I was fortunate enough to have lived in Edmonton during the Wayne Gretzky era. He was amazing, both as a human and as a player. Who would have thought it would turn out that way given his physical stature?
During this past week, with the NHL regular 2019-20 season now officially closed down, I have been doing a number of historical retrospectives focusing on all the Canadian teams – looking at the best players in each team’s history. However, when coming to the Edmonton Oilers, I was simply overwhelmed with the task – not because it was difficult but because there were so many great Oilers’ players.
In their day, the Oilers were one of the great NHL’s dynasties. The number of incredible players on those Oilers teams seems almost endless. That’s the way with dynasties. Let me only list a few of them – Wayne Gretzky (who is the focus of this post), Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr, etc. etc. etc.
Ergo, in response to the treasure of information about these absolutely wonderful Oilers’ players – as well the patriarch of the great Oilers’ teams, Glen Sather – I am going to begin by spending an entire post looking back on Gretzky’s career.
Wayne Gretzky: The Best Player the NHL Has Ever Witnessed
That Wayne Gretzky is named the best player in Oilers’ history is no surprise, he’s the best player the NHL has ever seen. There have been other great ones – Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, and Bobby Orr come to mind first, but none of those players were like The Great Gretzky.
During the peak of his play, he suited up with the Oilers. And, my was he successful. That undoubtedly had to do with both his own personal talent and the talent of the players who surrounded him. Really, who else was blessed to play at the same time with Mark Messier and Jari Kurri? That’s rhetorical – the answer is No One!
Gretzky was born in January 1961 in Brantford, Ontario. He was, at the most, 6-foot-0 and weighed 185 pounds. In 1978, Gretzky signed with the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA, and briefly played there before being bought by Peter Pocklington from the Racers’ owner Nelson Skalbania (along with goalie Ed Mio and forward Peter Driscoll) for $825,000. He arrived in Edmonton with the Oilers as a skinny 17-year-old kid from the WHA during the league’s final season (1979).
To move the story far forward, sadly for the Oilers and especially their fans, Oilers’ owner Pocklington’s other businesses were failing and he sold Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings for $15 million before the 1988-89 season. But, before he left Edmonton, Gretzky had won four Stanley Cups with the Oilers and re-written many Oilers and NHL’s records.
Let the NHL record book show that, although Gretzky played in the same era as the amazing Mario Lemieux and Mario accomplished the amazing feat of scoring 199 points during the 1988-89 season, Gretzky topped 200 points four times. That’s something no one else has ever done.
[By the way, to watch a great documentary about the Oilers’ great team, click the YouTube link before for the “Boys on the Bus.”]
Some of Gretzky’s Other Records
I remember watching on television the night Gretzky absolutely shattered Maurice Richard and Mike Bossy’s record of 50 goals in 50 games, and he did it in only 39 games. Gretzky also scored in 51 straight games, which says much about both his team and himself as a player. Seldom these days do teams ever go that long without being shutout. In fact, from 03/15/1981 to 02/11/1984 the Oilers went 229 games without being shutout. [Amazingly, the Calgary Flames hold the record for games-in-a-row without being shutout at 264.]
Gretzky helped the Oilers, during the team’s dynasty, win four Stanley Cups. Personally, he won two Conn Smythe Trophies (most valuable player during the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs); seven Art Ross Trophies in a row (player who leads the league in points at the end of the regular season); and eight Hart Trophies in consecutive seasons (for the player judged most valuable to his own team).
In Gretzky’s time with the Oilers, he scored 583 goals and 1,086 assists for 1,669 points in 696 games. Sadly for Oilers fans, as I noted, the Great One also played for other teams – the Kings, the St. Louis Blues, and the New York Rangers. By the time he retired in 1999, he had scored 894 goals, 1,963 assists, and 2,857 total points in 1,487 regular-season games. He holds or shares 61 NHL records.
Finally, if only Gretzky’s assists were counted, he would still lead NHL history in scoring with 1,963 assists. The great Jaromir Jagr is the second leading scorer in NHL history, having scored 1,914 career points. [It’s interesting that Jagr played last season with Kladno in the Czech Republic and scored 15 goals. He’s 48 years old.]
In summary, choosing the greatest player in Edmonton Oilers history was easy because Wayne Gretzky was also the greatest player in NHL history.
Even better, he’s one of the nice guys in the history of hockey. He remains an ambassador for the game in his current life.
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