These days you’ll most likely find Wayne Gretzky on a golf course picking up pointers from son-in-law and current Masters champ Dustin Johnson. But for years, Gretzky was the most dominant person in his sport on the planet. For 20 NHL seasons, the Great One shredded defenses, hoisted four Stanley Cup trophies and set more records than any other hockey player ever. That’s right, he holds the record for most records.
Gretzky’s career is filled with major milestones, but for his 60th birthday today, we’ll examine some of the major ones.
Wayne Gretzky By the Numbers
So, let’s just get the numbers out of the way up front because the tale-of-the-tape says more than anything. Gretzky joined the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers in 1979 and retired in 1999 with the New York Rangers. In that 20 year span, he finished with 894 goals and 1,963 assists for a total of 2,857 points. The next closest person to that total is Jaromir Jagr with 1,921 — a difference of 936 points.
There are very few all-time leaders in any sport with a disparity that large.
61 Points in 50 Games
There’s a rare benchmark hockey sports writers talk about of the 50 goals in 50 games. Only a small handful of players have been able to score 50 points in the first 50 games of an NHL season. And all of them are in the Hall of Fame. Gretzky did it three times. In the 1981-82 season he had 50 points in 39 games, and he’d go on to score 61 points in the first 50. He’d do it again in the 1983-84 season, scoring 61 points in 50 games.
In fact, he scored at least one point in 51 consecutive games in that 1983-84 season. Some sportswriters believe no player will ever break this record, similar to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak in baseball.
Getting Past Gordie Howe
Gordie Howe was a hockey coach’s dream. He could do it all. He had power, speed, finesse, and toughness. And in his career, Howe put all of those skills to good use to score 1,850 points. Gretzky didn’t have all of those talents. He had to play a different kind of hockey. But he was still able to pass Howe in points in his only 11 seasons by bending the game to his skills.
“(Gretzky) knew he wasn’t big enough, strong enough, or even fast enough to do what he wanted to do if others focused on him,” wrote former NHL goaltender Ken Dryden. “Like a magician, he had to direct attention elsewhere, to his four teammates on the ice with him, to create the momentary distraction in order to move unnoticed into the open ice where size and strength didn’t matter. … Gretzky made his opponents compete with five players, not one, and he made his teammates full partners to the game. He made them skate to his level and pass and finish up to his level or they would be embarrassed.”
Gretzky Enters the Hall of Fame
When Wayne Gretzky retired from the NHL, there was a customary three-year waiting period before the player could enter the Hall of Fame. Almost all sports have this type of requirement. It gives perspective to a career and allows fans a chance to better understand a player’s impact on the game. There was no need to do that with Gretzky. The NHL waived the waiting period and inducted him the same year he retired.
He’s called the Great One for a reason.