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Gretzky is the GOAT

I was 15 years old when Wayne Gretzky was sold/traded to the Los Angeles Kings on August 9th, 1988. It was also my grandmothers’ 72nd birthday. Grandma Kramps was a gem. I never forgot the day Gretzky was traded, but it was second to Grandmas birthday.

However, I do remember exactly where I was when I heard the trade went down. I was in Beaumont playing with my buddy Darren when we heard the news. There was no Internet, social media or cell phones. You couldn’t just pick up your phone to find out information. We were playing in a park, when some random father came up to his son and said, “Gretzky got traded.”

We raced back to Darren’s house (I’m pretty sure it was the only house with yellow stucco in Beaumont), and we sat down on the couch and watched in shock. Why would the Oilers trade the best player in the NHL? They’d just won their fourth Stanley Cup in May. They were the best team in the league and Gretzky was the leader.

It made no sense. It still doesn’t 30 years later.

Here was the entire deal.

The Oilers traded Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski, John Miner and Marty McSorley for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, Craig Redmond, three Kings’ first round picks — 1989 (later traded to Devils, who selected Jason Miller), 1991 (Martin Rucinsky) and 1993 (Nick Stajduhar) — and $15 million in cash.

A year later the Oilers traded Carson, Kevin McClelland and a fifth round pick to the Detroit Red Wings for Petr Klima, Joe Murphy, Adam Graves and Jeff Sharples. Klima, Murphy and Graves played a big part in the Oilers winning the 1990 Stanley Cup.

The Gretzky trade rocked the sporting world and word spread of his sale/trade like wild fire. My older brother was traveling in Switzerland at the time. He was on a train when he overheard some people discussing the trade. He didn’t believe them, but when he got off the train he found a paper, and in the Switzerland paper there was a story about the trade. That was on August 10th.

Only the Emmys didn’t think the trade was a big deal, I guess.

As time passes, I find some people have tried to downplay Gretzky’s greatness. They try to compare eras using statistics to compare previous generations to today’s game, and some younger hockey fans have been led to believe Gretzky wasn’t as good as his stats suggest. Don’t believe any of that BS. People can compare eras all they like, but just using data is very inaccurate. It doesn’t account for everything — equipment, training, nutrition, commercial flights and many other factors. The game isn’t the same, but for me, instead of trying to compare players from different eras, the best thing to do is compare players in their own era to each other.

If a player dominated his peers the way Gretzky did, I don’t see how anyone can claim he wasn’t the greatest. Look at what he accomplished instead of looking at ways to demean his success.

On the 30th anniversary of his trade, here are some numbers to ponder.

GRETZKY WAS GREATNESS

1. Gretzky scored 100+ EV points ten times in his career. When he entered the league in 1979/1980, only Guy Lafleur had achieved triple digits at EV. Lafleur had 104 EV points in 1977. In Gretzky’s rookie season he tallied 100 EV points. He proceeded to score 104, 147, 132, 135, 146, 143 and 124 EV points over the next seven seasons. In 1988, he played only 64 games and scored 91 EV points. In his first three seasons with the Kings he produced 100, 96 and 103 EV points.

2. Gretzky reached 100 EV points ten times. The only other players to do it; did it once each: Lafleur, Mario Lemieux (102 in 1989), Steve Yzerman (101 in 1989), Jari Kurri (101 in 1985) and Mike Bossy (100 in 1982).

3. In Gretzky’s first 12 NHL seasons he scored between 91-147 EV points every year. That is 12 of the top 23 EV point totals of all time. On top of the aforementioned five players to top-100 points, the others to reach 91 include Phil Esposito (99 in 1974 and 1971), Lemieux (96 in 1993), Lafleur (96 in 1978), Jaromir Jagr (95 in 1996), Ken Hodge (93 in 1971) and Marcel Dionne (91 in 1980).

4. A total of 10 players have scored 91 EV points in an NHL season, and Gretzky did it 12 times.

5. Gretzky’s best PP point total was 61 in 1994 with the Kings. That is tied for 10th best with Sidney Crosby (2007). He best PP total with the Oilers was 57 in 1982.

6. He isn’t considered one of the greatest pure goal scorers, likely because he didn’t have a flashy one-timer or regularly overpowered goalies with his velocity, but he has the most goals in NHL history, 894, and some of the best single season totals as well. His 68 EV goals in 1982 are the most in NHL history. Brett Hull is second with 57. Gretzky scored 55 and 54 EV goals in 1984 and 1985 respectively, and the only other player to score 50 EV goals in the 1980s was Jari Kurri, who potted 54 in 1985.

7. In the history of the NHL, only ten times has a player scored 50 EV goals: the aforementioned top-five, along with Steve Shutt (52 in 1977), Teemu Selanne (52 in 1993), Reggie Leach (51 in 1976), Esposito (51 in 1974, and 50 in 1971). (On a side note, if you don’t have Esposito in the conversation of greatest goal scorers of all-time, that is a mistake. He and Gretzky combined for five of the ten EV 50-goal seasons).

8. In the 1980s (ten years from 1980-1989), Gretzky scored 637-1200-1837. The other top-five scorers over a ten-year span during that time were Peter Stastny (385-674-1,059), Jari Kurri (474-569-1,043), Denis Savard (351-662-1,013) and Marcel Dionne (404-576-980). (Statsny, Kurri and Savard all debuted in 1981, so I added their 1990 total to make it equal ten years to Gretzky). Gretzky had more assists than any of the second to fifth best scorers had points. When you hear the statement, “It was easier to score in the 1980s,” as an argument against Gretzky’s totals, just bring up these stats. If it was so easy, how come Gretzky had 778 points more than the second highest scorer? You can take Mario Lemieux’s best ten seasons and they add up to 1,412 points. Still 425 less than Gretzky’s first ten years in the league.

9. Gretzky scored 2,857 points in his career. Jagr is second with 1,921, Mark Messier is third with 1,887, Gordie Howe is fourth with 1,850. Gretzky had more assists, 1,963, than any of them had total points.

10. In the history of the NHL, 29 players have averaged one point-per-game in the playoffs (minimum 50 NHL playoff games). Only two players have averaged more than 1.25 PPG. Gretzky averaged 1.83 PPG in the playoffs, scoring 382 points in 208 playoff games. Lemieux averaged 1.6 with 172 points in 107 games. Mark Messier is third at 1.25 PPG with 295 points in 236 games. Gretzky’s ability to dominate at the most crucial time was remarkable.

You can try to manipulate the numbers any way you like, but no one dominated his peers the way Gretzky did, then or now. I hope we see someone do it in the future, but until then, don’t be fooled by anyone suggesting Gretzky wasn’t as dominant because of the era he played in. I’d argue that as we look deeper into his numbers, we are realizing he dominated the opposition more than we even knew at the time. Those who watched him in his prime likely took his greatness for granted.

Thirty years later, it is still hard to fathom Gretzky was traded. I still remember sitting in shock on Darren’s couch. We were teenagers and didn’t comprehend why the trade happened. It was the first time I realized professional sports was a business, and the business of the NHL changed mightily that day.

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  • Spaceman Spiff

    Jason …
    You and I are the same age. I was also 15 in the summer of 1988 when Gretzky was traded. It’s so funny that day brings back so many memories. I was thinking about August 9, 1988 yesterday as I was walking in downtown Edmonton when it was 34C or whatever. I grew up in a rural area outside of Grande Prairie and one of my biggest memories about Gretzky Trade Day was how hot it was by Northern-Alberta-in-1988 standards … but … as I recall, it was probably around 27C. Quite tolerable compared to yesterday.

    Like you, that day is burned into my memory. That week, my dad, my brother and I had begun the task of renovating my mom’s kitchen. On that particular day, we were removing the original wallpaper and it was an arduous task. The builder had done a terrible job with the drywall work in the kitchen when the house was built, so the walls were rough and whoever hung the original wallpaper had used some glue in places (i.e. in addition to the glue on the back of the paper). It took hours to get the paper off with a scraper and a soapy washcloth. The hot weather wasn’t helping things … although I can’t imagine doing that job in 34C heat now.

    We had the radio on in the kitchen listening to live cut-ins about news of the trade all morning. At that time, GP only had two radio stations (both AM) and, amazingly, both pre-empted their regular afternoon programming and carried the press conference, live. We actually watched the presser on CBC Edmonton, right off the rabbit ears (I still have the grainy VHS tape of the conference). I sat on the floor in front of the couch, with my back to my brother and my dad. I didn’t want them to see the tears in my eyes. When the press conference was over, we went back to the wallpaper and the scraping and the heat. The Dog Days of Summer were never more vicious than that day, 30 years ago, when everything changed.

  • FlamesFan27

    Even as a Flames fan, I remember where I was when it was announced. The Flames probably never would have won a cup without that happening, and the Oilers likely would have had 2-3 more. In the end, it was good for the league I guess.

    • n(Ice)

      Good for the BUSINESS of hockey, not for the game. Certainly bad for the Oilers, and the city (“Gretzky put Edmonton on the map” — another infamous cliche.) Then people in NY and LA decided there was “gold in them thar franchises” and deliberately promoted hockey in the USA at the expense of Canadian cities and Communities. It was the Beginning of the End for OUR “beautiful game.”

  • oiler_head

    Wow this brings back memories. I was going into my Gr 12 year and had a summer job cleaning hotel rooms at what is now the Aurora Motel (I think). Me and the other two guys almost got fired that day as we ducked into various rooms we had to clean and watched the news. The girls we were working with likely thought we were idiots but I think they too were affected by the news.