The Great One's 23 unbreakable records
The hockey world has never been the same since Aug. 9, 1988.
Twenty-three years ago today, the NHL was rocked by the biggest trade in hockey history. The Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky, the centerpiece of a dynasty that had just won the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in five years, to the Los Angeles Kings for young talent, draft picks -- and $15 million.
Gretzky had already shredded numerous NHL scoring marks, including goals and points in a season, while helping the Oilers pile up goals in a way the League had never seen. The deal pumped life into the Kings, a franchise that had always struggled for attention in Los Angeles, while stunning Edmonton and the rest of Canada.
Gretzky went on to play 11 seasons after the trade before retiring in 1998-99 after three seasons with the New York Rangers. He left the NHL with more than 60 records to his credit.
In honor of the 23rd anniversary of the trade that stunned hockey, here's a look at 23 of those records that figure to be all but unbreakable.
Most career points: 2,857
Consider this: The last player to have more than 140 points in one season was Mario Lemieux, who put up 160 in 1995-96. Twenty seasons of averaging 140 points wouldn't be enough to catch Gretzky's career record.
Most career goals: 894
Wayne Gretzky speaks at a press conference announcing his trade to the Los Angeles Kings from the Edmonton Oilers, on August 9, 1988. (Getty Images)
Again, this figures to stand for a long time. The top goal-scorer among players 35 and under is Calgary's Jarome Iginla with 483; drop the age to 30 and it's Ilya Kovalchuk with 369. Alex Ovechkin, who turns 26 before the start of the season, has 301. Kovy or Ovi would need a long run of big seasons just to get close enough to consider Gretzky's record.
Most career assists: 1,963
The NHL has never seen the likes of Gretzky as a playmaker, and it may never see one again. It often seemed like No. 99 had 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 he has more assists than any other player has points.
Most goals in a season: 92
When Phil Esposito set the single-season mark by scoring 76 goals in 1970-71, it 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 past Espo's mark on Feb. 24, 1982, wound up the 1981-82 season with 92 goals -- and was disappointed he didn't get more.
Gretzky is also 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 player in the last 15 years to break 60 goals was Ovechkin when he had 65 in 2008-09.
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. He had scored 45 goals in Edmonton's first 38 games when Philadelphia came to the 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 also second on the list with 50 goals in 42 games in 1983-84. Mario Lemieux is next with 50 in his team's first 46 games (though he played in just 44) in 1988-89.
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 streak with at least one point: 51
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 the 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 beat Edmonton 4-2 on Jan. 28, 1984 -- the highlight of a season that saw L.A. surrender 376 goals and miss the playoffs.
Gretzky averaged exactly three points a game during the streak. Had he taken the rest of the season off, his 153 points would have won the scoring title by 27 points.
Sidney Crosby's 25-game points streak last season was the longest since Mats Sundin's 30-gamer with Quebec in 1992-93. Gretzky also had streaks of 39 and 30 games; Lemieux is the runner up with a 46-game streak in '88-89.
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 own record of 212 points 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 a 199-point effort 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).
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. Hall of Famer Mike Bossy is next with nine. Kovalchuk (six seasons) and Ovechkin (five) both had their 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 the 100-point mark without scoring a goal.
Most consecutive 100-point seasons: 13
A back injury that limited Gretzky to 45 games (and 65 points) in 1992-93 ended his streak (though ironically, that was the season he led the Kings to their only Stanley Cup Final). Bobby Orr is next in consecutive triple-digit seasons with six.
Most career games with three or more goals: 50
Gretzky was great at 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 2010-11. A player would have to average three hat tricks a season for 17 seasons to top Gretzky's mark.
Most games with three or more goals in one season: 10
Imagine what it must have been like 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 have nine; no one since Alexander Mogilny in 1992-93 has more than seven in one season.
Fewest games to reach 500 goals: 575
The 500-goal mark is an elite achievement by an NHL player -- just 41 have reached it during their careers. Gretzky did it when he was just 25, scoring his 500th goal on Nov. 22, 1986. Only three other players (Lemieux, Bossy and Hull) scored 500 goals in less than 700 games; Selanne was the last to do it in less than 1,000.
Fewest games to reach 1,000 points: 424
Since Gretzky piled up assists even faster than he scored goals, it's natural 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; Jaromir Jagr (763) is the fastest in the last 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 playoff mark, while his 1,887 regular-season points are just 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 points.
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 postseason goals, but 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
Wayne Gretzky holds the record for most career playoff assists with 260. Former teammate Mark Messier comes in at a distant second with 186. (Steve Babineau/NHLI)
Regular season or postseason, Gretzky is unparalleled as a setup man. Messier is a distant second with 186 playoff assists; Ray Bourque is third with "only" 139. Gretzky also owns the marks for assists in one playoff year (1988), one Stanley Cup Final (also 1988), and most times with a record three assists in one period (five).
Most points in one playoff season: 47
Gretzky broke Mike Bossy's single-season playoff points record of 35 by getting 38 in 1982-83 (despite the fact that Bossy and the Islanders swept No. 99 and the Oilers), then torched that mark two years later with an incredible 47-point performance in only 18 games. Lemieux got close with 44 six years later, and Gretzky twice reached 40 points (1988 and 1993) -- but 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 Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin in 2009.
Most playoff games with three or more goals: 10
There were exactly two hat tricks in the playoffs last spring, down from six in 2009-10. Given the difficulty of getting three goals in a game, Gretzky's mark for playoff hat tricks seems safe for a while. Former linemate Jari Kurri and Montreal legend Maurice 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 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 because he scored 53 goals to Gretzky's 51. Gretzky launched his run of seven consecutive scoring titles in 1980-81; only Jaromir 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, Rangers center Frank Boucher won the Lady Byng Trophy so often (seven times in eight years) that they finally gave it to him and Lady Byng donated a new one. The same thing could have happened 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.