Gretzky dealt 24 years ago: His 24 unbreakable marks
The National Hockey League has never been the same since Aug. 9, 1988.
Twenty-four years ago today, the NHL was rocked by the biggest trade in hockey history, if not sports history. The Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky, the centerpiece of a dynasty that had just won the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in five years and the greatest scorer hockey had ever seen, to the Los Angeles Kings for young players, draft picks -- and $15 million.
Gretzky had already shredded the NHL record book by setting new standards for goals and points in a season while helping the Oilers terrorize goaltenders like no team before them. The deal pumped life into the Kings, a franchise that had always struggled for attention in Los Angeles, and stunned Edmonton and the rest of Canada.
Gretzky went on to play another 11 seasons after the trade before retiring in 1998-99 after three seasons with the New York Rangers. He left the NHL with more than 60 records to his credit.
In honor of the 24th anniversary of the trade that stunned hockey and still resonates today, here's a look at 24 of his records that no one figures to break any time soon -- if at all.
Consider this: The last player to have more than 140 points in one season was Mario Lemieux, who put up 160 in 1995-96 -- and Evgeni Malkin led the League last season with 109. Twenty seasons of averaging 140 points wouldn't be enough to catch Gretzky's career record.
Most career goals: 894
Again, this figures to stand for a long time. The top goal-scorer among players 35 and under is Calgary's Jarome Iginla with 516; for players 30 and under, it's Ilya Kovalchuk with 406. Alex Ovechkin, who turns 27 before the start of the season, has 338. Iginla won't catch Gretzky, and Kovy or Ovi would need a long run of big seasons just to get close enough to get within shouting distance of the record.
Most career assists: 1,963
The NHL has never seen the likes of Gretzky as a playmaker, and it may never. No. 99 often seemed to have eyes in the back of his head -- that's how good he was at finding teammates for what turned into easy goals. His assist total is 714 more than runner-up Ron Francis -- and he has more assists than any other player has points. No active player has reached 1,000 assists, though 40-year-old Jaromir Jagr is just 12 away.
Most goals in a season: 92
When Phil Esposito set the single-season mark by scoring 76 goals in 1970-71, it was regarded at the time as a record for the ages. As things turned out, it lasted barely a decade before Gretzky blew it to pieces. The 21-year-old roared past Espo's mark on Feb. 24, 1982, wound up the 1981-82 season with 92 goals -- and was disappointed he didn't get more.
Gretzky is also second on the all-time single-season list with 87 goals in 1983-84. Brett Hull's 86 goals in 1990-91 are next; the only players in the last 15 years to break 60 goals are Alex Ovechkin (65 in 2008-09) and Steven Stamkos (60 in 2011-12).
Fewest games need to score 50 goals: 39
Not surprisingly, this also happened in '81-82 -- and it was capped by perhaps the greatest night of Gretzky's career. He had scored 45 goals in Edmonton's first 38 games when Philadelphia came to the Northlands Coliseum (now Rexall Place) on Dec. 30, 1981. Gretzky beat Pete Peeters four times to help the Oilers to a 6-5 lead, then set off an eruption when he hit the empty net for his fifth of the night and 50th of the season.
Only Maurice Richard and Mike Bossy had scored as many as 50 goals in 50 games. Gretzky is also second on the list with 50 goals in 42 games in 1983-84. Mario Lemieux is next with 50 in 46 games (though he played in just 44) in 1988-89. In contrast, just two players (Stamkos and Malkin) scored 50 goals in a full season in 2011-12.
Most goals in the first 50 games of a season: 61
'The Great One' scored 61 goals in Edmonton's first 50 games during the 1981-82 season. (Photo: Getty Images)
Gretzky didn't stop scoring after connecting 50 times in the first 39 games in 1981-82, though he did slow down a bit. He had 11 goals in the Oilers' next 11 games to give him 61 through 50 games -- a mark he matched two seasons later. Lemieux is next with 54 in 50 games in 1988-89.
Longest point-scoring streak: 51 games
Gretzky's numbers from 1981-82 (92 goals, 212 points) get all the attention, but he may have been at his best in 1983-84, when he opened the season by getting at least one point in Edmonton's first 51 games. Perhaps most astonishing is that the streak was ended by journeyman goaltender Markus Mattson and the defensively challenged Los Angeles Kings, who beat Edmonton 4-2 on Jan. 28, 1984 -- the highlight of a season that saw L.A. surrender 376 goals and miss the playoffs.
Gretzky averaged exactly three points a game during the streak. Had he taken the rest of the season off, his 153 points would have won the scoring title by 27 points.
Sidney Crosby's 25-game points streak in 2010-11 was the longest since Mats Sundin's 30-gamer with Quebec in 1992-93. Gretzky also had streaks of 39 and 30 games; Lemieux is the runner up with a 46-game streak in '88-89.
Most points in a season: 215
If 1981-82 and 1983-84 weren't Gretzky's best seasons, maybe 1985-86 was. The Great One broke his own record of 212 points, set in '81-82, by scoring or assisting on 215 of Edmonton's 426 goals. It was the fourth and final 200-point season of his career; he's the only player to get that many in a season. Of the 13 seasons in which a player had 160 or more points in a season, nine belong to Gretzky and the other four to Lemieux, including a 199-point effort in 1988-89.
Most assists in a season: 163
Setting up teammates was what Gretzky did best, and he was never better at it than 1985-86, when he piled up a record 163 assists, breaking the mark of 135 he had set the previous season. In fact, Gretzky owns the seven highest single-season assist totals in NHL history (a record in its own right). For comparison, Henrik Sedin led the NHL in assists last season -- with 67.
Most consecutive 40-goal seasons: 12
Granted, scoring 40 goals in a season is a lot tougher now than it was in the 1980s and '90s -- but doing it 12 times in a row is a remarkable achievement in any era. Bossy is next with nine. Kovalchuk (six seasons) and Ovechkin (five) both had their streaks snapped in 2010-11; Stamkos' three in a row is the longest active streak.
Most 100-point seasons: 15
Not only has Gretzky lapped the field in this category (Lemieux is next with 10; no one else has more than eight), in all but one of those seasons, he put up at least 120 points. In 11 of those seasons, he'd have reached the 100-point mark without scoring a goal.
Most consecutive 100-point seasons: 13
A back injury that limited Gretzky to 45 games (and 65 points) in 1992-93 ended his streak (although ironically, he led the Kings to their only Stanley Cup Final in the spring of 1993). Bobby Orr is next in consecutive triple-digit seasons with six.
Highest points-per-game average (50 or more points): 2.77
Averaging a point a game in a full National Hockey League is impressive -- so what term would you use for a player who averages more than 2 3/4 points per game, as Gretzky did by putting up 205 points in 74 games in 1983? "The Great One" seems to fit pretty well.
Most career games with three or more goals: 50
Gretzky was great at scoring in bunches -- he had 37 three-goal games, nine games in which he scored four times and four in which he scored five times. Lemieux is next with 40 hat tricks, one more than Bossy; Teemu Selanne's 22 is tops among players active in 2011-12. A player would have to average three hat tricks a year for 17 years to top Gretzky's mark.
Most games with three or more goals in one season: 10
Imagine what it must have been like to be an Oilers fan in 1981-82 -- you had a one-in-eight chance of seeing Gretzky get a hat trick. The same was true in 1983-84, when he matched his own record. Bossy and Lemieux each have nine; no one since Alexander Mogilny in 1992-93 has more than seven in one season. Malkin led all players last season with three.
Fewest games to reach 500 goals: 575
The 500-goal mark is an elite achievement by an NHL player -- just 42 (including Iginla last season) have reached it during their careers. Gretzky did it when he was just 25, scoring his 500th goal on Nov. 22, 1986. Only three other players (Lemieux, Bossy and Hull) scored 500 goals in less than 700 games; Selanne was the last to do it in less than 1,000.
Fewest games to reach 1,000 points: 424
Since Gretzky piled up assists even faster than he scored goals, it's natural that he reached the 1,000-point mark before he scored his 500th goal. Appropriately, an assist on Dec. 19, 1984 (about a month before his 24th birthday), made Gretzky the fastest to reach 1,000 points. Lemieux is next at 513 games; Jagr (763) is the fastest in the last 20 seasons to get to 1,000.
Most playoff points in a career: 382
Wayne Gretzky still holds the record for most playoff points in a career with 382. (Photo: Getty Images)
Gretzky's domination of this category isn't quite as thorough as his record for regular-season points -- runner-up Mark Messier's total of 295 is 77 percent of Gretzky's playoff mark, while his 1,887 regular-season points are just 66 percent of Gretzky's total. Fellow Oilers Jari Kurri (233) and Glenn Anderson (214) are the only other players with as many as 200 points; Jagr (189) is the only active player with more than 125.
Most playoff goals in a career: 122
Gretzky's record owes much to his skill, his endurance and his teams' success -- you can't score a lot of playoff goals if you're injured, or if your team gets knocked out early. Messier is second with 109 postseason goals, but the only player with more than 100 to skate in a playoff game in the 21st century is Brett Hull, who retired with 103.
Most playoff assists in a career: 260
Regular season or postseason, Gretzky is unparalleled as a setup man. Messier is a distant second with 186 playoff assists; Ray Bourque is third with "only" 139. Gretzky also owns the marks for assists in one playoff year (1988), one Stanley Cup Final (also 1988), and most times with three assists in one period (five).
Most points in one playoff season: 47
Gretzky broke Mike Bossy's single-season playoff points record of 35 by getting 38 in 1982-83 (despite the fact that Bossy and the Islanders swept No. 99 and the Oilers), then torched that mark two years later with an incredible 47-point performance in only 18 games. Lemieux got close with 44 six years later, and Gretzky twice reached 40 points (1988 and 1993) -- but though there are more games now than when Gretzky set the record, the most points by a player since his 40 in '93 are the 36 put up by Malkin in 2009. Crosby (31 in '09) and Danny Briere (30 in 2010) are the only other players to have 30 or more points in one playoff year in the 21st century.
Most playoff games with three or more goals: 10
There were exactly four hat tricks in the playoffs last spring, double the number from 2010-11. There have been just 12 in the past three postseasons. Given the difficulty of getting three goals in a game, Gretzky's mark for playoff hat tricks seems safe for a while. Kurri and Richard are second with seven, followed by Dino Ciccarelli with six and Bossy with five.
Most consecutive scoring titles: 7
Though Gretzky won the Hart in his first NHL season, he didn't get credit for leading the NHL in scoring. Gretzky and L.A.'s Marcel Dionne tied for the scoring lead with 137 points, but Dionne won the Art Ross Trophy because he scored 53 goals to Gretzky's 51. Gretzky launched his run of seven consecutive scoring titles in 1980-81; only Jagr, Esposito and Gordie Howe have as many as four in a row.
Most consecutive MVP awards: 8
In the early years of the NHL, Rangers center Frank Boucher won the Lady Byng Trophy so often (seven times in eight years) that they finally gave it to him and Lady Byng donated a new one. The same thing could have happened with Gretzky and the Hart Trophy -- he won it in each of his first eight seasons in the NHL before Lemieux broke the streak in 1987-88. Jagr, Esposito and Howe are the only other players to win the Hart as many as four straight times. Since Gretzky's streak ended, only Ovechkin and Dominik Hasek have won as many as two in a row.