Want to score? Don’t get married

Two of the NHL’s brightest young stars got married this summer: Eric Staal (perhaps you heard about the bachelor party?) and Ilya Kovalchuk (Alexander Ovechkin attended the reception in shorts). Although fans of the Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta Thrashers may rejoice in the personal happiness of their heroes, they may be unaware that holy matrimony can have an unfortunate side effect upon elite NHL snipers: diminished goal-scoring prowess. Especially when it comes to competing with the immortals.

Now there’s a sidebar you never thought you’d be tracking this season. But it seems to jibe with the suspicions of New York Rangers head coach Phil Watson, who called players’ wives into his office in the 1960’s to lecture them about wearing out their husbands with too much sex. It also curiously recalls a 2003 report by psychologist Satoshi Kanagawa of the London School of Economics, which found that “within five years of making their nuptial vows, nearly a quarter of married scientists had made their last significant contribution to knowledge.”

Using our Southeast Division stars as an example, let’s take a closer look at the little-documented perils of marriage for goal-scoring forwards. Staal finished eighth in the 2005-06 NHL goal-scoring race with 45 goals, while Kovalchuk tallied a career-best 52 that year, following up on his league-leading total of 41 in 2003-04. So why shouldn’t they equal or improve upon those figures? Kovalchuk, in particular, has been widely touted as one of the elite few who could bust into the 70-goal range with a career season.

Sadly, we need look no further than the overall scoring record of hockey’s greatest player to illustrate the unlikelihood of that happening for the 24-year-old Russian now.

In Canada’s answer to the wedding of Charles and Diana, Wayne Gretzky married Janet Jones in Edmonton on July 17, 1988 (cue Beethoven’s Fifth).

Gretzky’s pre-marital regular season goal totals: 583 goals in 696 games from 1979-80 to 1987-88 (0.838 GPG)

Gretzky’s post-marital regular season goal totals: 311 goals in 791 games from 1988-89 to 1998-99 (0.393 GPG)

Of course, this is merely one case. But the evidence gets more damning for those who wear rings of the non-Stanley Cup variety. Nine out of the top ten individual goal-scoring seasons in NHL history have been recorded by six different unmarried players.

1. Wayne Gretzky (Edmonton, 1981-82): 92, UNMARRIED
2. Wayne Gretzky (Edmonton, 1983-84): 87, UNMARRIED
3. Brett Hull (St. Louis, 1990-91): 86, UNMARRIED
4. Mario Lemieux (Pittsburgh, 1988-89): 85, UNMARRIED
5. Alexander Mogilny (Buffalo, 1992-93): 76, UNMARRIED
6. Phil Esposito (Boston, 1970-71): 76, MARRIED
7. Teemu Selanne (Winnipeg, 1992-93): 76, UNMARRIED
8. Wayne Gretzky (Edmonton, 1984-85): 73, UNMARRIED
9. Brett Hull (St. Louis, 1989-90): 72, UNMARRIED
10. Jari Kurri (Edmonton, 1984-85): 71, UNMARRIED

Still unconvinced? Consider this: there have been only two married winners of the Rocket Richard Trophy since the NHL instituted an award for the league’s top goal-scorer in 1999.

2007 Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay): 52, UNMARRIED
2006 Jonathan Cheechoo (San Jose): 56, UNMARRIED
2005 No winner
2004 Jarome Iginla (Calgary): 41, MARRIED
Rick Nash (Columbus): 41, UNMARRIED
Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta): 41, UNMARRIED
2003 Milan Hejduk (Colorado): 50, UNMARRIED
2002 Jarome Iginla (Calgary): 52, UNMARRIED
2001 Pavel Bure (Florida): 59, UNMARRIED
2000 Pavel Bure (Florida): 58, UNMARRIED
1999 Teemu Selanne (Anaheim): 47, MARRIED

The general conclusion seems inescapable: unmarried guys score more.

Further research is needed to establish what marriage does to a guy’s plus-minus rating, his ability to argue with the coach, and his willingness to do the dirty work in the corners.

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