris Simon will always be remembered as a goon, there was one year where he defied all logic and expectations.
During the 1999-2000 season, Simon scored 29 goals and added 20 assists for the best statistical season of his NHL career. Simon’s second highest goal total throughout the rest of his career was 17.
It almost makes you wonder what could have been if Simon focused more on putting pucks in the net rather than crushing bones and teeth for the majority of his career.
15. David Clarkson
David Clarkson’s rise to one-year wonder stardom is an interesting one insomuch that most (if not all) of the names on this list were guys who had shown scoring touch or potential leading up to their big seasons in one way or another.
Clarkson, on the other hand, was known more for his pugilistic abilities, racking up the fights and penalty minutes at a fairly good clip. In 2011-2012, Clarkson broke out offensively, scoring 30 goals. He followed that up with 15 during the lockout shortened season, which would have put him on pace for another 30.
The big year in particular caught the eye of many around the league as free agency approached. He cashed in with the Toronto Maple Leafs and over his year and a half in Toronto, he came nowhere near meeting expectations, with a paltry 26 points in 118 games.
It was so bad that he was traded for Nathan Horton, a player who may be forced to retire due to back injuries.
14. Manny Legace
You have to feel a little bad for Manny Legace. He worked his tail off for four seasons in Detroit before finally getting a shot at being the Red Wings number one goalie. He didn’t disappoint, with a record of 37-8-3 to go along with a 2.19 GAA and a .915 save percentage. Those numbers should have locked down the Wings crease for years to come, but the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement and Legace ended up finishing up his career in St. Louis without ever fully solidifying a starting gig – let alone putting up numbers anywhere close to his 2005-2006 season.
13. Steve Penney
Just another run of the mill, “he kind of got screwed” story that we’ll continue to find on this list.
Steve Penney started off his career with a solid playoff run and followed that up with a top-notch rookie season in 1984-1985, in which he went 26-18-8 with “decent 1980s statistics” to go along with his winning record.
Unfortunately, Penney got hurt early the following season. Guess who ended up snagging the number one job by the end of the season? A certain young man named Patrick Roy.
The rest is history – as was Penney’s career. He ended up in Winnipeg but only played 15 games over two seasons, winning only three contests before calling it quits.
12. Blair MacDonald
In hindsight, “B.J” MacDonald’s decline wasn’t necessarily his fault.
MacDonald was the original Gretzky trigger man, lining up next to The Great One during the legend’s early NHL days and parlaying his good fortune into a 46 goal season.
Then Jari Kurri showed up and ruined the fun for MacDonald. Kurri rose to legendary sniper status, Gretzky continued to win Cups and break hearts, and MacDonald was pushed down the Oilers depth chart until he was eventually shipped off to Vancouver to finish off his NHL career.
11. Rob Brown
Let’s be completely honest here: you could put just about anybody next to Mario Lemieux, and if they can skate and shoot they’ll probably put up some good numbers.
Rob Brown was in fact able to do both those things pretty well, so when he got his chance alongside Lemieux on one of the most star-studded rosters of all-time, he didn’t waste it. Brown put up 49 goals and 66 points in 1988-1989, but the second he was sent out of town, reality set in and Brown never came close to touching the numbers he put up in Pittsburgh.
10. Warren Young
I could have easily copy and pasted everything in the Rob Brown entry and slapped it in here, with only the name and goal totals needing a quick change. Other than that, the situations were practically the same.
Young, like Brown, was lucky enough to find himself playing alongside Mario Lemieux, and Lemieux turned Brown into an overnight sensation. In 1984-1985, Young scored 40 times and notched 72 points.
Two years later he was in the minor leagues. He got one more shot at the NHL the following year, but to no avail.
9. Joe Juneau
If you’re on the younger side, you’ll remember Joe Juneau as a checking winger, a grinder with a bit of offensive ability – but nothing overwhelming.
Those who recall Juneau’s earlier years will tell you a different tale – that of a former Olympic hero who burst onto the NHL scene with his hair on fire. Juneau put up 102 points and set a rookie record with 70 assists as a member of the Boston Bruins alongside Cam Neely and Adam Oates. His linemates may have had something to do with his exceptional breakout, because he never came close to putting up top-end numbers again.
8. Jim Carey
Not to be confused with comedian and actor Jim Carrey, Jim Carey was expected to become one of the NHL’s top netminders for years to come. His rookie season got the hype train rolling and he followed it up with a sophomore stat line of 35-24-9 with a 2.26 GAA and a .906 save percentage to go along with nine shutouts. The stellar effort won him the Vezina Trophy – and that’s about as good as things got for Carey.
His play torpedoed and it got to the point that the Caps were willing to ship him off less than a year after his Vezina win. He was out of the league within three years.
7. Ville Leino
Remember when Ville Leino was the cream of the free agency crop? The up-and-coming two-way NHL prototype who was going to help a team make the playoffs for years to come?
Leino put up 53 points and had a solid playoffs during the Flyers 2010 Cup run, which conveniently took place in his contract year. Leino signed a long-term deal with the Buffalo Sabres and was never the same player again. Leino totaled 46 points in the 137 games he played for the Sabres, barely getting close enough to sniff the career-high 53. He was exiled from the Sabres putrid roster – which is big, because if you couldn’t stick on those teams, you really did not belong.
6. Jacques Richard
Coming into the league with high expectations and the name of a couple other Quebec-born hockey legends is not a good recipe for success. Jacques Richard had the looks of a bust for the first seven years of his career – and by that point, all seemed lost in terms of Richard turning into the dominant scorer he was in junior hockey.
For one season, though, he may as well have been named Maurice. Richard torched the league in 1980-1981 with a 52 goal, 103 point season with the Quebec Nordiques.
Of course, there’s an added wrinkle to this story. Richard lined up alongside Anton and Peter Stastny in 1981, and alongside the high-octane brothers Richard thrived. The following season, the third member of the Stastny trifecta, Marian, arrived and the brothers were reunited in shredding opposing defenses and goaltenders.
The odd man out, Richard, was dropped from the line and subsequently ended that season with only 15 goals and 41 points.
5. Gary Leeman
How many Leafs are we going to have on this list? Probably not as many as you might have expected.
Gary Leeman deserves his spot, though, as he, like many before him and many after, gave Leafs fans hope following a fantastic 51 goal season in 1989-1990. Things went off the rails pretty quickly for Leeman in Toronto, as he dived down to 17 goals the following year before eventually getting moved to Calgary in 1991-1992.
The best Leeman would do after those tumultuous years was 15 goals in 1992-1993.
4. Wayne Babych
This staggering statistic will tell you everything you need to know about Wayne Babych’s NHL career: Babych scored 192 career goals, but a quarter of them came in 1980-1981 season when he popped the twine 54 times.
That’s staggering and encapsulates the essence of a one year wonder as well as any example on this list. Babych couldn’t surpass 20 goals in any other season following his breakout year with the St. Louis Blues.
3. Andrew Raycroft
Andrew Raycroft truly looked like the real deal during his first full NHL season, putting together a fantastic rookie year with a 29-18-9 record, a 2.05 GAA and a .926 save percentage to go along with three shutouts.
Raycroft’s struggles began while he was still in Boston and he was ultimately traded to Toronto for one Tuukka Rask (that trade is a conversation for another day). Raycroft had one decent season in Toronto, but after the 2006-2007 season his career pretty much came to a crashing halt. He bounced around the Western Conference for a couple of seasons as a backup before mercifully ending his career in 2011-2012, nearly ten years after exploding onto the NHL scene.
2. Jonathan Cheechoo
Like Rob Brown (and several others) before him, Jonathan Cheechoo was given a blessing and a curse all at once back in 2005-2006.
Cheechoo had the luxury of lining up with one of the best passers in the history of the sport in Joe Thornton, who came over from Boston in one of the most lopsided trades of the past thirty years – but I digress. Cheechoo and Thornton clicked from the start and it resulted in Cheechoo shocking the hockey world with a 56-goal, Rocket Richard Trophy-winning season in 2005-2006.
Everything went downhill from there. His numbers steadily declined over the next three seasons in San Jose and a shot at retribution in Ottawa during the 2009-2010 season went nowhere.
Just four seasons removed from one of the best goal-scoring seasons in the “New NHL” era, Cheechoo was out of the league.
1. Scott Bjugstad
Scott Bjugstad is at the top of the one-year wonder class, thanks to a remarkable second full season in the NHL with the Minnesota North Stars. Bjugstad scored 43 times in 1985-1986. While he barely played half the season the following year, Bjugstad finished with a miniscule four tallies, which remains significant despite the fact that he only played 39 games.
Bjugstad spent the rest of his NHL career fighting for ice-time and roster spots, never coming close to his huge year and totaling only 22 goals over the next six years.
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