Unbreakable record forgotten: Can Leon Draisaitl catch Tim Kerr to score power-play goals in a single season?

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Tim Kerr is a quiet guy. The hulking Philadelphia Flyers forward of yesteryear has almost completely faded from the glow of hockey’s bright lights, fitting in in a way because he quietly holds one of the few records set in the years 1980 no by Wayne Gretzky: NHL all-time mark for power play goals (34) scored in a single season.

It’s an incredible record. Thirty-four goals of any kind in one NHL season is an achievement. But score 34 or more on human advantage in one campaign? It’s a stunning total that many thought would never be questioned – especially the way the game has evolved over the past four decades.

Somehow, with two weeks remaining in the 2022-23 season, Leon Draisaitl has Kerr in his sights.

The chase is on. With 29 power-play shots, the Oilers sniper needs five power-play goals in Edmonton’s last six games to tie Kerr and six to break his record. Four of Edmonton’s six remaining games are against the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks.

Whether Draisaitl gets there or not, he already possesses the NHL’s most imposing power-play figure in the era of the salary cap. One more goal will make him the first player to hit 30 since Mario Lemieux scored 31 in 1995-96. Dave Andreychuk came closer than anyone, within two of Kerr, in 1992-93 and that was in 83 games played.

The hockey world is taking notice. Draisaitl’s power-play pursuit thrilled the boys of the 1985-86 Flyers roster.

“We talked about it,” said longtime Flyers captain Dave Poulin, who started this season alongside Kerr on the power play.

« Oh yeah, Tim’s record has crossed my mind a lot over the years, I wondered if he still held it, » Pelle Eklund said Thursday from Leksand, Sweden. « I mean, 37 years is really long. It’s a great record.

Eklund assisted on 18 of Kerr’s 34 goals as a rookie in 1985-86, a time when the Swedes were just beginning to follow the NHL path laid out by Borje Salming a decade earlier. And there is actually a connection that binds Eklund to Draisaitl and the record.

Eklund was a Europe-based amateur scout for the Edmonton Oilers from 2010 to 2019. The humble, typical Swede wouldn’t take credit for the Oilers Draisaitl draft at No. 3 overall in 2014, but he was without no doubt a big part of the process, scouting Draisaitl in Germany and in world tournaments. Now 60, Eklund is a scout for the Seattle Kraken and keeps tabs on the NHL.

« Tim and Leon are totally different players, » Eklund said. « I think the one or two thing they have in common is that quick shot. They’re able to find the free space, they could both see the opportunity that was coming their way.

The magic of the Oilers power play is in the movement. Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins never stand still. They are constantly on the move, changing position – which makes them incredibly difficult to counter and defend. What they’ve accomplished this season makes it arguably the most dangerous power play of all time.

Consider: If the season ended today, the Oilers would have the best power play percentage (32.4) in NHL history, better than the 31.9 percent the Montreal Canadiens clicked on in 1977-78, one of the most impressive teams in league history.

The Flyers didn’t even have the best power play of 1985-86, finishing sixth in the 21-team league. The Oilers had the best powerplay that year. And there were a lot more opportunities on the power play then. Kerr has scored 34 power-play goals in 384 power-play opportunities. The Oilers are 84 for 259 this season. That means Draisaitl has scored on 11.2 percent of the Oilers’ power plays; Kerr scored on 8.8 percent of the Flyers’ power plays.

In 1985-86, Kerr was an immovable object in net. Eklund was on the right side. Brian Propp walked the goal line. And underrated defenseman Mark Howe did it all, not earning Hall of Fame recognition until 16 years after his retirement. Poulin and Murray Craven hopped on and off this unit; the late greats Ilkka Sinisalo, Peter Zezel and Brad McCrimmon all contributed significantly.

“That’s what Tim’s record is all about – it’s an individual record, but it’s a team accomplishment,” Poulin said. “The funny thing is, as good as our power play was, we thought we had a much-vaunted penalty kill. Every time we listened to a penalty, we thought we were going to crush their power play. Our power play certainly wasn’t the first thing most people thought about with this team.

There were so many things that could have stopped Kerr from setting the record. Plagued by bad luck and unfortunate injuries throughout his career, undrafted Kerr was hospitalized before the start of the season in September 1985 with aseptic meningitis. On Nov. 11, defending Flyers Vezina Trophy winner Pelle Lindbergh was killed in an impaired driving accident. It was an emotionally charged season.

Still, Kerr scored 21 power-play goals over Christmas. Mike Bossy’s record of 28 from 1980-81 was in sight. Islanders legend Bryan Trottier once joked that the only way to move Kerr from the front of the net was chained, and even that might not be possible. Kerr tied Bossy on February 20, then failed to score another power-play goal to break the record for three weeks. After scoring 28 power-play goals in his first 56 games of the season, he finished the year with just six in his last 20.

« I always say there are players who demand and command the puck, » Poulin said. « I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a 50-goal scorer for a worker, but it was Timmy. A lot of his 5-on-5 goals were largely toying with me, and I wasn’t Adam Oates, Ron Francis or Steve Yzerman. It was the way he scored, the way he played. He always said, ‘It’s up to me if I’m open’ and when it looked like he was covered, he said he could always free his stick.

Kerr and Draisaitl are more or less the same size. Draisaitl is 6-foot-2, Kerr is 6-foot-3 – but that was a big advantage over the rest of the league in 1985-86. Kerr is arguably one of the greatest players in net hockey has ever seen, displaying like Shaq in the paint.

« Even if there were three guys hanging on to him, you could still give him the puck, » Eklund said.

Emotionally drained, Kerr and the Flyers ran out of gas. They were the second-best team in the NHL that season, but lost a five-game series in a big upset against the New York Rangers, a year after appearing in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1985. The only their better team, the Oilers, lost in the second round to Calgary.

Nonetheless, Kerr scored a career-high 58 goals that season. He equalized again in 1986-87, capping an incredible four-year run of 54, 54, 58, 58 goals. Only six players in NHL history have more consecutive 50-goal seasons, a feat Alex Ovechkin hasn’t matched. Kerr retired in 1993 after countless injuries and surgeries. He ranks 11th all-time with 0.565 goals per game and a minimum of 500 games; the 10 players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame. Kerr’s numbers are far better than those of Cam Neely, who had a career of similar length and impact, but Neely was selected for the Hall in 2005.

Now 63, Kerr runs a very successful real estate company on the Jersey Shore. He mostly stays alone, spending time with his family, mostly near the beach in New Jersey or Hawaii. Kerr didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this story, but that’s no surprise to former teammates who are just happy to see him getting his due.

« Most of us come once in a while, but Timmy less, » Poulin said. « I was so excited to see him at our last meeting. When someone comes back into your life after so long, the smile is the same, the conversation is the same, it takes you back to sitting in the locker room and talking. of life. Tim has always had his own way, off the radar.

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