Friday, July 23, 2004


Wayne Gretzky: The Greatest One?

If you ask most hockey fans who the greatest player of all time is, you will most likely hear the name Wayne Gretzky mentioned.

An article by Kevin Hench of, about his choices for the 10 Greatest Myths in Pro Sports, has an argument that the Wayner is not, in fact, the greatest of all time.

Using some (selective) statistics, Hench details his argument that Gretzky�s offensive contributions weren�t enough to make him the greatest.

Myth: 3. Wayne Gretzky is, without question, the greatest hockey player of all time

To suggest otherwise is blasphemy. Hell, we're practically forbidden by international law from even discussing it.

But there's no way you're going to convince me that a guy with a concave chest who couldn't knock Michelle Kwan off stride was a more dominant player than Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux or, for that matter, Mark Messier.

All the pro-Gretzky arguments are about numbers. Offensive numbers. Well, hockey is a physical game, and just because a guy was the greatest offensive player in a cartoonish offensive era does not mean he's the greatest hockey player of all time.

But let's look at another number: Gretzky's plus/minus. After leaving Edmonton, where he was surrounded by a bunch of Hall of Famers in their primes, over the last 11 years of his career, he was a net minus. That's right, from 1988-99, when Gretzky was on the ice at even strength, the Great One's teams were outscored by 33 goals. In his last eight seasons, he was a woeful minus-86. You see, backchecking � it turns out � actually helps your team. Crunching a guy into the boards helps your team. Clearing guys out of the crease helps your team. In all these ways and more, Gretzky did not help his teams. Sure, he put up mind-boggling numbers, but wouldn't you rather have your mind boggled than your bones jarred?

Now no one would suggest with a straight face that Gretzky was as good in his own zone as any of the other nominees for greatest hockey player of all time. The case for Gretzky is that he was so much better offensively that it made up for his defensive limitations.
Is this true?

(Sports Nerd Alert: Stat-heavy analysis ahead.)

In his best offensive season, Gretzky tallied a record 215 points. The league average for goals was 7.94 per game. Gretzky's 2.69 points per game average represented 33.8 percent of average goals per game. In his best season, Orr averaged 1.69 ppg, or 24.6 percent of the total goals per game. Do you suppose Orr made up for this gap in his own zone as the best defenseman of all time?

A comparison with Lemieux invites the possibility that Gretzky wasn't even the best offensive player of his generation. In 1988-89, when he scored 199 points, Lemieux's point per game total as a percentage of league average goals was even higher than Gretzky's best year (35 percent to 33.8). So Lemieux not only matched Gretzky as a scorer, but he also lugged the puck from end to end with guys hanging all over him and made goal scorers out of Warren Young, Terry Ruskowski and Rob Brown. Lemieux also had a higher career points per game average than Gretzky before his last two injury-plagued seasons, despite having a career that bridged a high-scoring era and a low-scoring one. As it stands now, Gretzky's career points average (1.92 ppg) is one one-hundredth better than Lemieux's (1.91).

So if Gretzky might not be the best offensive player and is certainly below-average defensively and didn't win as many Cups as Messier, by what measure is he the greatest player ever?

He's not. It's a lie.

How about a rebuttal? Russ Cohen presents his argument for Gretz�s greatness.

The author made a horrible reach saying that until the last two injury-plagued seasons Mario Lemieux had a higher points-per-game average. Well, the fact is he slipped and will continue to slip because of his age and bad hip. Gretzky also had a bad neck his last few seasons and slipped himself. That's sports.

So as it stands today Gretzky has the highest points per game total and he's not supposed to play defense. However, one of the four playoff records that Gretzky has with the Kings is for short-handed goals. How did he get them? He played on the penalty kill because of his exceptional vision and amazing skating ability.

If Messier or Gordie Howe calls Gretzky the greatest ever, believe it.

Now, here are my arguments and rebuttals to both points:

Ok, so I�m rambling, so let me sum this up for you.

Wayne Gretzky, in my opinion, is the Greatest Hockey Player� of all time, and it isn�t close...but, I don�t think he�s the best.


To me, no other player has had nearly the impact on the game of hockey that Gretzky has.

The scoring records, the record for most scoring records, the numerous All-Star and individual awards, the insane offensive numbers, the way he changed the game from his �office�, and the way he grew the game off the ice.

When Gretz was dealt to LA, the explosion and expansion of hockey in the USA was in large part to his presence. When the Canes couldn�t draw flies during their first year in Carolina, Gretz�s trip with the Rangers drew their only sellout of the season.

Even non-hockey people like my mom know who Wayne Gretzky is. He�s got �street-cred� that no other NHL player possesses. Only Mark Messier in his NYR prime had any level of real street cred, and he never came close to what Gretzky achieved in the PR world. You�ve never seen Messier on Saturday Night Live, have you?

There is a reason why #99 is retired in every NHL rink across the land.


If I was to pick the �best� player, and by that I mean the player, who in their prime, I would build my team around to win...I wouldn�t choose Gretzky first.

To me, Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux, and Dominik Hasek are 3 players I would absolutely take for their overall level of skill and dominance if I was playing to win.

So, Gretzky is the greatest, but not the best. Let that be another argument solved :)

Hasek? HASEK? hasek wasnt even the best galie during his own time. much less of all time
Hey buddy, if Wayne Gretzky never scored a single goal during his entire NHL career he would still be the NHL's all time leading point leader.

He could have won the Art Ross by not scoring a single goal, meaning he had more assists that players had total points.
You have to be kidding. Bobby Orr and the Rocket were way better than Gretzky who played in a severely dilited league.
You had me convinced right up until you mentioned Hasek ...Screw it ...I'm back considering Gretzky to be the BEST !
I thought that I was the only person who did not feel that The Grate Whine was the best hockey player ever. I will take two centers that are the same size as Gretzky over him any day, Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. There are many more...
Mario Lemieux was way better than Gretzky, To make it as simple a comparison as I can, It would be like if Walter Payton played behind Emmitt Smiths' Offensive line..On one hand we have a truly gifted athlete playing with a group of No-ones..On the other an above average player surrounded by allstars. Had MArio gone to Edmonton, All records belong to him, If Gretzky came to the Burgh, He'd of been selling cars in 2 years..No one has mentioned how MArio Shattered all waynes Junior records...Mario had, the size, the skill and the heart..Wayne had the team mates
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