Monday

Wayne Gretzky

Brantford, Ontario used to be best known as the place where inventor Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. However that began to change on January 26, 1961 as Wayne Douglas Gretzky was born. Brantford would soon become known as the birthplace of hockey's greatest player.

Two years after birth, Wayne took his first steps to hockey stardom. Walter Gretzky, Canada's most famous hockey dad, took the youngster down to the local rink and began teaching him how to skate. It wasn't much longer after that before novice league coaches realized that the kid was a Good One, although they had no idea he was the Great One in the making. Soon enough a young Gretzky was playing in leagues with kids 3 or 4 years older than he was.

The first major article about Gretzky found its way into the Toronto Telegram on October 28, 1971, when reporter John Iaboni was sent to cover the Nadrofsky Steelers' blossoming star.

At the end of the game an eight-year old spectator approached Iaboni and asked, "'Are you going to write a book on Wayne Gretzky? He's good you know.'"

While the book idea was a little farther off, his greatness was already shining through. Gretzky finished that season with 378 goals in 68 games.

By the age of 17, he was tearing up the Ontario Hockey League, scoring 182 points in 64 regular season games for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhouds.

For most of his childhood, Gretzky had worn Howe's No. 9, in honor of his hero, Gordie Howe, then the NHL's all time scoring leader. It was Greyhounds GM "Muzz" McPherson who convinced Wayne Gretzky to wear the unconventional number 99 on his jersey, since No. 9 was unavailable.

A year before he would have been eligible for the NHL draft, 17-year-old Wayne Gretzky signed up with the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA in 1978 for an unprecedented $825,000. After just 8 games, however, the hotshot prospect found himself traded to Edmonton, along with Peter Driscoll and Eddie Mio, in exchange for cash. The Racers were in deep financial trouble, and the move had to be made.

In the WHA's last season Gretzky led the Oilers to the championship finals, where they lost to the Winnipeg Jets. Gretzky finished third in league scoring with 110 points. Remember, most kids his age are in high school, and this guy was challenging for the scoring race!

Edmonton was one of four WHA franchises that were absorbed into the NHL in 1979. And in his first season in the National Hockey League, Gretzky became the youngest player ever to crack the 50-goal barrier. He equaled Marcel Dionne's 137 points. While he was deemed ineligible for the Calder trophy because of his affiliation with the WHA, Gretzky locked up the Hart trophy for the most valuable player.

In the 1981-82 campaign, Gretzky obliterated the record for goals in a season with an unthinkable 92 and points in a season with 212. No one else had ever broken the 200-point barrier, or even come close, but Gretzky would do it three more times. Even more impressive was his breach of hockey's mythical 50-goals-in-50-games barrier. Only two other players had ever achieved that milestone — Rocket Richard and Mike Bossy — and it took both the full 50 games to do it; Gretzky scored number 50 in the 39th game of the season.

Teaming up Gretzky with the Finnish finisher, Jari Kurri, on the first line and Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson on the second, combined with offensively-gifted defenseman Paul Coffey, coach Glen Sather could send waves of offense at opposing teams the likes of which the NHL had never seen. Propelled by four 100-point scorers, Edmonton tallied an unprecedented 424 goals in the 1982-83 season.

The high flying Oilers made it all the way to the 1983 Stanley Cup finals where they faced the 3 time defending Cup champs, the New York Islanders. The Oilers were about to be taught a lesson - losing in 4 straight games as the Isles made it 4 straight Cup victories.



In the next year's rematch, however, the Oilers defeated the Islanders in five games, ending one dynasty and starting one of their own. The momentum spilled over into the 1984-85 season when they demolished Philadelphia in just five games to take their second Stanley Cup.

It seemed like no one in the league could defeat Gretzky's Oilers of the mid-80s, except themselves. A wayward pass by Edmonton defenseman Steve Smith into his own net sent the team home early during the 1986 playoffs, interrupting what should have been a five-year championship dynasty, as the Oilers would redeem themselves with the 1987 and 1988 championships.



And throughout the Oilers' glory years, Gretzky kept re-writing the record books. During the 1985-86 season, Gretzky set the current mark with 215 points, including a record-shattering 163 assists. In fact, Gretzky won the Art Ross trophy as scoring leader every year between 1981 and 1987 and two more times after that.


Gretzky of course was no stranger to international hockey competition either. Representing Canada in 4 Canada Cup tournaments, the 1978 World Junior championships, the 1996 World Cup and the 1998 Olympics, but his greatest performance on any stage came in the 1987 Canada Cup.

Gretzky captained Team Canada against the mighty Soviet Union - led by the vaunted KLM line — featuring Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov and Vladimir Krutov. Gretzky led all scorers with 18 points while playing what he himself admitted was the best hockey of his career.

August 9, 1988 is considered by many Canadians to be the lowest day in the country's history. On that date, the Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky, along with Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley to the Los Angeles Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first round picks and cash.

The major reason for the trade was the cash. Struggling financially, Oilers' owner Peter Pocklington jumped at the $15 million that Kings owner Bruce McNall showed him.

As Canada mourned, Los Angeles partied. Gretzky - and Hockey -had gone Hollywood. By the end of Gretzky's 7 1/2 season tenure with the Kings, the Great One had brought enough popularity to hockey in Southern California to blaze the trail for two more teams, the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. In reality Gretzky brought the game to such a high level in the American sunbelt that the NHL also saw teams in Dallas, Miami, Tampa Bay and countless minor league teams throughout the USA.

Gretzky's greatest moment as a King came in 1993 when he carried the Kings to the 1993 Finals. That playoffs also saw Gretzky play what he called his greatest game in NHL competition. In Game 7 of the conference finals, Gretzky scored a hat trick, including the game winner, in a 5-4 victory over the heavily favored Toronto Maple Leafs. However, the Kings couldn't continue their magic in the Finals, falling to the Montreal Canadiens.

While Gretzky never got his named etched on the Cup as a member of the Kings, he did continue to rewrite the record book. On October 15, 1989, Gretzky surpassed Gordie Howe's NHL-record 1,851 points. It took Howe 26 years to accomplish that. It took Gretzky less than 11. Fittingly the record was surpassed in Edmonton. Even Howe's record 801 goals weren't safe: Gretzky scored number 802 against the Canucks on March 23, 1994.



By the middle of the 1995-96 season, it was obvious that the Kings didn't have the talent to make the playoffs, let alone contend. Gretzky asked to be traded and received his wish. He found himself playing alongside good friend Brett Hull, on the St. Louis Blues.

Gretzky was also initially happy to be reunited with Mike Keenan, with whom he had great success in the Canada Cup tournaments. However by this time the tyrannical Keenan had gone over the edge in his drive more power, and soon turned Gretzky, like Hull and many more, against him. During one playoff game, Keenan embarrassed Gretzky in front of his teammates in between periods. Gretzky went on to tally five assists the next game, but the Blues were still eliminated from the playoffs.

Gretzky left St. Louis, largely because of Mike Keenan, as a free agent. He took his greatness to the New York Rangers, where he was reunited with his old buddy Mark Messier.

The much celebrated reunion was short lived. After just one season, Messier left for bigger bucks in Vancouver. Gretzky however stayed in New York, quietly signing an extension with the team for less than market value.

Although it wasn't a storybook script, Gretzky fulfilled a lifelong dream in 1998 when he represented Canada in the 1998 Olympics. However Gretzky was not the Gretzky of old by this point. In fact Gretzky wasn't even named as team captain. Canada ran into the best goalie in the world, the Czech Republic's Dominik Hasek, in the semifinal game. Canada finished without a medal; Gretzky finished without a goal.

During these otherwise unspectacular Ranger seasons, Gretzky hit two more major milestones. On October 26, 1997, Gretzky recorded two assists in Anaheim to raise his career total 1,851, more than Gordie Howe — the second highest total in NHL history — had points. Then in March of 1999 he scored his 1,072nd goal as a pro, surpassing yet another Gordie Howe record. Suddenly there weren't any records left to shoot for.

The man who once scored 92 goals during the 1981-82 season, however, could only manage nine during the 1998-89 campaign. And when Gretzky was sidelined by a painful neck injury, the Rangers went 6-3-3 and temporarily moved back into the playoff race. Fans bombarded call-in shows suggesting that the Great One should retire. For the first time in a career built on proving naysayers wrong, Gretzky started to listen to his detractors.

Gretzky was clearly but a shadow of his former self, yet he was still better than most. He showed moments of greatness that no one else could. In the 1999 All Star game Gretzky recorded a goal and two assists and was named as the game's MVP. In his first and only game in Nashville he showed a rare sellout crowd the wonders of Gretzky by scoring 5 assists.

No. 99 left the game after 20 seasons, taking 61 NHL records with him. Among them: 92 goals in a single season, 163 assists in a single season, 215 points in a single season, a 51-game points streak that's every bit as impressive as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game mark in baseball, 2857 career points, and 1, 072 professional goals. He won every Hart Trophy from 1980 to 1987 (and another in 1989) as the league's MVP and took home ten Art Ross Trophies as the league's scoring leader. While captaining the Oilers to four Stanley Cups, Gretzky also took home two Conn Smythe trophies as the most valuable player in the playoffs.

Until Wayne came along, we didn't know how great great could be. #99 redefined greatness. But is Wayne Gretzky the greatest athlete of the 20th century?

Needless to say, hockey fans think so! No athlete in any sport has dominated the way Gretzky has. Need proof? Then consider this:

Gretzky's 92 goals in 1981-82 topped Phil Esposito's previous record by 16, and his 212 points that season eclipsed Esposito's old mark by 60. Gretzky's 163 assists in 1985-86 surpassed Bobby Orr's standard by 61.

The Elias Sports Bureau has determined his 212 points in 1981-82 are the equivalent of 85 home runs -- 24 more than Roger Maris hit in 1961 or 14 more than Mark McGuire in 1998; a 2,941-yard NFL rushing season (Eric Dickerson holds the record with 2,105 in 1984) or 67 touchdown passes by a quarterback (Dan Marino holds the standard at 48, also in '84). Wilt Chamberlain dwarfed previous NBA scoring leaders, but arguments raged during his day as to whether he or Bill Russell was the more dominant player.

A case can be made that no one ever has done in any sport what Gretzky has accomplished in hockey. And when you consider the wider impact of one player's career upon a sport, only Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan rank with Gretzky.

In hitting 59 home runs with a livelier ball in 1921 and raising the record by a staggering 25, Ruth also drastically elevated standards of excellence and excitement. The Babe, too, was the object of a blockbuster transaction: The Red Sox sold him to the Yankees for $100,000 and a $300,000 loan. His magnetism helped baseball recover from a betting scandal and inspired the building of a stadium twice the size of others in that era. He was the dominant player on baseball's dominant team, winning four World Series and seven American League pennants.

Michael Jordan is universally hailed as the greatest athlete of the 20th century, but realistically he doesn't deserve to be on the same level as Wayne. Yes, Michael was perhaps the most gifted and talented athlete of our time, but you could easily say he wasn't the greatest basketball player let alone athlete. Wilt Chamberlain's hoop exploits dwarf that of Jordan's.

Picture Hank Aaron as not only baseball's all-time home run leader, but its single-season homer king and all-time hits leader as well. That's Gretzky's place in hockey.

When it comes to debating who is the best hockey player of all time, it generally boils down to one of three players: Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe.

Orr revolutionized the way defense could be played and established significantly higher statistical standards for excellence at that position. It can be argued that Orr carried the puck more than Gretzky and broke up a lot of rushes, making him a more effective all-around player than The Great One. But Orr's career, cut drastically short by knee injuries, produced just 915 points.

Unquestionably, Howe played the majority of his career in a much tighter checking era. But the fact that jobs were more competitive in the six-team league doesn't necessarily mean the level of play was, too. Bigger, faster, and better athletes, and the influx of European- and American-born players, and equipment advances make today's NHL just as competitive -- but higher scoring -- than the pre-expansion league.

23 comments:

Anonymous,  12:47 AM  

These three are all great, and worthy of consideration as the best ever, but I think we're overlooking an aspect of the play of the Holy Trinity (Howe, the Father, Gretz the Son and the magnificent Orr, the Holy Ghost) that overwhelms most of the stats that have been thrown out there so far in this debate. What one player controlled the games he played in more than any other, before or since? What one player consistently dominated hockey games to the point where you could hear crowds openly laughing, whether they be at home or on the road? The answer of course is the incomparable Bobby Orr. Ask Howe, Montreal Gazette writer Red Fisher or Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt, they'll tell ya. These three highly qualified observers of the NHL who collectively have been watching the NHL since the 1930's and have literally seen 'em all, all say Orr is the greatest hockey player ever. When considering greatness and domination of the NHL, how about if we dig a little deeper, beyond mere single season or career point totals when assessing the merits of Orr, Gretzky and Howe, such as: Average points per game throughout a career? Orr is # 1 with approx. 1.48 points per game. Such as career plus/minus figures? Orr is #1 with a plus 591 (approximately) in approximately 590 games played. Gretzky is second with a plus 590 (again approximately) in approximately 1450 games played. That's right, your eyes are not deceiving you. Such as best plus/minus seasons ever? Orr owns the top several plus/minus seasons ever, with his best being approximately +145. Now anyone could say plus/minus doesn't always tell the story...but when the numbers are so undeniably and consistently dominant, in combination with the highest career points per game average, one cannot help but sit up and take notice. In every category, Orr blows everyone away, with neither Gretz or Howe are even close. I love all three players, but if greatness is dominating the sport one plays, Orr gets the nod, much as Michael Jordan gets the nod in basketball. The reason? Orr and Jordan could each dominate their respective sport both offensively AND defensively. In the NHL, we can only say that of Orr. While many have played a great, 2-way game throughout their careers, it's a question of degree...no one has done it to the extent Orr did it. Gretz scored more points over his career, but then again, that's what forwards do...their primary role is to score points, but would it have been reasonable to expect Gretz to dominate defensively too? The same could be said of Howe, though on top of his tremendous skills, he added an element of toughness and intimidation that neither Gretz nor Orr could duplicate. But as great and as tough as he was, did Howe also dominate defensively? Nope, but then again, as a forward, that wasn't his role was it? As a defenseman, Orr's primary role was to play defense, yet he leads both Gretz and Howe in average points scored per game, as well as in career plus/minus figures despite playing more minutes per game than either of them. As we all know, the more minutes one plays, the more difficult it is to maintain respectable plus/minus figures. The degree to which Orr dominates these numbers is literally staggering. And for Orr to score more than 100 points while also dominating defensively and playing more than 30 minutes per game only begins to explain why he's the greatest hockey player ever. And we haven't addressed the laughter generated by Orr's game crowds yet, or the entertainment aspect that Orr's presence brought to any rink which has never been seen before or since. Orr played "Keep Away" with the puck, not unlike the quickest dog you've ever seen with a tennis ball. Guys couldn't take the puck away from him; they couldn't catch him very often, and when they did, he was quick, clever and strong enough to pass it to a teammate most of the time. Imagine for a moment...if we could put Howe, Gretz and Orr in their primes out on a lake for a little pond hockey, who do you think would have won? Who would have been the Big Dog? Obviously, I have my answer, and you probably have yours. But if you never saw Orr play, think about the above numbers a bit, combined with all that ice time...you'll find that neither Howe nor Gretz ruled to the extent Orr did. What's really frightening is to consider how those three (and Mario, who belongs as the 4th most dominant IMHO) would have done in "the new NHL". Orr was the strongest skater ever, also the fastest, which unfortunately took a toll on his knees; it's a shame he didn't play during today's medical era. No one circled the net like him, and remember...Orr was doing the spin-a-rama long before Dennis Savard came along. And as former Bruin teammate Gerry Cheevers, the Hall of Fame goalie said recently, if Orr were playing today, there's no doubt he'd be just as dominant, if not moreso. That's because one of the things that separated Orr was his ability to operate at top speed, without losing control of his hockey skills. It's been said many times that Orr maintained his incredible hockey skills while simultaneously playing at top speed, which was faster than everyone else. Most players need to slow down a bit to remain in control of their skills, but not Orr. Talk to his peers, like Bobby Clarke, who said Orr should have been playing in a different league because he was just that much better than they were. While Gretz and Howe were both great and obviously dominant players, if you take a look at some of the numbers cited above (which are approximate but very close to accurate, I didn't enter this blog knowing I'd writing about this and I can't leave to get the numbers without losing the blog) in conjunction with what peers and longtime NHL media say about each of them, you'll find that Orr's literally on a different plane. The words of praise reserved for Orr are unique to him and no one else, perhaps best expressed by CBS' Bill Mazur during an interview with Bobby Hull and Bobby Orr on a Game-of-the-Week in about 1970: "To my right, Bobby Hull, The Golden Jet, and to my left, Bobby Orr...The Golden Golden!".
'Nuff said.

JamesR 1:50 PM  

I have no idea how old these comments are; but I couldn't resist comment.

The opinion that Bobby Orr was much more dominant than Gretzky made me pause. I did not see Bobby Orr play in his day...I wasn't even born. I did see Gretzky. In this regard, I know statistics cannot tell the whole story. But if statistics are to be quoted....they ought to be taken from a proper basis.

Bobby Orr only played 9 full seasons, before getting injured. So his career statistics, and the averages of his career statistics are taken from 9 seasons in which Bobby Orr was in his prime. Gretzky play around 20 seasons - and when he faded from his 'prime', his statistics dipped and likewise did his averages. Without question, his plus/minus would have dipped in his later years - and significantly at that.

But...if you were to compare the first 9 years of Bobby Orr compared to the first 9 years of Gretzky...the story of statistics is laughable. In his 9 full seasons, Bobby Orr played 621 games compared to Gretzky's 704. Bobby Orr recorded 869 points. Wayne Gretzky recorded 1624 points...which nearly doubles Bobby Orr. I won't even both to figure out the averages, it's not even close. Gretzky was averaging well over 2 points per game. Gretky retired with the best 'points-per-game' average in the history of the NHL. Sorry, to say Bobby Orr had a better PPG average is not correct. Not even close.

Bobby Orr was a defenseman. Gretzky was a forward. Without doubt, to compare stats to stats is not possible and fair. We will never know how Bobby Orr would have continued if he were healthy, and what his 'decline' would have looked like. But I say, if you just take the first 9 years and not allow the decline of Gretzky from his prime to detract from the impression you have of Gretzky's legacy, then....how can you not say Gretzky was the most dominant between these two. I believe this is the most difficult factor - we only have memories of Orr at his best. We unfortunately got to see the inevitable and gradual decline of Gretzky. So our impression of Gretzky seems flawed.

And the Pond hockey comparison?? As I said, I never saw Orr on a game-to-game basis. But Gretzky would control the puck in the offensive zone and made the other team look like pilons. That's too much of a abstract to possibly make a factor. And to say Orr was the fastest skater ever....impossible statement.

ANyhow....this is just my opinion. Regardless...these two men were

s 12:01 AM  

Great site! I grew up as a huge Orr fan...through the years I wondered if I may have youthfully imagined his complete dominance and spectacular greatness. Since then I have watched tons of old games and looked over his scoring stats. No imagination. +597 in 596 games....they didn't tally this stat his first year. If he played, the Bruins pretty much started the game 1-0. One blog mentioned that his career was ended after he got hurt. His career started and he got hurt the first and second season, then he dominated the next 8 years during which he had 6 knee operations. I have never lost this argument using the following stat. 5 Orrs beat 5 Howes, or Gretzky, or Mario. I honestly feel 5 Orrs beat the next 5 greatest all stars playing their own positions. Speed, power, passing, a wicked shot, block shots, could fight with the best, humility. Love him, really missed him when he retired. Can't wait till a defenceman wins the scoring title again...ha ha ha, will never...ever ever happen again...think about it he won it twice and finished a close 2nd 3 times and a close 3rd another. Beaten each year by Esposito, who as good as he was....lets be realistic was privy to some of the most spectacular passes, deflections, tip-ins as a result of Orr carrying the puck end to end and sending him a gift wrapped present. Never again. Cherry, Fisher, Howe, Schmidt, Bobby Clark and I were not imagining anything. As the Cherry video says....Nobody does it better.

Greg G 1:28 PM  

The "Great One" is such an appropriate name for Wayne Gretzky. Great is not the word! I saw Howe, Orr, Hull, Lemuiex,they were all great players but Wayne is the greatest skilled hockey player ever! Elsewhere in this blog I rated Howe #1 all time only because he could do it all in the six team NHL. That includes fight and intimidate, and his longevity is legendary but the greatest hockey talent I have ever seen bar none was Wayne Gretzky! The mans skill level far exceeds anyone else. Who do you know has scored four, count em, 200 point seasons? Nobody! Nobody has ever scored 200 points other than "The Great One"!How could a man his size and strength completly dominate an entire league like he did. To me he is an anomaly! I mean it can't be explained. I bet if you asked Wayne he would probably tell you the same thing. I don't know how I did it, but he did!

CadorBolin,  9:08 AM  

Great article. I grew up watching the Gretz, so to me, he is the greatest.

I also like the Gretzky vs Orr debate -- unless they ever played against each other, we'll never know who was truly better. That debate is a generational one.

Anonymous,  6:19 PM  

In response to the Gretzky vs. Orr debate, we'll say this:

Orr was a great player because he could do everything (and at top speed). Gretzky was a great player because he knew what to do on the ice, and how to involve his teammates.

I once thought Orr was simply a Pavel Bure playing defense, someone who would rush up the ice and make individual offensive plays. Actually, no. I saw some of his videos, and Orr, unlike Bure, always got his teammates involved, which in turn led to Boston's nifty offense. And he apparently could catch his opponents whenever he loses the puck.

Gretzky couldn't match Orr's speed, but I'd bet if their respective teams played each other, he could outsmart Orr, and somehow find a way to beat him (ie. pass to Kurri or Coffey, or send Coffey or Lowe after him).

But Gretzky was also an underrated defensively. He has played defense as well as forward (center, LW, and RW) during his childhood. He rarely defends opponents one-on-one, but he knows how to co-ordinate his defensemen and help them play their position better.

Anonymous,  5:59 AM  

The most phenomenal player in any sport in the 20th century - as measured by the distance by which a player's achievements dominate all others before or since - was Sir Donald Bradman in the sport of cricket, not Jordan, Ruth or Gretzky. Sport does exist outside North America. Having said that, Gretzy was of similar genius. As a child, I was amazed by his exploits. Ice hockey does not make the sporting radar in Australia, but Gretzky's fame was worldwide.

Anonymous,  1:14 PM  

Go Wayne Gretzky! He kicks ass!

Anonymous,  11:46 AM  

Gretzky has more accomplishments that any other athlete in sports, however there is a guy who could have possibly had more if only he had played a full career and that's Bobby Orr. Orr was further ahead of other defenseman in his generation than Gretzky was ahead of other forwards in his. Ex: in '87, Gretzky won the scoring title by 69% over the 2nd scoring forward (183 to 108). In '71, Orr had 139 pts, the 2nd defenseman had 63 for a difference of 121% or well over double the 2nd guy. I don't even know if this was his most dominant season, I simply chose to look up the stats from that year cus that's the year in which he had his career high, but there could have been a year in which he didn't score as many points but was further ahead of the 2nd guy. Gretzky has more accomplishments cus he played longer but in the short time he was there, Orr dominated the game like no one else ever did, even Gretzky.

Jim 1:52 PM  

An amazing talent in the game of hockey. I never knew about some of the things you mentioned. Been meaning to read Gretzky's autobiography for a while now.

Anonymous,  12:05 AM  

Orr was absolutely the most fabulous hockey player ever. A true game changer. Won 2 Stanley Cups in 9 yrs and set 8 NHL records He was the best until Gretzky showed up and not only changed the game, but rewrote the NHL record book. He left with 61 records. Oh, Gretzky also had 4 Stanley Cups in his first 9 yrs for those who like to compare.

David M 5:03 AM  

Being too young to remember even Gretzky's Oiler days, it leaves me impartial to judge who is the greatest. It seems to be a generational thing, 20 years ago, Howe was considered the greatest ever by my teachers and that was the consensus for people of that age since that is what they grew up with. Even Maurice Richard would rank as high as 2nd greatest in most informal polls back then.
Very few people now consider Howie Morenz or other old timers the greatest ever or even in the top 10.It makes sense since there are fewer mentions as time goes by.

Orr takes the title with baby boomers, the late 60's/70s sure seemed great in all other aspects (cars, movies, music and culture) so maybe they remember how good they had it themselves more than Orr's greatness.

The great thing about Wayne is there is no what if's as there are with Mario or Bobby. Wayne missed very few games and when he retired, there was simply no juice left.
He played with the best offensive dynasty, had many guys on his team and the whole league defending him and gave it his all in a complete career.

Mario Lemieux had very few of these favorable conditions and did not have the media and referee adoration that Wayne had. His injuries in his era of domination (1988-1997) cost him many points and he is now only considered top 5 right now, but that will change with time.

Hockey should be viewed in eras and each one of these players were the best of their own.

I would rather point out some counterpoints to each in the pantheon.

Gordie Howe is the greatest for pre-expansion hockey,
To play the devil's advocate, i will say that it's easier to stake a reputation and instill fear in the hearts of your opponents when you only play 5 teams for 50/70 games and only having to travel a few hours by train. Not having any of the Best Europeans to play against makes his aura diminish with every generation.
He does seem like the definition of what a hockey player should be, but his name and greatest ever are slowly going to stop being mentioned together over time.

Bobby Orr is without a doubt the greatest defenseman to every play.
The downside to his achievements is the quality of players he faced. The league doubled in size overnight and there were 6 teams that were mere spectators, not opponents. If you add 2 perennial bottom dwellers in the Original Six ,the fact that a large contingent of quality players and coaches were in the WHA and a lack of Euro or Russian players to face put Orr the best of his era only, not of all time. The dekes, the open ice left to him, the complete lack of strategy by opponents makes that whole era look very bad. Goal-tending was seen as an afterthought. Orr looks good in those highlight reel clips but if you watch a full game from the seventies, you can tell most players would not stand a chance in the modern era.

The downside to Wayne is that he was always handled with care, had it his way more often than not and never had to worry about getting crushed by an opponent. The ingredients are almost too perfect, the oilers were young, hungry and the team was destined to win. What hurts him is the quality of the goaltending, especially in the early 80's was still pretty bad.
However, there were now European superstars and the WHA disbanded.

For Mario, it's his attitude that hurts him. While he's matured, he was seen as an anti-Wayne at the time. Because he was big, he would not need protection, which proved to be a mistake.
He had huge pressure to win the Cup in 91 and some people would still not rank him as the best because of his injuries and the time off he took.

Wayne and Mario are personally my top 2, but i will say it's only for the 80's and 90's.
To compare their NHL with Bobby Orr's would not be fair to either of them.

RoboCop,  12:03 PM  

I grew up in the Wayne and Mario era. I can't say they were better than players like Orr and/or Howe because I never grew up watching them. All I have to say are two things. 1) If Howe and/or Orr were better than Wayne and/or Mario the must have been pretty darn special players. 2) When I was a kid I didn't know I was witnessing two players that only come around once in a life time. Every time Wayne and Mario touched the puck I got butterflies because I knew, odds are, something great is about to happen. Nobody in the NHL has done that for me since. As good as Crosby is, he doesn't even come close. Hopefully someday, someone will come along and give us butterflies again.

Anonymous,  7:51 AM  

Orr sucked. He played during the beer league days when players weren't athletes. If you could skate you were the best. During expansion the NHL didn't have enough professional players to fill the expansion team rosters, so they put sweaters on regular guys. This was the competition for Orr. Orr was too small to play in Gretzky's era and beyond. Gretzky was the most amazing player ever to grace the ice. Some thought he was from another planet because he could do what no other player did or could. Plus Orr was protected by the Big Bad Bruins, the goon squad. Orr had more body guards that Carter had liver pills.

StarKiller 4:38 PM  

Gretzky's Offense was his Defense. He didnt need to play defense cuz he was far superior offensively. Those Records wont be touched.

But i wouldnt dare say he was BETTER then Michael Jordan. Jordan was clutch, Jordan wouldnt lose. 6 time world champion. 2 threepeats. After the first threepeat he retired in his PRIME because there wasnt enough challenge. Then Came out of Retirement and at an older age and won 3 more nba titles, then retired again, on top, again...


And we dont mention the Washington wizard days, didnt happen....

Anonymous,  9:08 PM  

If we could pose an all-time ultimate hockey lineup, it would look like this:

Howe-Gretzky-Ovechkin (top line)

Orr-Bourque (top defensive pair)

Brodeur (starting goal)

Start with the best playmaker of all time and pair him with two mighty power forwards, one a lethal goal-scorer with an unmatched arsenal, the other a tough, two-way warrior, and you just might have an unstoppable force that can go through any defense.

Add the two best blueliners of all time, the picture becomes clearer. Both guys can team up to stop any oncoming force and can also trigger off the top line with nifty passes. Orr could even lead the charge forward.

In goal, putting Brodeur over Roy was difficult, but I chose him for his puck-handling. Acting as the third defenseman, he can further spring the offense loose with nifty passes - opponents know that if they can get past Orr and Bourque, they'd better score on their first attempt, because if Brodeur stops them, he'll pass the puck off to Orr, who will get it to Gretzky, and it's then in the other net.

Anonymous,  7:13 PM  

The person who talked about BOBBY ORR and the beer league days doesn't know what he's talking about! Do your RESEARCH!

Gretzky the best...Absolutely NOT! He was great in the weak watered down NHL...which is still in effect!

He is not even on my first or second all-star team of all-time! Better than Bobby Orr? If you say so!

Though, he had incredible aerobic capacity that could have him skate for long periods of time without being tired.

Ahead of Orr, Howe, Richard, Harvey, Lindsay, the Big M or Hull...I don't think so. You are fantasizing! Let's also add Sprague Cleghorn, James Campbell and Harry Smith ahead of Mr. Gretzky. Thank-you.

thinblueline,  6:05 PM  

I,to am not sure when these comments were made however you can't compare Bobby Orr to Wayne Gretzky they are two entirely different players, who played two entirely different positions, my thoughts are the reason(s) people say Orr is a better player or is just as good as Wayne is because Orr could score and control the game, and you're right he could but the game has dramatically changed therefore it affected the play - Gretzky on the other hand literally did what ever he wanted for as long as he wanted, you could never catch him , same goes with Orr, Gretzky was not a good skater but he'd turn you inside out with his stick handling, at the end of the day NO ONE can touch Gretzky he was dangerous with the puck whereas Orr played with it a lot, Gretzky did his job and did it well, sorry guys Gretzky was amazing who did amazing things with that puck...finally Gretzky was protected we all know that but when you're dealing with head hunters who want to take your head off well can you blame Mcsorley for wanting to watch the back of their best player / franchise player. ..i would !

JAY DAVIDSON 3:07 PM  

I am in Boston. Bobby Orr was #1.

I saw his whole career and Wayne's.

I had season tickets in the old Boston Garden for 20 yrs.

A few thoughts. Wayne was completely
healthy. Bobby played on two very bad knees.

On Wayne, I was at a game in the late 80's and witnessed something
I would never forget.

Ray Bourque had the puck behind his own net and began to carry it out. Wayne pursued Ray AND COULD NOT CATCH UP TO HIM. Ray passed
the puck off at the Edmonton blue line.

If Wayne could not catch up to RAY, going full tilt on the small ice surface in Boston, he would never have caught Bobby.

Edmonton won more Cups than Boston because the Oilers had GrantFuhr, and Boston had the inconsistent
Gerry Cheevers in 1971 who gave up 12 goals in games 6 and 7 of their 1971 playoff with Montreal.

In 1974, Gil Gilbert was outplayed by the Flyer's Bernie Parent.

Right there were two winnable Cups.

But ask yourself one question when comparing Orr and Gretzky. If Bobby played forward and his knees
were good, his scoring numbers would have been off the chart!

Patrick O'Hara 12:59 AM  

Gretzky is the greatest forward to ever play. There was hype about his tremendous talent at such a young age and did he ever exceed the hype. Gretz also had a bigger impact on the development and popularity of hockey than anyone before or ever will. Orr was the greatest defenceman but to say if he didn't have injuries he would have done this or that is a farce. A legacy is also based on your longevity and Orr's skills would have also declined eventually like anyone else. To say that any of them were a better athlete than Michael Jordan was is a joke, 6 NBA championships, MVP all 6 times and never lost in the finals. My money would be on Jordan.

Rob A 11:58 AM  

As good as Orr was, one could argue that the 9 seasons he played were in his prime. Take the 9 best seasons the great one ever produced, and in an era with A LOT more talent. Gretzky blows Orr in to outer space. Gretzky was too smart for Orr, and had a hockey 6th sense Like no other.

Anonymous,  6:00 AM  

Lemieux should be included in that conversation as well with Gretzky, Howe, and Orr. Every other player in the history of the league plays second fiddle to those four.

Anonymous,  3:02 PM  

Jordan, Gretzky, Aaron, Ruth and all others mentioned?

May I make the case for a Dutch woman, Ester Vergeer, who was undefeated in wheelchair tennis for 470 matches, and who's winning tally, including a mind-boggling 42 Grand Slam titles, is unlikely to ever be surpassed - see Wikipedia

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