The Great One: Andrew, are you okay? Are you okay, Andrew?

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There are days when I really wonder if people just write things to be different or if they truly believe them.

This staggering comment was posted by Andrew yesterday in JW’s article on Sam Gagner.

“I will never understand why every hockey fan looks at Gretzky through rose colored glasses and I didn’t say he isn’t a great player, he definitely is. But his numbers are incredibly inflated due to the era he played in and due to the aforementioned reasons in my previous post. Look at his numbers near the end of his career. He had a 97, 90, and 62 point campaigns in his final three years and he didn’t lose a step either as he was always more cerebral than talented. Those point totals were very good considering the NHL was entering the trap and clutch era during his final years in the league. Once again Gretzky is a great player who deserves to be on the top 100 players of all time. He just isn’t the greatest player in history.”

Having an opinion is great, but when you are so far off in your assessment it needs to be pointed out.

How can you suggest Gretzky’s point totals were inflated? Didn’t every other player who played in that era have the same chance to score? Of course they did, but shockingly enough they couldn’t produce as well as Gretzky. Yes the 1980’s were the supposed open era, but was it really that much more open than the 1970s?

Gretzky dominated the game like no one else had before, except maybe Bobby Orr, but Orr never did it for as long.

The fairest way to compare players from era-to-era is to compare how they fared against the other players in their respective seasons.

  • In 1941, Bill Cowley led the NHL in scoring with 62 points in 46 games. Five players finished tied for second with 44 points. He had more assists, 45, than anyone had points. He scored 18 more points than anyone else.
  • In 1951, Gordie Howe topped that by winning the scoring race by 20 points. In 1953 he potted 95 points for a 24-point cushion over Ted Lindsay.
  • The only other players to win the scoring race by more than 20 points were:
  • 1970, Bobby Orr finished with 120, 21 ahead of Phil Esposito.
  • 1973, Esposito tallied 130, 26 ahead of Bobby Clarke.
  • 1974, Esposito finished with 145, 23 ahead of Orr.
  • 1989, Mario Lemieux potted 199, 31 ahead of Gretzky. *** In 1993, Lemieux finished 12 points ahead of Pat Lafontaine, but Lemieux scored 160 in only 60 games. Had he played even ten more games he would have easily finished 20+ ahead.***
  • 1999, Jaromir Jagr scored 127 points, exactly 20 ahead of Teemu Selanne.

Now let’s look at the ~over-rated~ Wayne Gretzky.

His rookie season he tied Marcel Dionne in scoring with 137 points, but lost due to fewer goals. For the next seven years he dominated the game like no other has before, or ever will again.

  • 1981, Gretzky potted 164 points, 29 better than Dionne.
  • 1982, Gretzky tallied 212 points, 65 more than Mike Bossy.
  • 1983, Gretzky finished with 196, a whopping 72 more than Peter Stastny.
  • 1984, Gretzky ended with 205 points, only 79 more than Paul Coffey.
  • 1985, Gretz picked up 208 points, good for a 73 point cushion on Jari Kurri.
  • 1986, Gretz set a league record with 215, 74 more than Mario Lemieux.
  • 1987, He dipped to a measly 183, 75 points better than Kurri.
  • And in his 12th year in the league in 1991, he finished with 163, 32 better than Brett Hull.

So please, dear Andrew, explain to me how Gretzky’s points were inflated? Maybe take a second and re-read the previous bullet points, and notice how much better he was than anyone else on the ice when he played.

Before he entered the league here are the scoring leaders from the previous ten years and how many games each team played.

  • 1979 (80 games) ­– Bryan Trottier, 134 points
  • 1978 (80 games) – Guy Lafleur, 132
  • 1977 (80 games) – Guy Lafleur, 136
  • 1976 (80 games) – Guy Lafleur, 125
  • 1975 (80 games) – Bobby Orr, 135
  • 1974 (78 games) – Phil Esposito, 145
  • 1973 (78 games) – Esposito, 130
  • 1972 (78 games) – Esposito, 133
  • 1971 (78 games) – Esposito, 152
  • 1970 (76 games) – Orr, 120

So clearly the game somehow changed overnight in the 1980s, and they must have stopped playing 1970s type of defence.

Anyone who suggest Gretzky’s totals were inflated wasn’t paying attention, or isn’t smart enough to realize how much better he was than anyone else. Look at the point totals of the second place finishers in his first eight seasons, 137, 135, 147, 124, 126, 135, 141 and 108. Do any of those numbers look that much better than the leaders in 1970?

Gretzky dominated his era more than any player in the history of the game, and to suggest he isn’t the greatest of all-time is so ignorant and uninformed I couldn’t ignore it.

We can argue and debate the merits of Hall/Seguin or Ovechkin/Crosby and both sides will have valid points, but, outside of Bobby Orr, there is nothing that proves why Gretzky wasn’t the greatest. The only player who you can even consider is Bobby Orr when you compare his numbers to other D-men in his era.

And your point that Gretzky’s last three seasons were “okay” once again doesn’t do him justice. In this 18th season he scored 97 points, only Teemu Selanne (109) and Mario Lemieux (122) had over a hundred. In his 19th season he scored 90 points, tied for third in the league with Pavel Bure, one behind Peter Forsberg and only 12 back of Jaromir Jagr. Even in his late 30’s he kept up with guys 10 to 12 years his junior.

And stating that Gretzky didn’t lose a step would suggest he was one of the most fine-tuned specimens the game has ever seen, because I don’t know any professional player who is as quick or as strong in his late 30s as he was in his early 20s.

Andrew also added this startling piece:

“I do have to say that Gretzky wasn’t that great of a player if you broke him down. He had an average shot, even for back in his playing days. He didn’t skate particularly well, and he wasn’t strong on the puck. He had the benefit of playing during an era where physical play was almost non existent and he was protected by his team and the league as they had him as the NHL’s poster boy. He also did think the game really well but in today’s game Gretzky would probably be scoring at the rate he was going near the tail end of his career. A 70-80 point playmaking center who would be capable of 15-25 goals. Which isn’t exactly anything to scoff at as he would be a top 6 forward. Just not as blown up as a “generational player”. PS. Lemieux, Francis, Lafontaine, Hawerchuk, etc were all better players.”

Yes Andrew, he had an average shot that somehow allowed him to score 894 goals, and he was such a bad skater, that he rarely got caught from behind when he smelled an opening.

And the ’80s weren’t physical at all. There weren’t line brawls, or head shots or errant elbows. In fact, no one hit Gretzky because John Ziegler sent out a memo to all teams not to touch him for fear of a lifetime ban from the game.

And the league wanted him to dominate more than anyone else, because Edmonton, one of the smallest markets in the league needed to be the most popular. The NHL wanted one of the WHA castoffs to come in and dominate their league. Yes, the league’s grand plan was to put Edmonton on the map.

And you are correct that he would only be a 70-80 point player, even though he only dipped that low once, when he wasn’t injured, in his 20-year career.

Thanks for the astute and accurate points.

*** Sidenote, if any of you are interested, Tyler Seguin will be on my show today at 3:10 MST. Listen at TEAM 1260 or online at www.justagame.ca ***