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Sports Then and Now

How Do Today’s NHL Stars Compare to Gretzky?

Posted on January 23, 2014 by Martin Banks

The record books of the National Hockey League are filled with the exploits of living-legend Wayne Gretzky. As the all-time leader in categories such as goals, assists and points, Gretzky was the star of his time. Likewise, Sydney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin (when he’s playing hard) are the best the NHL has to offer right now. So, let’s see how today’s stars stack up against the greatest of all time.

As we know, the completed career of Gretzky gives him a clear advantage over the ongoing careers of Crosby and Ovechkin in terms of stats. Compared to Gretzky’s two decades in the NHL, the current stars would be roughly halfway through their respective careers with both playing in their ninth NHL season now. However, we can more fairly compare the numbers of Crosby and Ovechkin to that of Gretzky’s years as an Edmonton Oiler, where he coincidentally spent nine seasons.



As far as putting the puck in the net goes, Gretzky’s goal total of 583 in his first nine seasons overshadows Ovechkin’s 406 and Crosby’s 263. Gretzky’s stats through those seasons in Edmonton were greatly aided by a NHL-record 92-goal season in the 1981-82 campaign. Contrastingly, Crosby netted just eight goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2011-12 season due to only playing 22 games because of injury.

In Ovechkin’s best goal-scoring season, his respectable 65 would only beat out Gretzky’s final year in Edmonton in which he scored 64 times. The Hall of Fame center also dwarfs the two current stars in playoff goals. Even put together, Ovechkin’s 31 goals and Crosby’s 40 would barely eclipse Gretzky’s 79 at the same point in all of their careers. Sometimes it seems like Gretzky could have scored even if he was shooting from the metal roof of an arena rather than the ice.


As a playmaker, Gretzky was even more impressive when compared to Crosby and Ovechkin as he assisted on over 1,000 goals. With an incredible NHL record for single-season assists, Gretzky totaled 163 in 1985-86, while Crosby and Ovechkin’s tallied 84 and 59 respectively as career-highs. Gretzky’s 140 playoff assists also dwarf that of Crosby’s 65 and Ovechkin’s 30 over the same length of time. Paired with his impressive goal totals, Gretzky’s assist numbers helped him obtain the NHL record for most points in a career with 2857, which still stands today.


Of his six Stanley Cup Finals appearances, Gretzky’s four victories all came during his first nine seasons with Edmonton. Trailing Gretzky at this point in their careers, Crosby has one Stanley Cup victory with the Penguins in 2009 and Ovechkin has yet to win it all. Gretzky was also named the most valuable player in the league eight times in a row with the Oilers as the winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy. With the Washington Capitals, Ovechkin has won the Hart Memorial Trophy three times and Crosby has earned the coveted award once in his career.

Any way you look at the numbers, the current NHL stars of Crosby and Ovechkin don’t even compare to the greatest player in league history. The dominance of Gretzky in every category over today’s best players serves as a reminder of how impressive he truly was. However, this should all be taken with a grain of salt, as the NHL was completely different from what it is now. There’s no way we’ll ever be able to know for sure who would have thrived if they played during that time period.  Although the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin may still have plenty to say about the record books, we may never see another player quite like Gretzky.

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