Adam Oates is sixth all-time in assists with 1,079. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
With Joe Thornton, Nicklas Backstrom and even Matt Carle on early paces to crack the 100-assist mark for the first time in 21 years (only three players have ever done it), we thought it’d be fun to look back at some of the best seasons by set-up men in NHL history.
As with last week’s Top 10, players can only appear once and we went with their best totals. If we didn’t, a certain someone named Wayne Gretzky would take nine of the 10 spots.
10. Paul Coffey, Edmonton, 90 assists, 1985-86
The second-highest scoring defenseman in NHL history makes the list here over Steve Yzerman’s 90 helpers in 1988-89 on the back of playing one less game (79 versus 80). The total is the 26th most in league history. Coffey was one of four Oilers to top the 100-point mark that season; Gretzky set a record with 215.
9. Ron Francis, Pittsburgh, 92 assists, 1995-96
The fourth-highest scoring player in NHL history joined the vaunted Penguins offense of the ’90s from Hartford and flourished for seven-plus seasons. His 92 assists are the 21st-most in league history and 16 more than his next-highest total.
8. Peter Stastny, Quebec, 93 assists, 1981-82
Stastny was a 25-year-old NHL sophomore when he posted the most assists ever by a European player. He was one of three Stastny brothers on the Nordiques that season; the others, Marian and Anton, weren’t too shabby either.
7. Pat LaFontaine, Buffalo, 95 assists, 1992-93
The most helpers ever by a U.S.-born player also represents the 17th-most in league history. LaFontaine’s gaudy total came courtesy of his sublime skill, but also Alex Mogilny’s 76-goal campaign.
6. Doug Gilmour, Toronto, 95 assists, 1992-93
‘Killer’ gets the nod over LaFontaine for playing one fewer game. Gilmour won the Selke Trophy for his work that year, which included 127 points and a plus-32 rating.
5. Joe Thornton, Boston-San Jose, 96 assists, 2005-06
The only active player to make the list, Jumbo Joe’s total comes in at No. 16 overall. Amazingly, Thornton was traded that season. He tallied 24 assists in 23 games with the Bruins then burst out with 72 helpers in 58 contests with the Sharks.
4. Adam Oates, Boston, 97 assists, 1992-93
Oates led the Bruins in goals (45) and assists in the ‘Year of the Helper’ and had 40 more points than any other Bruin. He finished third in league scoring behind Mario Lemieux and LaFontaine.
3. Bobby Orr, Boston, 102 assists, 1970-71
The most prolific-scoring blueliner in hockey and some argue the best player in history is one of just three players to crack the 100-assist mark. Orr won his second of three consecutive Hart Trophies that year and the fourth of eight consecutive Norris Trophies.
2. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh, 114 assists, 1988-89
The ‘Magnificent One’ was topped by Gretzky last week as well. His 114 helpers rank No. 2 here, but just eighth overall. Lemieux finished with a career-best 199 points that season to win his second of six Art Ross Trophies.
1. Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton, 163 assists, 1985-86
Of the 12 highest assist totals in league history, Gretzky holds 11 of them. He had more career regular season assists than any other player has had total points and 74 more playoff assists than No. 2 on the list. Gretzky reached assist and point totals that had never been imagined before and will never be seen again. He is the greatest set-up man in hockey history.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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