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July 1, 2016
LCS Top 100: No. 4
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Modern fans may find Howe's career statistics somewhat underwhelming. He had only one 100-point season and cracked 40 goals just five times, topping out at 49 in 1953. But it was a different game back then. All you need to know about Howe is he led the league in goals five times, won six scoring titles, and finished in the top five in points for 20 consecutive seasons from 1950 to 1969. Twenty straight years in the top five! Suck it, Elvis.
And remember that lone 100-point season? It came in 1969 when Howe was 40 years old.
Howe retired from the NHL in 1971 due to an arthritic left wrist, ending his 25 years as a Detroit Red Wing with six Hart Trophies and four Stanley Cups. But hockey wasn't through with Howe yet. After two years of retirement, a 45-year-old Howe joined the AHL's Houston Aeros so he could skate alongside his sons, Mark and Marty. In that first season with Houston, Howe led the team in scoring with 100 points, won league MVP honors, and guided the Aeros to an Avco Cup championship. Houston repeated as WHA champs in 1975, with Howe scoring 99 points and being named the 1st-Team All-Star Right Wing a second straight time.
Howe had another 102 points for the Aeros in 1976 before he and his sons joined the New England Whalers for the 1977-78 campaign. When the WHA merged with the NHL in 1979, Howe returned for one final NHL season, scoring 15 goals and 41 points for the Mighty Whale as a 51-year-old.
Endurance was the true hallmark of Howe's career. He displayed the same stamina during games, skating lengthy shifts and simply wearing down opponents. Oh, and he had a mean streak. And he didn't get it from crawling under a wet fence. It was real and ran deep. Tales of Howe's brutality have become legendary. He carved his nefarious reputation one vicious elbow and bone-splintering slash at a time, ravaging every poor soul who dared get within striking distance. Howe was also a feared fighter, setting the tone in his rookie season by knocking out Rocket Richard with one punch. That's why most offended parties tended to grit their teeth and move on, parting Mr. Howe's company with a polite apology for getting in the way of his elbows.
Howe could beat you in the corners, in the alley, or on the scoresheet. A smooth skater with a powerful stride, he was ambidextrous and could turn his stick around and shoot with either hand. His heavy, accurate shot terrified netminders, yet his soft hands, so often accustomed to bashing skulls, also allowed him to stickhandle around defenders, gaining a step his broad shoulders exploited on his way to the cage. And unlike most physical wingers, Howe was also an exceptional playmaker, leading the league in assists three times.
No player in NHL history can match Howe's combination of skill and toughness. In short, Gordie Howe was the perfect hockey player.
Mr. Hockey, indeed.