It has been more than 20 years since Wayne Gretzky announced his retirement from the NHL. In celebration of the most dominant career in NHL history, we take a look at the career of "The Great One," from his days in Edmonton -- where he was the foundation of a dynasty -- to his time behind the bench Arizona coach.
Pick a major offensive category, and chances are Gretzky is the league's all-time leader. Goals? Gretzky with 894. Assists? Gretzky with 1,963. Total points? Gretzky with 2,857. Most goals, assists, points in a season? All Gretzky.
How great a playmaker was Gretzky? If he never scored a goal in the NHL (and he scored 894 of them), he would still be the league's all-time leader in points because of his 1,963 assists. (Jaromir Jagr is No. 2 all time with 1,921 points.) Gretzky also has claim to 11 of the top 12 season performances in assists, including the top eight. He finished with more than 100 assists in a season 11 times in his career, something only two other players have done. (Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr each did it once.)
Gretzky is the only player in league history with a 200-point season -- he surpassed that milestone four times. He tallied a league-record 215 points during the 1985-86 season, 74 points ahead of No. 2 Mario Lemieux. He also topped the 200-point mark in 1981-82, 1983-84 and 1984-85. He nearly did it a fifth time, finishing with 196 points during the 1982-83 season. Lemieux, with 199 points during the 1988-89 season, is the only other player in NHL history who has recorded at least 170 points in a season.
His career record of 894 goals might be in jeopardy if Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin maintains his pace. But one record that will probably never get touched is his season mark of 92 goals set during the 1981-82 season. There have been only two 60-goal seasons over the past 25 years, and even the 50-goal mark is rarely reached today.
Gretzky owns the most impressive trophy case in NHL history, having won 31 individual awards during his career. That list includes 10 scoring titles, nine MVPs, two Conn Smythe Trophies (MVP in playoffs) and five Lady Byng Awards (best sportsmanship). Had the Rocket Richard Award (most goals) been handed out prior to 1998, Gretzky would have won that five times during his career.
The Oilers of the 1980s were one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history, dominating teams with an offense that was at times unstoppable. Four of their five championships during the decade came with Gretzky as focal point of the franchise. He led Edmonton to Cup titles in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988. He was named playoff MVP in 1985 and 1988. He also helped lead the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Final in 1983, where they would ultimately lose to the other great 1980s dynasty, the New York Islanders.
Two months after Gretzky won his fourth Stanley Cup with the Oilers, the team traded him to the Los Angeles Kings for a package of players (Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas), three first-round draft picks and $15 million in cash. It was one of the biggest transactions in NHL history and one that changed the course of the league. The Oilers won a fifth Stanley Cup as part of their dynasty after the trade, but who knows how many more they could have won had they kept the greatest player of all time.
The Kings were an afterthought in the NHL before Gretzky's arrival in 1988. That all changed the second he put on a Kings uniform. The team improved by 23 points and became an immediate contender in the old Campbell Conference. Kings games also became a hot ticket in Los Angeles. Some see the trade as a jumping-off point for expansion of the NHL, which added teams in San Jose, Anaheim, Florida and Tampa Bay during the 1990s.
On Oct. 15, 1989, against the Edmonton Oilers, Gretzky recorded three points to officially break Gordie Howe's all-time points record. It was fitting that it happened in Edmonton, the city where he became a hockey legend. It's also worth noting that Gretzky was still only 28 years old when he recorded his 1,850th (to tie Howe) and 1,851st points (to pass him). When Howe scored his 1,850th point, he was still playing in the NHL at age 51.
After making five Stanley Cup Final appearances (winning four) with the Oilers during the 1980s, Gretzky helped the Kings reach their first Stanley Cup Final during the 1992-93 season. It ended in disappointment, as they fell to the Montreal Canadiens in five games. The turning point of the series came in Game 2, when the Kings were less than two minutes from taking a 2-0 series lead. Then Kings forward Marty McSorley, Gretzky's longtime teammate and protector, was called for using an illegal stick, giving the Canadiens a power play. They soon tied the score and won in overtime, 3-2. Montreal won the next two games in overtime as well to take control of the series. Gretzky would never play in another Stanley Cup Final.
On March 23, 1994, Gretzky became the NHL's all-time leading goal scorer with goal No. 802 to pass his childhood idol, Gordie Howe. The power-play goal came at the 14:47 mark of the first period, tying the score against the Vancouver Canucks. The Kings would go on to lose, 6-3, continuing what would be a bittersweet season for the team. They missed the playoffs one year after reaching the Stanley Cup Final, but Gretzky cemented his place in hockey history.
With the Kings on their way to a third straight non-playoff season and Gretzky in the final year of his contract, the team dealt him to the Blues at the trade deadline. The Kings acquired Craig Johnson, Patrice Tardif, Roman Vopat, a first and a fifth-round draft pick in return. None of the assets the Kings received amounted to much. While Gretzky's time in Los Angeles put the Kings on the map and proved hockey was a viable option in "non-traditional markets," the team's inability to win consistently was a huge disappointment.
Gretzky played the final 18 games of the 1995-96 regular season in St. Louis, finishing with 21 points and helping the team secure a spot in the playoffs. After a six-game Round 1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Blues lost to Detroit in Round 2 when Steve Yzerman scored 1:15 into the second overtime period to give the Red Wings a 1-0 win in Game 7. Gretzky recorded 37 points (regular season and playoffs combined) in 33 games with the Blues.
After the 1995-96 season, Gretzky signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers, reuniting with his longtime Edmonton teammate Mark Messier. He was productive in three seasons in Rangers blue, but the team only made the playoffs once. As a Ranger, Gretzky led the league in assists twice (at age 36 and 37) and topped 90 points twice.
Upon Gretzky's retirement from the NHL in 2000, the league announced that his No. 99 would be retired leaguewide. His number had already been retired separately by the Oilers and Kings, making him one of just nine players to have his number retired by two different teams. Only two other players in NHL history have worn No. 99 (Rick Dudley 1981 with the Winnipeg Jets, and Wilf Paiement with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1980-1982).
Gretzky's status as a hockey legend was never in doubt, but it was solidified in 1999 when the Hockey Hall of Fame waived its normal three-year mandatory waiting period to enshrine him. He is one of only 10 players so honored, joining Dit Clapper, Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Ted Lindsay, Red Kelly, Terry Sawchuk, Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux. Following Gretzky's induction, the Hockey Hall of Fame's board of directors eliminated the right for the selection committee to waive the mandatory waiting period, except under certain humanitarian conditions. Gretzky was inducted Nov. 22, 1999.
Following his retirement as a player, several teams wanted Gretzky to take on an ownership role. In May 2000, he bought a 10 percent stake in the Arizona Coyotes organization. He also became their alternate governor, managing partner and head of hockey operations
After speculation for two years that Gretzky might appoint himself as head coach of the Coyotes, he finally did so before the 2005-06 season. He coached the Coyotes for four years, compiling a 143-161-24 record. The team did not make the playoffs during his tenure. On Sept. 24, 2009, with the Coyotes' ownership situation unsettled and the team continuing to struggle on the ice, Gretzky stepped down as head coach and president of hockey operations.