Everyone knows he has over 1,000 more points than anyone in hockey history; has more assists than anyone else has total points; and he’s also the all-time goal scoring leader.
Gretzky has the seven top single season assist marks in NHL history (and 11 of the top 13); the top four overall single season scoring records in NHL history (and six of the top seven); and oh by the way, the two best goal-scoring seasons in NHL history (and four of the top 10). He is by far the all-time playoff scoring leader in goals, assists and points.
Like Jordan he played for the title six times. Gretzky won four to Jordan’s six, but context matters here. The losses came to the Islanders dynasty that won 17 straight playoff series (a loss Gretzky and the Oilers avenged the next year); the other loss came as captain of the L.A. Kings, a team with utterly no success in its history before Gretzky was traded there and took a terrible team almost all the way to the title. Had Gretzky not been traded, there is not a hockey fan alive who believes he would not have won at least six or seven titles, and possibly as many as ten of them.
You think MJ dominated the playoffs? Wayne Gretzky is the NHL’s all-time leader in playoff points (382), a ridiculous 87 more than runner up Mark Messier; assists (260), a ridiculous 74 more than Messier, and 121 more than any other player in the rest of field; and goals (122), again 13 more than Messier, and 56 more than Mario Lemieux, just for some context. Mario Lemieux was an absolute Superstar, easily one of the best five players of All-Time, and maybe the second best (I’d have him at #3, behind Orr). Mario scored barely half as many playoff goals as Gretzky. Think about that.
Gretzky is basically 22.8% as a scorer above any other player in NHL Playoff History. That would be like someone smacking 91 home runs next season in MLB, or scoring, or scoring 40 ppg in the NBA Playoffs for a career.
Context is everything. Consider the following:
In 1979, Gretzky enters the NHL on a team, Edmonton, that is coming from the World Hockey Association merger. He’s not joining an established team. He IS the team. No one seriously expects the Oilers to compete with the NHL; everyone assumes they will be terrible.
In that 1979-80 season, as an 19 year old rookie, Gretzky led the NHL in total scoring and assists. He went 51-86-137 and a ridiculous +51. He was the league MVP. As a rookie. Process that.
As a 20 year old, Gretzky shattered the NHL’s single season scoring record, going 55-109-164 +60. He broke the mark by 12 points, or 8% above the best single-season is record hockey history. He set the single-season record for assists this year (a record he would subsequently break eight more times). Again, he was the league MVP. This would be a down season for Gretzky when you see what he did next.
As a 21 year old, Gretzky smashed his own record. By 48 points. He put up a 92 goal (still the record), 120 assist, 212 point barrage. In winning his third MVP, Gretzky beat the pre-Gretzky scoring record by 60 points, or about 40%.
And here we must pause. Let’s ballpark this. Imagine someone:
Batting .580 next year, or hitting 100 home runs;
Or an NBA player averaging 70 points per game (breaking Wilt’s 50.4 points per game record);
Or an NFL quarterback throwing for 7,500 yards and 70 TDs; imagine a running back running for almost 3,000 yards.
That’s what Gretzky did by age 21, more or less. That’s how much he smashed the previous standard.
And then he got better.
From age 22-25, Gretzky proved it was no fluke, posting 196, 205, 208 and 215 point seasons. The last two of those years he won his first titles in 1984-85 and 1985-86.
In 1983, Gretzky led the NHL in goals (71) , assists (125), points (196).. . Hall of Famer Peter Stastny was second in scoring..with 124 points, 72 back of Wayne.
In 1984, Gretzky scored 87 goals. Michel Goulet was second.. with 56. Gretzky added 118 assists.. Paul Coffey was second .. with 86. And Gretzky put up 205 Coffey coming in second, at 126, just 79 behind Wayne.
In 1985, Gretzky scored a league leading 73 goals (Kurri at 71 was second); put up 135 assists (Coffey’s 84 was second, 51 behind) and scored a stunning 208 points, 73 ahead of Kurri’s 135, which ranked second. Gretzky would have won the scoring title (or tied for it) had he scored zero goals — except he also happened to lead the league in goals. A pretty good played named Mario Lemieux was a rookie this year — he scored 100 points and won Rookie of the Year Honors. Double that, and you are still eight points shy of Gretzky.
In 1986, Gretzky scored only 52 goals, sixth in the NHL. Of course, he also scored 163 assists, the best single-season assist record in NHL history (49 more than any player not named Gretzky has ever put up in a season). And Gretzky set the all-time points record with 215 points.
The next two years, he won two more Stanley Cup titles, for a total of four.
Wayne Gretzky is easily the most dominant athlete of my lifetime in a team sport. When you win nine MVP Awards, you are The Man.