There is one common argument that comes up, regardless of what sport you are talking about—who is the all-time best?
Naturally, when this type of argument comes about there are cases to be made for each and every player involved in the discussions. It seems as if each argument ends up in a stalemate with the impossible task of comparing stars from different generations.
So to help knock out one of these arguments, I’m going to take a look at Wayne Gretzky and compare some of his stats to other players' in an attempt to see if he truly was the greatest player to ever play the game of hockey, or if his success was just a result of the generation that he played in.
Gretzky’s highest point output was in 1985-86, when he scored 215 points in only 80 games, as the National Hockey League (NHL) hadn’t yet expanded their schedule to the full 82 games. To put into comparison how remarkable that point total is, Alexander Ovechkin won the scoring race this year with 112 points, which is an average of 1.36 Points Per Game (PPG). During Gretzky’s record-setting season, he had 168 assists alone.
The 200-point plateau has only been hit three other times, and of course all by Gretz himself—in 1981-82 (212 in 80), 1983-84 (205 in 74), and 1984-85 (208 in 80).
In the NHL’s inaugural season in 1917-18, the schedule was only 22 games long. The Montreal Canadiens' Joe Malone led the league in scoring with 44 points, which is an average of 2.18 PPG. However, if he were to play a full 80-game schedule, that would only have sat Malone with 174 points.
Good? Damn Good! Gretzky Good? No.
Then in 1929-30, with the schedule now doubled to 44 games, Boston Bruins’ Ralph “Cooney” Weiland led the NHL with 73 points. Despite the increase of games, Cooney`s 1.66 PPG was still lower than Malone’s, and would have only been 133 points over a 80-game schedule.
In 1943-44, another Bruin, Herb Cain, notched up an impressive 82 points in a 50-game schedule. Cain earned 1.64 PPG—which would still only be 131 over 80 games. Still not even close. NEXT.
Gordie Howe is often called the greatest player to ever play the game, but his highest output was in 1952-53 when he scored 1.36 PPG—95 points in 70 games, which would translate to 109 points in an 80-game season.
Then it was two Blackhawks who tried to outscore Gretzky, even though Gretzky had not yet stepped foot on an NHL rink. Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita both scored 97 points over a 70-game schedule in the mid-sixties. This left them both with just a measly 1.39 PPG and 111 points in an 80-game season.
While playing for the Boston Bruins, Phil Esposito racked up 152 points in just a 76-game schedule. For those of you who are doing the math yourselves, I’m sure you noticed that was two PPG even. This would have left him with 160 points over 80 games—still over 50 points away from Wayne’s 215.
Had Esposito played with Gretzky and notched his two PPG every season, he still would have finished second in scoring to Gretzky for seven straight years (1980-81 to 1986-87) as Gretzky had over 160 points for those seven seasons.
After Espo, no one notched about 150 points until Gretzky came into the league. Then the hockey world was treated to Gretzky vs Lemieux. Mario played 17 seasons in the NHL, but never once played a full 80 games. It is well documented the struggles and tribulations he went through, with injuries and eventually a battle with cancer.
Over his career Lemieux took home six scoring titles. His highest output was when he managed to put up 160 points in 1992-93 playing only 60 games. So if he were to have played the other 20 games at his 2.67 PPG, he would have ended up with 214 points, just one point behind “Wayne the Stain”—that is, if he could have kept that pace up.
Joe Thornton had the highest point output since the turn of the century. with 125 points in 2005-06. This turns out to be 1.52 PPG—still middle of the pack compared to the rest of the field.
So, for a brief recap:
Points over 80 Games
Now, let us turn to Gretzky. Wayne played 20 seasons in the NHL, and scored more then 120 points in his first 14 out of 15 seasons. In Gretzky’s 215-point output, he earned an astounding 2.69 PPG. What about his other seasons in the league? Well...not that far off.
Points over 80 Games
He won the NHL scoring title 10 times, and came in second an additional three times. Gretzky scored over 100 points 15 times in his 20 year career. In the past four years, the NHL has only seen 11 different people break the 100-point plateau.
Of course, we have to take into consideration the amount of equipment goaltenders wore, the new style of goaltenders, the new style of play, the trap, teammates—and all the rest of the facts that go along with the game of hockey.
But that would take even more effort than this. And quite frankly, this is enough for me to call Wayne Gretzky not just “The Great One”—but truly, “The Greatest One.”