It is quite unlikely that Crosby will pass up Lemieux, not unless he plays as long as Jagr has, and even then it is a pretty insurmountable task. But part of that is the difference in league-wide goal scoring rates throughout their careers. We can even toss The Great One into this discussion, since one reason his records will never be surpassed is because of the era he had played in.
Season – Player(s) – Average Goals per Game (both teams)
1979-80 (Gretzky) 7.02
1980-81 (Gretzky) 7.68
1981-82 (Gretzky) 8.02
1982-83 (Gretzky) 7.72
1983-84 (Gretzky) 7.88
1984-85 (Gretzky, Lemieux) 7.78
1985-86 (Gretzky, Lemieux) 7.94
1986-87 (Gretzky, Lemieux) 7.34
1987-88 (Gretzky, Lemieux) 7.42
1988-89 (Gretzky, Lemieux) 7.48
1989-90 (Gretzky, Lemieux) 7.36
1990-91 (Gretzky, Lemieux, Jagr) 6.92
1991-92 (Gretzky, Lemieux, Jagr) 6.96
1992-93 (Gretzky, Lemieux, Jagr) 7.26
1993-94 (Gretzky, Lemieux, Jagr) 6.48
1994-95 (Gretzky, Jagr) 5.98
1995-96 (Gretzky, Lemieux, Jagr) 6.28
1996-97 (Gretzky, Lemieux, Jagr) 5.84
1997-98 (Gretzky, Jagr) 5.28
1998-99 (Gretzky, Jagr) 5.26
1999-2000 (Jagr) 5.50
2000-01 (Lemieux, Jagr) 5.52
2001-02 (Lemieux, Jagr) 5.24
2002-03 (Lemieux, Jagr) 5.30
2003-04 (Lemieux, Jagr) 5.14
2005-06 (Lemieux, Jagr, Crosby) 6.16
2006-07 (Jagr, Crosby) 5.90
2007-08 (Jagr, Crosby) 5.56
2008-09 (Crosby) 5.82
2009-10 (Crosby) 5.68
2010-11 (Crosby) 5.58
2011-12 (Jagr, Crosby) 5.46
2012-13 (Jagr, Crosby) 5.48
2013-14 (Jagr, Crosby) 5.54
So Hockey Reference conveniently provides us with additional information. They create Adjusted Goals/Assists/Points that are based on the assumption that the league wide average should be 6 goals per game (and they also adjust for difference in season length, as it has varied between 80, 82, and 84 games played per season through these seasons we are looking at going back to Gretzky’s rookie year).
So the seasons during which the average league-wide scoring was over 6 goals per game would be adjusted downward while those seasons that were below 6 would be adjusted upwards. So Gretzky played 16/20 (80.0%) of his seasons, most of which were well above the 6 Goals per Game average, during the period that was amongst the highest scoring stretch in the entire history of the NHL. Lemieux played 12/17 (70.6%) of his seasons during a time with league-wide average scoring above 6 Goals per Game, although he missed out on the first 5 years of well over that which Gretzky played during. Jagr only played 6/20 (30.0%) of his seasons during years with league-wise average scoring over 6 Goals per Game, and most of those that were above were only slightly so. And then Crosby has had just 1/9 (11.1%) of his seasons during a time in which league-wide scoring was over 6 Goals per Game, and judging by the recent trends, including smaller pads and shallower nets made to boost scoring this year, it doesn’t look like it will be getting back above that anytime soon.
So if we look at their adjusted stats, we have:
Goals – Jagr 773, Gretzky 758, Lemieux 616, and Crosby 317
Assists – Gretzky 1717, Jagr 1120, Lemieux 924, and Crosby 553
Points – Gretzky 2475, Jagr 1893, Lemiux 1540, and Crosby 870
It would appear that when we adjust for the era they played in, Jagr passed up Lemieux quite some time ago. Way back in his early/mid-30s when he played for the Rangers actually. Of course that doesn’t take into account all the time Lemieux missed due to injury, so we can also look at the adjusted scores on a per game basis. That gives us:
Goals per Game – Lemieux 0.67, Crosby 0.61, Jagr 0.54, and Gretzky 0.51
Assists per Game – Gretzky 1.15, Crosby 1.07, Lemieux 1.01, and Jagr 0.78
Points per Game – Crosby 1.69, Lemieux 1.68, Gretzky 1.66, and Jagr 1.32
Now, Crosby is still relatively young and, barring injury, should have a lot of years left in the tank, so his per game numbers aren’t going to remain at that level for his entire career. But it is interesting to note that, when adjusted for the era they played in, Crosby is actually on pace to match Lemieux and Gretzky’s production. But he is only in his 9th season, so he is just about halfway through the 17-20 year career that the others had, which means by the end he isn’t going to be quite on the same level as Gretzky and Lemieux, but its interesting to see how close he is.
It’s also quite interesting to see that, when adjusted to the era differences and games played, Lemieux and Gretzky were neck and neck as the best players of all time, which considering the debate that has been raging since they were both in their primes should really come as no shock. Lemieux was the better pure goal scorer, Gretzky was the better playmaker, but overall their Points total was practically identical.
Jagr, arguably one of the best players in the NHL history, doesn’t hold a candle to Lemieux and Gretzky, but by virtue of the length of his career has managed to catch or surpass Lemieux in total career numbers. Actually, that made me wonder about Malkin, since I always viewed him as the Jagr to Crosby’s Lemieux. Great player, one of the best in the league, but Gretzky/Lemieux/Crosby is just a whole level of their own. So Malkin we find has 0.55 Goals per Game, 0.90 Assists per Game, and 1.45 Points per Game. That does put him rather close to Jagr’s numbers, just above him actually, but like Crosby you have to consider that, being just 8 years into his career, he isn’t likely to sustain that performance up though a 17-20 year career.
So based on the above data it is actually quite plausible that Crosby and Malkin could eventually catch up, depending on how long they play. If we look at Lemieux, who missed 5 seasons due to injury/lockout over the 22 years he played, and Jagr, who missed 4 seasons due to lockout/KHL over the 24 years he played, then even considering the possibility of future injury or lockout issues Crosby and Malkin have another 11/12+ years left to catch up. Of course that is using the adjusted data, its still questionable whether or not they can manage to surpass the unadjusted numbers.