Aug. 9, 1988, was a day that changed the face of the NHL forever.
Twenty-five years ago today, the League was rocked by a trade the likes of which it had never seen and may never see again. The Edmonton Oilers, winners of the Stanley Cup four times in five seasons and seemingly poised to dominate for years to come, traded Wayne Gretzky, the centerpiece of their dynasty and the greatest scorer in hockey, to the Los Angeles Kings for young players, draft picks and $15 million.
Gretzky had already turned the NHL record book inside-out while helping the Oilers terrorize goaltenders like no team before. The deal stunned Edmonton and the rest of Canada, which was still recovering from The Great One's marriage to American actress Janet Jones less than a month earlier.
Gretzky made the Kings an attraction in star-driven Los Angeles, leading the Kings to their first Stanley Cup Final in 1993 and filling the Great Western Forum. In all, he played 11 seasons after the trade before retiring in 1998-99 following three seasons with the New York Rangers. He left the NHL with more than 60 records.
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the trade that resonates throughout the NHL a quarter of a century later, here's a look at 25 of Gretzky's records that may never be broken:
Most career points: 2,857
How safe is this record? Consider that the last player to have more than 140 points in one season was Mario Lemieux, who put up 160 for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1995-96. Twenty seasons of averaging 140 points wouldn't be enough to catch Gretzky's career record. Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins led the League in 2011-12, the most recent 82-game season, with 109 points.
Most career goals: 894
This is another mark that figures to last for a long time. The top goal-scorer among players 35 and younger is Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks with 434; for players 30 and younger, it's Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals; he turns 28 next month and enters the season with 371 goals. Hossa won't catch Gretzky, and Ovechkin would need a long run of big seasons just to get within shouting distance.
Most career assists: 1,963
Gretzky often seemed to have eyes in the back of his head, that's how good he was at finding teammates for what turned into easy goals. His assist total is 714 more than runner-up Ron Francis, and Gretzky has more assists than any player has points. The only active player with 1,000 assists is 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr of the New Jersey Devils, who has 1,007.
Most goals in a season: 92
Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins set the NHL single-season mark by scoring 76 goals in 1970-71; before that, no one had reached 60. Esposito's total was regarded at the time as a record for the ages. As things turned out, it lasted barely a decade before Gretzky blew it to pieces. The 21-year-old roared scored his 77th goal on Feb. 24, 1982, wound up the 1981-82 season with 92 -- and was disappointed he didn't get more.
Gretzky is second on the all-time single-season list with 87 goals in 1983-84. Brett Hull's 86 goals in 1990-91 are next. The only players in the 21st century to reach 60 goals are Alex Ovechkin (65 in 2008-09) and Steven Stamkos (60 in 2011-12).
Fewest games needed to score 50 goals: 39
Not surprisingly, this also happened in '81-82, and it was capped by perhaps the greatest night of Gretzky's career. No. 99 scored 45 goals in Edmonton's first 38 games when the Philadelphia Flyers came to Northlands Coliseum (now Rexall Place) on Dec. 30, 1981. Gretzky beat Pete Peeters four times to help the Oilers to a 6-5 lead, then set off an eruption when he hit the empty net for his fifth of the night and 50th of the season.
Only Maurice Richard and Mike Bossy had scored as many as 50 goals in 50 games. Gretzky is second on the list with 50 goals in 42 games in 1983-84. Lemieux is next with 50 in 46 games (though he played in 44) in 1988-89. Two players (Stamkos and Malkin) scored 50 goals in a full season in 2011-12.
Most goals in the first 50 games of a season: 61
Gretzky didn't stop scoring after connecting 50 times in the first 39 games in 1981-82, though he did slow down a bit. He had 11 goals in the Oilers' next 11 games to give him 61 through 50 games, a mark he matched two seasons later. Lemieux is next with 54 in 50 games in 1988-89.
Longest point-scoring streak: 51 games
Gretzky's numbers from 1981-82 (92 goals, 212 points) get all the attention, but he may have been at his best in 1983-84, when he opened the season by getting at least one point in Edmonton's first 51 games. Perhaps most astonishing is that the streak was ended by journeyman goaltender Markus Mattson and the defensively challenged Los Angeles Kings, who defeated Edmonton 4-2 on Jan. 28, 1984, the highlight of a season when L.A. surrendered 376 goals and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Gretzky averaged exactly 3.0 points a game during the streak. He could have taken the rest of the season off and his 153 points during the streak would have won the scoring title by 27.
Lemieux's 46-game streak in 1988-89 is the second-longest streak in NHL history. Gretzky also had streaks of 39 and 30 games. Sidney Crosby's 25-game points streak for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2010-11 was the longest since Mats Sundin's 30 games with the Quebec Nordiques in 1992-93.
Most points in a season: 215
If 1981-82 and 1983-84 weren't Gretzky's best seasons, maybe 1985-86 was. The Great One broke his record of 212 points, set in '81-82, by scoring or assisting on 215 of Edmonton's 426 goals. It was the fourth and final 200-point season of his career; he's the only player to get that many in a season. Of the 13 seasons in which a player had 160 or more points in a season, nine belong to Gretzky and the other four to Lemieux, including 199 points in 1988-89.
Most assists in a season: 163
Setting up teammates was what Gretzky did best, and he was never better at it than 1985-86, when he piled up a record 163 assists, breaking the mark of 135 he had set the previous season. In fact, Gretzky owns the seven highest single-season assist totals in NHL history (a record in its own right). For comparison, the highest assist total in one season by a player in the 21st century is 96 by Joe Thornton in 2005-06, a season he split between the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks.
Most consecutive 40-goal seasons: 12
Granted, scoring 40 goals in a season is a lot tougher now than it was in the 1980s and '90s, but doing it 12 times in a row is a remarkable achievement in any era. Bossy is next with nine in a row. Ilya Kovalchuk (six seasons) and Ovechkin (five) had streaks snapped in 2010-11.
Most 100-point seasons: 15
Not only has Gretzky lapped the field in this category (Lemieux is next with 10; no one else has more than eight), in all but one of those seasons he put up at least 120 points. In 11 of those seasons he'd have reached 100 points without scoring a goal.
Most consecutive 100-point seasons: 13
This streak might have lasted a few more years, but a back injury that limited Gretzky to 45 games (and 65 points) in 1992-93 ended it, although ironically he led the Kings to their only Stanley Cup Final in the spring of 1993. Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins is next in consecutive triple-digit seasons with six.
Highest points-per-game average (50 or more points) in one season: 2.77
Averaging a point per game in a full NHL is impressive, so what term would you use for a player who averages more than 2.75 points per game, as Gretzky did by putting up 205 points in 74 games in 1983? "The Great One" seems to fill the bill.
Most career games with three or more goals: 50
No one was better than Gretzky when it came to scoring in bunches. He had 37 three-goal games, nine games in which he scored four times, and four in which he scored five times. Lemieux is next with 40 hat tricks, one more than Bossy; Teemu Selanne's 22 is tops among players active in 2012-13. A player entering the NHL now would have to average three hat tricks for 17 seasons to top Gretzky's career mark.
Most shorthanded goals in a career: 73
Before Gretzky, superstars were almost never used to kill penalties. The Oilers changed that when they began to use Gretzky and some of their other top scorers as penalty-killers, giving opposing power plays something else to worry about. Since shorthanded goals became a recognized statistic, Gretzky's career total is 10 more than runner-up Mark Messier and 23 more than third-place Steve Yzerman. Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning leads active players with 28.
Most games with three or more goals in one season: 10
It must have been fun to be an Oilers fan in 1981-82 -- you had a one-in-eight chance of seeing Gretzky get a hat trick. The same was true in 1983-84, when he matched his own record. Bossy and Lemieux each had nine in a season; no one since Alexander Mogilny of the Buffalo Sabres in 1992-93 has more than seven. Malkin led all players in 2011-12 with three; three players had a pair during the shortened 2012-13 season.
Fewest games to reach 500 goals: 575
The 500-goal mark is an elite achievement by an NHL player; 42 (most recently Jarome Iginla in 2011-12) have reached it. Gretzky got there when he was 25 years old, scoring his 500th goal on Nov. 22, 1986. Three players (Lemieux, Bossy and Bobby Hull) scored 500 goals in fewer than 700 games; Selanne was the last to do it before reaching 1,000 games played.
Fewest games to reach 1,000 points: 424
Gretzky racked up assists even faster than he scored goals, so it's not surprising that he reached the 1,000-point mark before he scored his 500th goal. Appropriately, an assist on Dec. 19, 1984 (about a month before his 24th birthday), made Gretzky the fastest to reach 1,000 points. Lemieux is next at 513 games; Jagr (763) is the fastest in the past 20 seasons to get to 1,000.
Most playoff points in a career: 382
Gretzky's domination of this category isn't quite as thorough as his record for regular-season points. Runner-up Mark Messier's total of 295 is 77 percent of Gretzky's Stanley Cup Playoff mark; Messier's 1,887 regular-season points are 66 percent of Gretzky's total. Fellow Oilers Jari Kurri (233) and Glenn Anderson (214) are the only other players with as many as 200 playoff points; Jagr had 10 assists for the Boston Bruins during last spring's playoffs, and his 199 points are the most by any active player and the most by anyone who never played for the Oilers.
Most playoff goals in a career: 122
Gretzky's record owes much to his skill, his endurance and his teams' success; you can't score a lot of playoff goals if you're injured or if your team gets knocked out early. Messier is second with 109 goals, three more than Kurri, Gretzky's longtime linemate. The only player with more than 100 to skate in a playoff game in the 21st century is Brett Hull, who retired with 103.
Most playoff assists in a career: 260
Gretzky is unparalleled as a setup man in the regular season or the playoffs. Messier is a distant second with 186 playoff assists; Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque is third with 139. Gretzky owns the marks for assists in one playoff year (1988), one Stanley Cup Final (1988), and most times with three assists in one period (five).
Most points in one playoff season: 47
Gretzky broke Bossy's single-season playoff points record of 35 by getting 38 in 1982-83 (although Bossy and the New York Islanders swept No. 99 and the Oilers in the Final), then torched that mark two years later with an incredible 47-point performance in 18 games. Lemieux got close with 44 six years later, and Gretzky twice reached 40 points (1988 and 1993). Though there are more games now than when Gretzky set the record, the most points by a player since his 40 in '93 are the 36 put up by Malkin in 2009. Crosby (31 in '09) and Danny Briere (30 in 2010 for the Philadelphia Flyers) are the only other players to have 30 or more points in one playoff year in the 21st century.
Most playoff games with three or more goals: 10
There were five hat tricks in the playoffs last spring, one more than in 2012 and three more than 2011. Given the difficulty of getting three goals in a game, Gretzky's mark for playoff hat tricks seems safe for a long time. Kurri and Richard are second with seven, followed by Dino Ciccarelli with six and Bossy with five.
Most consecutive scoring titles: 7
Though Gretzky won the Hart Trophy in his first NHL season, he didn't get credit for leading the NHL in scoring. Gretzky and L.A.'s Marcel Dionne tied for the scoring lead with 137 points, but Dionne won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer because he scored 53 goals to Gretzky's 51. Gretzky launched his run of seven consecutive scoring titles in 1980-81; only Jagr, Esposito and Gordie Howe have as many as four in a row.
Most consecutive MVP awards: 8
In the early years of the NHL, New York Rangers center Frank Boucher won the Lady Byng Trophy so often (seven times in eight years) they finally gave it to him and Lady Byng donated a new one. The NHL could have done the same thing with Gretzky and the Hart Trophy; he won it in each of his first eight seasons before Lemieux broke the streak in 1987-88. Jagr, Esposito and Howe are the only other players to win the Hart as many as four straight times. Since Gretzky's streak ended, only Ovechkin and Dominik Hasek have won as many as two in a row.
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