Saturday, August 04, 2007

Will anyone ever catch Gretzky?

I spent my Friday night putting together yet another Barry Bonds package at work, and the whole thing inspired me to take a look at Wayne Gretzky's three big records and ponder just how long it'll be before anyone can approach them.

The answer?

Unless a 35-year-old Jaromir Jagr can somehow net six and a half more 40-plus goal seasons, it's going to be a solid 20 years before anyone comes close to The Great One.

Sidney Crosby's got his work cut out for him.

Labels: ,

18 Comments:

At 1:21 PM, August 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that's a good article.

It's amazing how much I took Gretzky for granted. Ho-hum, another multi-point night for the Great One. I remember watching the infamous "Doug Gilmour high stick" playoff game, and my uncle said, "Gretzky's washed up. Not like when he was with the Oilers." Gretzky popped 40 points in 24 playoff games that year, including a hattrick against my Leafs. Yah, washed up - but only when compared to a 200-point season. The man was incredible. He AVERAGED 108 assists for his career? If Ovechkin averages FIFTY GOALS over the next SIXTEEN years, he'll break Gretzky's record? It's mind-boggling.

You suggest the "high flying 80's" might have contributed to Gretzky's point totals, but I invite you to do the math for Gretzky's competition in that era. Did they all have point averages close to Gretzky's? That argument might hold water if a large number of elite players from that era have noticable point averages higher than today's players...but I don't think they do, honestly. I think Gretzky himself, and to a lesser degree, the Oiler teammates he played (made) were the high-flyers, and the rest were comparable to today's era.

 
At 1:39 PM, August 04, 2007, Blogger Dave said...

James:

I'd love to add the Fanhouse NHL feed to my site's reader (and to my own), but there doesn't appear to be sport-specific feeds. I really don't need the football, basketball, baseball, etc feeds -- do you know if there is any Fanhouse NHL feed, or plan to make an exclusive NHL fanhouse feed?

Thanks.

 
At 1:47 PM, August 04, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Dave: The general NHL feed is here.

Or, if you just want the Mirtle-goodness.

I'm planning on being much more prolific over there.

 
At 2:16 PM, August 04, 2007, Anonymous Eric said...

Wow. At this point, the only player I can see even coming close to any of Gretzky's records is Alex Ovechkin. He would need a miraculous confluence of factors, though. The game would have to open up considerably and Ovechkin would need a very unselfish centreman (Backstrom?) to feed him perfect passes for the next 15 years (!). A couple of 75-80 goal seasons in there right now and he could do it.

 
At 2:33 PM, August 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gretzky's records are safe forever unless there's a major change in rules.

Everybody is always talking about 80's being high-flying or offensive etc. (and I'm not saying it wasn't so) but major factor was uneven league.

Oilers beat newjerseys, minnesotas and such with scores like 12-4 and 8-1. Now Anaheim is the champion but couldn't even think about beating Philly or Boston 12-4.

Salary cap-era will make league even more close. Let's put it other way: could 80's Oilers be together in today's enviroment?

No, never. Crosby is absolutely great but he'll never face Minnesota North Stars and hammer 8 points. And as soon as Pittburgh raises to the top Crosby will lose his supporting team through RFA, UFA or just by cap restrictions.

And in no way I'm trying to diminish Gretzky's career. In my opinion he's the best ever and for that and above mentioned reasons I'm positive that his records are safe forever.

 
At 2:47 PM, August 04, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

You suggest the "high flying 80's" might have contributed to Gretzky's point totals, but I invite you to do the math for Gretzky's competition in that era. Did they all have point averages close to Gretzky's? That argument might hold water if a large number of elite players from that era have noticable point averages higher than today's players...but I don't think they do, honestly. I think Gretzky himself, and to a lesser degree, the Oiler teammates he played (made) were the high-flyers, and the rest were comparable to today's era.

You are completely and totally wrong. The 1980s were much higher scoring than the NHL is today. Gretzky was a truly remarkable player, but his records must be seen in context. This isn't surprising, since that's true of all sports records; almost always, they are set by great players during eras that favor the particular activity they set the record for.

In this case, let's look at some numbers. Here we have the most goals scored by one team over the last ten years:

2007 - 308
2006 - 314
2004 - 255
2003 - 269
2002 - 254
2001 - 295
2000 - 278
1999 - 268
1998 - 256
1997 - 277

Here they are for 1981-91, the 11 seasons of Gretzky's dominant scoring, excluding the Edmonton Oilers, since you are claiming they were unique. I'm putting an asterisk by the years where this means that I've excluded the top scoring team in the league:

1981 - 355
1982 - 385*
1983 - 350*
1984 - 357*
1985 - 363*
1986 - 354*
1987 - 318*
1988 - 363*
1989 - 376
1990 - 348
1991 - 344

In every single year, some team other than the Oilers scored more goals than has any team over the last ten years. There were simply a lot more goals scored back then.

 
At 2:56 PM, August 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Let's put it other way: could 80's Oilers be together in today's enviroment?"

Why not? The year Gretzky scored 92 goals, he turned 21.

Glenn Anderson was 21. 105 points points.

Paul Coffey was 20. 89 points for Coffey with a "y", not like the drink.

Mark Messier turned 21 that season, with 88 points.

Kurri was 22, with 86 points.

That was the heart of the team, all under 22 years of age. The rest - Lowe, Huddy, Dave Hunter, Semenko - were all 24 or younger. Grant Fuhr was 19, Andy Moog, 22.

With today's RFA rules - there would be a window of time where such an incredible collection of talent could co-exist together, and I think the Penguins are the closest thing to it.

I think what would really stand in the way of it happening again like the Oilers is just the spectacular arrival of several Hall of Fame players-to-be on the same team at the same time. How likely is it that all that talent could be drafted again? So yeah, it could happen.

And like I said before, the Penguins are going to be the closest we've all ever seen. Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Whitney, Fleury as your core, younger role players like Malone, Armstrong, Christensen, Talbot supporting the lower lines, and proven veterans like Recchi, Gonchar, Roberts providing veteran leadership.

And that's only half the team. Pittsburgh has a bunch of other younger players that can blossom in the right situation - young forwards and defensemen - and provide us with one of the best young teams we've all seen since the 80's Edmonton Oilers.

Let's cross our fingers. The more excitement generated by this team, the better it is for the NHL.

Having said that though, I hate Pittsburgh. They've been on life support more than once, and their crass dumping of expensive talent in order to secure high draft picks in multiple eras makes me sick.

 
At 3:03 PM, August 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You are completely and totally wrong."

Relax, stat-boy. So where are all the other players who averaged 100 assists each season?

There must be a bunch of them, since there were just SO many more goals scored in Gretzky's watered-down era. Right?

 
At 3:08 PM, August 04, 2007, Anonymous Frank said...

James, no one will ever match Gretzky because his prime goal scoring years occurred during the "Great Goal Inflation" period of the NHL - which occurred from 1980 to 1989 - a period which is unlikely to ever occur again.

Shown below are the average number of goals scored in each NHL game for 5 year segments. Gretzky's AVERAGE ANNUAL goal, assist and point totals - for that 5 year segment - is shown in brackets.

1950 to 54 - 5.05
1955 to 59 - 5.55
1960 to 64 - 5.85
1965 to 69 - 5.88
1970 to 74 - 6.45
1975 to 79 - 6.82
1980 to 84 - 7.82 (71G 112A 183P)
1985 to 89 - 7.51 (56G 128A 184P)
1990 to 94 - 6.69 (33G 91A 124P)
1995 to 99 - 5.58 (18G 62A 80P)
2000 to 04 - 5.34
Lockout - Rule Changes
2006 to 07 - 6.03

The first 10 years of Gretzky's career - his most productive years - occured at the height of the "Goal Inflation " period which peaked in 1981 at 8.03 goals per game. As a result, Gretzky - and all other players who played during this period - have inflated statistics RELATIVE to the players who came before them and after them.

There is no question that no other player in Gretzky's era can be compared to him. But what about players before him, and after him, who played - or will play - under different circumstances.

I would argue that Gordie Howe is probably the greatest player (Gretzky in second place) as his peak years were in the 1950s and early 1960s when goals per game were at their lowest; there were only 70 games per year (not 80 to 84); and there were only 2 rounds of playoffs (not 4).

In terms of the future, even if Sidney Crosby plays for 20 years, it will be hard to match Gretzky when only 6.0 goals or less are being scored per game compared to the 7.75 per game during the peak Gretzky era.

One other final point to remember is that Gretzky scored a lot of his points when he was on a "Dynasty Team", the Edmonton Oilers, and therefore he had a lot of talent to play with.

Under the new salary cap era of the NHL, long lasting dynasty teams cannot exist, and Sidney Crosby could find himself playing on rather average teams during most of his career. This is likely to limit his output, relative to what he could achieve if he were on a long lasting dynasty team.

 
At 3:16 PM, August 04, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

James, no one will ever match Gretzky because his prime goal scoring years occurred during the "Great Goal Inflation" period of the NHL - which occurred from 1980 to 1989 - a period which is unlikely to ever occur again.

I'm pretty sure this is common knowledge, but that's some nice analysis of Gretzky's totals over the years.

 
At 3:25 PM, August 04, 2007, Blogger GoalieGallery said...

Great post Mirtle. It's nice to think that Crosby may be able to catch up with The Great One, but, I don't think it's entirely possible.

 
At 4:05 PM, August 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With today's RFA rules - there would be a window of time where such an incredible collection of talent could co-exist together, and I think the Penguins are the closest thing to it.

_________________________________

True, but that window isn't big enough to get Oilers' great through it.

Gretzky played almost 10 years with Oilers and only Coffey was traded away before him if I remember right.

BTW, Wayne Gretzky is the best ever and he would have been the best player in any era.

 
At 4:46 PM, August 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no way the 80s Oilers happen again under the current CBA. Let's say Crosby is Gretzky. Malkin is Messier. Staal is Kurri. Christensen is Anderson. Whitney is Coffey. And Fleury is Fuhr. Only Coffey left early because the Oilers refused to pay him what he was worth (Moog did too, but we're putting him aside for our purposes here).
As soon as the Pens hit their self-imposed or CBA-imposed cap limit locking up RFAs, one of those guys will get poached by a rival GM who will be glad to sacrifice a few lottery picks for a star performer. I can't see that group lasting more than 2-3 more seasons. For evidence, look how Ottawa and Buffalo have been/are being dismantled since the CBA came into effect.
It looks to me as though Gretzky's totals are inflated by about 50%, according to Frank's chart. I'm not saying he wasn't a great player, but it's at least arguable that he wasn't the clear-cut greatest player ever.

 
At 5:43 PM, August 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's all about the goalies, their conditioning, equipment and the style they play. Put any current junior / AHL league goalie (shrink the pads a bit) on an 80's team and he would been seen as a miracle. If all 80's teams had the equivalent of a current day junior / AHL goalie those goal totals would take a huge dive. There are many factors as to why current NHL players aren't a threat to Gretzky's records, my belief is that goaltending is just too good nowaday's, I mean look at the highlight reels from the eighties, sure there were lots of skill goals but man, there was a ton of absolutely ridiculous garbage goals as well by today's standards.

 
At 8:24 PM, August 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goalies are for sure a huge factor. They're bigger, faster and better. Much better.

Butterfly style is the biggest thing. When you can only score with perfect shot in the top shelf there's going to be less goals.

Guy Lafleur would have to change his style because there's not too many slappers from right wing going in anymore.

 
At 9:57 PM, August 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't take it.
Do people honestly believe today's crop of goalies are better than Espo, Vachon, Parent? Resch, Smith, Moog, Fuhr, Hextall? That the NHL was littered with crappy goalies that shooters could score on at will?
Those guys wore pads that, although they were barely bigger than Sears catalogues, weighed a tonne before it got wet. Flopping around like a fish soaking up water for 60 minutes wasn't an option. Their defenceman couldn't tackle forwards as they crossed the blueline or crosscheck them into the seats if they dared to venture into the crease. Yet somehow they still managed to save 90% of the shots directed their way, more or less.
Today's goalies, like today's skaters, might spend a lot more time on the bike and a lot less time in the bar, but they are not necessarily better. The equipment is made for the Jolly Green Giant yet weighs a fraction. Even with the new rules there's no room to skate out there or time to find open ice, much less get off a shot requiring a golf backswing for a windup.
How much skill is there to dropping to your knees, spreading out your gigantic pads from post to post, and shrugging your gigantic shoulder pads to take up the upper half of the net? If anything, today's goalie, on average, are worse than the old goalies. There's barely any skill involved at all.

 
At 10:15 PM, August 04, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

Relax, stat-boy. So where are all the other players who averaged 100 assists each season?

There aren't any. You seem desperately confused, because I never said Gretzky wasn't a great player; he was. He was certainly the best offensive player of his generation, and quite possibly the best ever.

That doesn't change the fact that one of the reasons his point totals are so high is the era he played in. Gretzky tallied about 50% more points than Gordie Howe did. Do you honestly believe that he was 50% better as a scorer? Or do you think that he was, perhaps, about the same level of scorer, and the difference stems from the fact that there were about 15% more games per season when he played, and teams were scoring more than 40% more times in each one of those extra games?

This, of course, is a question we never really will know the answer to. Fun eternal arguments for all. No one should take you seriously, though, if you aren't going to admit that there is context to the career numbers for all players.

 
At 9:21 AM, August 05, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the other anonymous : Are you serious about your claim that defensemen couldn't tackle the offensive players. Please man, the 80's was a skilled league and a dirty goon league, there was more hooking, holding, interference and mugging back in those days than there was before this lockout. While the goalies may not be as skilled as you say, which I think is a foolish statement, it's their style that works for them. Complain about the butterfly all you want but it's effective at doing what matters most for a goalie and would have made a huge difference in those days. Like another poster said, players would be much less likely to score taking shots off the wing or winding up as soon as they entered the zone, the butterfly would give the goalie a much better percentage at stopping the puck. You can claim it takes no skill to play a butterly style, whatever, it works and it would have made a huge difference in those days and if it wins games and lowers goals against that's all that really matters.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home

Links to this post:

Create a Link


.

Free Page Rank Checker
eXTReMe Tracker