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The 1979–80 NHL season was the 63rd season of the National Hockey League. Twenty-one teams each played 80 games. This season saw the addition of four teams from the collapse of the World Hockey Association (WHA) the previous season as expansion franchises. The Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, New England Whalers (later renamed "Hartford Whalers" at the insistence of the Boston Bruins), and Quebec Nordiques joined the NHL bringing a new total of 21 teams. The other two WHA teams (Birmingham Bulls and Cincinnati Stingers) were paid to disband.

The collapse of the WHA also saw the much hyped super-star rookie Wayne Gretzky come to the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. Gretzky would tie Marcel Dionne for the scoring lead with 137 points and capture the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player while Dionne took home the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer by virtue of having scored two more goals. Gretzky aside, many players made their debut in the NHL this season, both due to the WHA merger and to a change in the rules for the Entry Draft allowing eighteen and nineteen year olds to be drafted for the first time; no fewer than six Hall of Famersmarker (Gretzky, Ray Bourque, Mark Messier, Mike Gartner, Michel Goulet and Joe Mullen) debuted this season along with numerous other perennial stars.

The big story of the regular season was the record-breaking undefeated streak compiled by the Philadelphia Flyers. After starting the season with a 5–2 win over the New York Islanders and a 9–2 loss to the Atlanta Flames, the Flyers did not lose again for nearly three months, earning at least one point in every game between a 4–3 win over Toronto on October 14, 1979, and a 4–2 win over Buffalo on January 6, 1980, a span of 35 games. This stands as the longest undefeated streak in North American professional sports history.

Regular season

With 21 teams in the league, the regular season schedule was set without regard to divisional affiliation. Each team played each of the other 20 teams four times in the year, twice at home and twice on the road. As well a new playoff structure was introduced with the four division winners plus the next 12 teams with the best records qualifying. Division winners were not granted any byes and the divisions were ignored for determining playoff match-up seeding. Thus for all intents and purposes, the divisions ceased to have any importance whatsoever except in the extremely unlikely event that the 5 teams with the worst records all happened to be in the same 5-team division. Were this to have occurred, the winner of this division (who would have been 17th overall) would have qualified for the playoffs and the team placing 16th overall would have been excluded.

For the four previous seasons, the Boston Bruins had owned first place in the Adams Division. This season saw the Buffalo Sabres dethrone the Bruins in the Adams. The New York Islanders finished first overall in the NHL the previous season with 116 points, but had lost in the semi-finals of the playoffs to the upstart New York Rangers. This season saw them fall considerably in the standings as they finished fourth overall with 91 points, a full 25 points below last year's finish. On the other hand, the Philadelphia Flyers improved by 21 points from the previous season. Their 35-game undefeated streak [25–0–10] propelled them to the best record in the NHL with 116 points.

All four expansion teams finished poorly with records below .500. The Hartford Whalers fared the best with 73 points and the Winnipeg Jets tied the Colorado Rockies for last overall with 51 points. Hartford (13th overall) and Edmonton (16th overall) qualified for the playoffs, but both teams were swept 3 games to 0 in their respective 1st round playoff series.

Rule changes

In August 1979, John Ziegler, the NHL president, announced that protective helmet will be mandatory for all NHL players. "The introduction of the helmet rule will be an additional safety factor," he said. The only exception will be for players who signed their pro contracts prior to June 1, 1979. Those players under the exception who chose not to wear a helmet also had to sign a waiver form. At the time of the rule change, about 70% of NHLers were wearing helmets already. The first player to wear protective head gear on a regular basis was George Owen of the Boston Bruins in 1928. Prior to that, the only time protective head gear was worn was to temporarily protect injuries. Craig MacTavish, while playing for the St. Louis Blues, was the last helmetless player in 1997.

Final standings

Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes
Note: Teams that qualified for the playoffs are highlighted in bold

Prince of Wales Conference

Adams Division GP W L T Pts GF GA PIM
Buffalo Sabres 80 47 17 16 110 318 201 967
Boston Bruins 80 46 21 13 105 310 234 1460
Minnesota North Stars 80 36 28 16 88 311 253 1064
Toronto Maple Leafs 80 35 40 5 75 304 327 1158
Quebec Nordiques 80 25 44 11 61 248 313 1062

Norris Division GP W L T Pts GF GA PIM
Montreal Canadiens 80 47 20 13 107 328 240 874
Los Angeles Kings 80 30 36 14 74 290 313 1124
Pittsburgh Penguins 80 30 37 13 73 251 303 1038
Hartford Whalers 80 27 34 19 73 303 312 875
Detroit Red Wings 80 26 43 11 63 268 306 1114

Clarence Campbell Conference

Patrick Division GP W L T Pts GF GA PIM
Philadelphia Flyers 80 48 12 20 116 327 254 1844
New York Islanders 80 39 28 13 91 281 247 1298
New York Rangers 80 38 32 10 86 308 284 1342
Atlanta Flames 80 35 32 13 83 282 269 1048
Washington Capitals 80 27 40 13 67 261 293 1198

Smythe Division GP W L T Pts GF GA PIM
Chicago Black Hawks 80 34 27 19 87 241 250 1325
St. Louis Blues 80 34 34 12 80 266 278 1037
Vancouver Canucks 80 27 37 16 70 256 281 1808
Edmonton Oilers 80 28 39 13 69 301 322 1528
Winnipeg Jets 80 20 49 11 51 214 314 1251
Colorado Rockies 80 19 48 13 51 234 308 1020

Scoring leaders

Note: GP = Games played; G = Goals; A = Assists; Pts = Points
Player Team GP G A Pts PIM
Marcel Dionne Los Angeles Kings 80 53 84 137 32
Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers 79 51 86 137 21
Guy Lafleur Montreal Canadiens 74 50 75 125 12
Gilbert Perreault Buffalo Sabres 80 40 66 106 57
Mike Rogers Hartford Whalers 80 44 61 105 10
Bryan Trottier New York Islanders 78 42 62 104 68
Charlie Simmer Los Angeles Kings 64 56 45 101 65
Blaine Stoughton Hartford Whalers 80 56 44 100 16
Darryl Sittler Toronto Maple Leafs 73 40 57 97 62
Blair MacDonald Edmonton Oilers 80 46 48 96 24

Leading goaltenders


With the league expansion from 17 to 21 teams, the playoffs were also expanded, from a 12-team tournament to a 16-team tournament. The sixteen teams were composed of the four divisional champions plus the top 12 finishers of the remaining 17 teams. The 16 qualifying teams were then seeded based on regular season points, with divisional rankings ignored. Division leaders no longer received first round byes. The teams were seeded 1 through 16, with the top team playing the 16th team in the first round, and so on. In subsequent rounds, matchups were similarly arranged, with the top remaining seed against the lowest remaining seed, and so on. The Preliminary Round was a best-of-five set.


The story of the playoffs, though, was Mike Bossy and the New York Islanders. After a dismal start for their franchise in the early seventies, the Islanders built a contender for the Stanley Cup and won their first of four in a row by beating the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime of game six of the final. Defenceman Denis Potvin scored a crucial overtime goal in game one and the Cup was won when Bobby Nystrom scored the Cup-winning goal from John Tonelli and Lorne Henning at 7:11 of the first overtime. Hall of Fame announcer Dan Kelly was calling the play-by-play for CBS Sports on that day, May 24, 1980. It was the last NHL game to air on American network television for nearly ten years.

Playoff bracket

NHL awards

Prince of Wales Trophy: Buffalo Sabres
Clarence S. Campbell Bowl: Philadelphia Flyers
Art Ross Trophy: Marcel Dionne, Los Angeles Kings
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy: Al MacAdam, Minnesota North Stars
Calder Memorial Trophy: Ray Bourque, Boston Bruins
Conn Smythe Trophy: Bryan Trottier, New York Islanders
Frank J. Selke Trophy: Bob Gainey, Montreal Canadiens
Hart Memorial Trophy: Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers
Jack Adams Award: Pat Quinn, Philadelphia Flyers
James Norris Memorial Trophy: Larry Robinson, Montreal Canadiens
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy: Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers
Lester B. Pearson Award: Marcel Dionne, Los Angeles Kings
NHL Plus/Minus Award: Jim Schoenfeld, Buffalo Sabres & Jimmy Watson, Philadelphia Flyers
Vezina Trophy: Don Edwards & Bob Sauve, Buffalo Sabres
Lester Patrick Trophy: Bobby Clarke, Edward M. Snider, Frederick A. Shero

All-Star teams

First team   Position   Second team
Tony Esposito, Chicago Black Hawks G Don Edwards, Buffalo Sabres
Larry Robinson, Montreal Canadiens D Borje Salming, Toronto Maple Leafs
Ray Bourque, Boston Bruins D Jim Schoenfeld, Buffalo Sabres
Marcel Dionne, Los Angeles Kings C Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers
Guy Lafleur, Montreal Canadiens RW Danny Gare, Buffalo Sabres
Charlie Simmer, Los Angeles Kings LW Steve Shutt, Montreal Canadiens


The following is a list of players of note who played their first NHL game in 1979–80 (listed with their first team, asterisk(*) marks debut in playoffs):

Last games

The following is a list of players of note that played their last game in the NHL in 1979–80 (listed with their last team):

1980 trading deadline

Trading deadline: March 11, 1980.
  • March 10, 1980: Butch Goring traded from Los Angeles to NY Islanders for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis.
  • March 10, 1980: Jerry Korab traded from Buffalo to Los Angeles for Los Angeles' first round choice in 1982 Entry Draft (Phil Housley).
  • March 11, 1980: Ron Chipperfield traded from Edmonton to Quebec for Ron Low.
  • March 11, 1980: Cam Connor and Edmonton's third round choice in 1981 Entry Draft traded from Edmonton to NY Rangers for Don Murdoch.
  • March 11, 1980: Jim Corsi traded from Edmonton to Minnesota for future considerations.

See also


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