Image author: Kris Krüg
NHL fans are always looking for ‘The Next One’. If there’s a player who shows even the slightest bit of exceptional ability, he’s labeled the next Wayne Gretzky (aka ‘The Great One’).
Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya, John Tavares, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby. All of these players have suffered with the label, and while they’ve had success, none are even close to Gretzky’s achievements in the game.
But fans continue to hope. With many current NHL fans only getting a glimpse of the hockey legend through YouTube, the question remains: when will we get another Gretzky?
Spoiler Alert: There Will Never Be Another Wayne Gretzky
Okay, I’m going to take a bit of an unorthodox approach and just come out and say it: there will never be another Gretzky.
We can alk about the stats. Dominance. The records. The championships. He had all that. But with Gretzky, it went beyond hockey. And that’s what makes him a true legend, the kind of player we’ll never see in the NHL again.
Just like Diego Armando Maradona in soccer, or Michael Jordan in basketball, Wayne Gretzky transcended the sport. His impact was felt not just on the ice, but in popular culture. His trade to the LA Kings, for example, made hockey ‘cool’ in SoCal. It gave the NHL mainstream appeal, finally breaking a barrier in the United States.
Wayne Gretzky carried the sport’s popularity south of the border. He was the catalyst for the market to expand to American hockey markets that had previously had little to no interest in the NHL. Without him, there’s no Mighty Ducks trilogy that hits Hollywood. There’s no NHL franchise spearheaded by Disney, nor would the Panthers of Coyotes exist.
For a while, Gretzky was hockey. Sure, that’s unfair to some of the other great talented players the league had to offer back in the 80s and 90s. But there’s no denying that ‘The Great One’ was the face of the league.
That kind of impact can’t be measured by the record books.
How Good Was He, Really?
Some detractors will admit that Gretzky had an undeniably significant impact on the NHL. But they’ll also claim that as a player, he really wasn’t that good. They’ll say we’re viewing things through rose-tinted glasses, or that he wouldn’t survive in today’s game.
Heck, even Wayne Gretzky himself puts his numbers down to the era, right place, right time. He explains how it’s harder to score in today’s game, and how he wouldn’t have anywhere near the number of records if he’d been born later.
But there’s just one thing. He still dominated the rest of the league, he was streets ahead of everyone else in terms of scoring. Think about this: if he had played 16 more seasons without registering a single point, his average would still be 1+ for his career.
Let’s put it in gambling terms. With Wayne Gretzky on your team, you’d always have to bet with a negative puckline spread; a handicap of -1.5? Standard. He could score any number of goals needed. His trade to the Kings, for example, turned the franchise from perennial underperformers to Stanley Cup finalists. He pretty much did this single-handedly.
His scoring stats are just mind-blowing. If you exclude his goals, he still has more points than anyone else in NHL history. Together with his brother, who also played in the NHL, he’s half of the highest-scoring sibling pair in history. His brother scored four points in his career.
Sure, it’s harder to score in today’s NHL. But great talents adapt, and there’s no doubt that Wayne had it in buckets. The NHL even changed a rule because of this guy, and colloquially it became known as the Gretzky rule.
He had the talent, like Lemieux. But he also had an on-ice vision. He had the smarts. He could see the next pass and the one beyond that. The longevity, to deliver every single season. The mental toughness. The stats. The accolades.
Players with more pure skill may come along. His records will one day be broken, each and every one of them. The GOAT debate may intensify in the future, who knows. But. let me say again, there will never be another Gretzky.