Numbers Game: Gretzky is the only Great One

Posted by Adam in Numbers Game on March 27, 2008 — 3 Comments

In 1982, Gretzky amassed an incredible 212 points. The following 5 seasons, he continued his phenomenal play scoring at least 183 points while leading the league in scoring each season. Lemieux also had some epic seasons. In 1988, he tallied 168 points, following that up with a 199 point season in 1989. Last year, Crosby, often dubbed the next Great One, scored 120 points which topped the NHL. Is there ever really going to be another Gretzky though?

To be fair, it would not be appropriate to use point production as the sole gauge of whether a player, like Crosby, is deserving of the “Great One” title. The NHL will almost certainly never see another player score 200 points. Today’s NHL is not the same free-flowing, offensive friendly game that Gretzky was able to exploit game after game in the 80’s.

Instead, comparing a player’s point production to the rest of the players in that season provides a much better indication of how good that player is. In today’s Numbers Game I compared the point total for the leading scorer in each season since 1980 to the player who finished second in scoring and the players who round out the top 5. There is no disputing that Gretzky is the best player of all-time.

When Gretzky scored 212 goals in 1982, he had 65 more points than the player who finished second and 74.25 points more than the average of the rest of the top 5. In 1987, Gretzky’s 183 points was 69.4% higher than the second ranked player, who scored 108 points, and over 71% higher than the average of the top 5. In fact, from 1982 – 1987 during his heyday, Gretzky scored at least 65 more points (44% higher) than the second leading scorer. By comparison, Lemieux’s highest differential was in 1989 when his 199 points was only 18.5% (31 points) more than the second leading scorer. Since the lockout, Crosby’s 5.3% differential was the highest, which was 6 points more than second place Thornton.

The numbers speak for themselves. In the last 25 years, no one has come close to Gretzky. And in the next 25 years, we will be saying the same thing. Gretzky did play hockey when the goal judge was far more likely to suffer from carpel tunnel syndrome, but so did the other players that played with him. Gretzky is the best player to every play hockey and he is the best player that will ever play.

If this has made you admire Gretzky’s accomplishments even more, maybe that will sway you to vote ‘yes’ on Ilegal Curve’s most recent poll. Feel free to use the comments section below to explain why he is/isn’t the greatest of all-time.

For Illegal Curve, I am Adam Gutkin.

  • Richard Pollock

    While I am an unabashed Gretzky supporter, the numbers just don’t lie. I really cant stand the argument that “gretz played in a higher scoring era.” Even though the numbers clearly demonstrate that that is true, he was so far ahead of his competition during his playing career that it wasn’t even funny.

  • Anonymous

    Really enjoyed this column. Once again we see proof that there will only be one “Great One”.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry Mario….you were good…but Wayne you were not!!