Island Nucklehead wrote:Gretzky started his career in an era that saw top goalies posting GAA's in the 3.00+ range. It was wide open, end-to-end hockey where the hockey gods always catered to the run-and-gun team with most flash and dash. Gretzky was also passing to some top end talent. The clutch and grab hockey became more common around the time Gretzky was in his last season in LA and moving on to St. Louis. Gretzky did not play against defensive systems like we see today, in fact, most players skating in todays NHL would probably be scoring 20-30% more points than they do now if they had played in the NHL during Gretzky's first 6 or 7 years. It is always very hard to compare players from two totally different era's of pro hockey.
Yes, Gretzky's career was in a different era of pond hockey and worse goaltending. And yes, it is hard to compare different eras.
But say you are right and that most players would score 20-30% more points -- which I think is not an unreasonable assumption. Take Gretzky's top 5 seasons (total of 1036 points, 2.63 ppg), lop off 30% of his points to compare with today's NHL, and he scores an average of 145 points adjusted points per season. (Crosby, who was unreal last year, was on a 132 point pace). No player has cracked 130 points since Lemiuex in 95-96 -- the beginning of the dead puck/big pads/butterfly era.
Well, he just had great teammates, right? Well, he did. But no teammate over that span ever got within 73 points of Gretzky. 73 points -- basically the difference in points between 2010-11 Daniel Sedin and 2010-11 Raffi Torres.
Still, what's more instructive as to how great Gretzky was is by comparing him with other top players of his era, because its easier to compare those pond hockey players together. In 81-82, Gretzky had 212 points; Mike Bossy was second in the league with 147, a difference of 65 points or just less than 70 percent of output. Daniel won the Art Ross last year. 65 fewer points? There were 175 players between Sedin and Anthony Stewart and the others with 39 points. As a percentage, 19 players were within Sedin's total. And I am not cherry picking seasons for Gretzky. In 82-83, for example, the nearest point-getter to Gretzky (Stasny) produced only 63% of his point total.
I know this thread is more than about passing or Henrik Sedin (but if we are talking passing, in 85-86 Gretzky had 70 more assists than the second best set up man in the league (Lemieux)...). But I cannot emphasize enough that there is a reason Wayne Gretzky was the GREAT one. And while I get the arguments there were better all around players, they focus on attributes/skills without appreciating that those things are only helpful towards what hockey is about: scoring more goals than the other team. Gretzky has no historic peer except for brief periods of time (Lemiuex and Orr come to mind -- Crosby is the only modern player with the potential).
Wayne Gretzky is to superstars as the NHL is to the AHL, and Wayne Gretzky is to a typical NHL player as the NHL is to a beer league.