In every sport, there is usually a healthy debate about who the greatest of all-time is and hockey is no different. For the most part, Wayne Gretzky is considered the greatest of all-time but there is room for debate with the likes of Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, and Maurice Richard in the mix.
But one thing is certain Wayne Gretzky is the most prolific scorer in NHL history.
Over his 20 season career, Wayne Gretzky led the NHL in scoring a total of 10 times (11 if you include his rookie season where he tied Marcel Dionne but had 2 fewer goals) and amassed an NHL record amount of career points with 2,857 (average of 143 points per season).
Gretzky not only put up a ton of points over these Art Ross winning seasons but ran away with the scoring races by significantly outscoring the runner-up in regular season points.
And while the game has changed over the years since Gretzky left the league (better goaltending, faster pace, and lower scoring), how have scoring leaders in the subsequent seasons compared to their runner-ups and have any of them had Gretzky-like seasons?
First, lets take a look at Gretzky's Art Ross seasons and quantify his dominance in the scoring leaders race.
Wayne Gretzky's Art Ross Winning Seasons
Over his 10 Art Ross Trophy winning seasons, Gretzky put up a combined 1,818 points (182 average points per season).
During the 1983-84 NHL season, Gretzky put up a total of 205 points (87 goals and 118 assists), which was 79 points more than teammate Paul Coffey and stands as the NHL record for largest margin of victory in a scoring race.
On a percentage basis, his most dominant margin of victory season came a few seasons later in 1986-87 when he put up 183 points vs. Jari Kurri’s 108 points (75 more), which is 69.4% more points scored by Gretzky than the runner-up.
His lowest margin of victory season, by points and percentage, came in the last season he won the Art Ross (1993-94) when he led by just 10 points or 8.3%.
If we look at the combined picture over the 10 seasons he won the scoring title, Gretzky scored a total of 1,818 points while the combined points of the runner-ups in each of those seasons was 1,296 points - for a combined margin of victory of 522 points. On a percentage basis, his scoring leader margin of victory was a combined 40.3%.
Here is a look at Wayne Gretzky's Art Ross winning seasons:
|1989-90||Los Angeles Kings||40||102||142||129||13||10.1%|
|1990-91||Los Angeles Kings||41||122||163||131||32||24.4%|
|1993-94||Los Angeles Kings||38||92||130||120||10||8.3%|
A Gretzky-like Season
As mentioned in the previous section, an average Gretzky margin of victory in the scoring race was 40.3% more than the runner-up. His max performance was a 69.4% margin of victory while his low performance was an 8.3% margin of victory.
How have scoring leaders since his retirement compared and what would a Gretzky-like dominant season look like in terms of relative point production?
Below we compare the point production of each scoring leader since the 1999-00 season to the runner-up and what a Gretzky-like performance would look like.
|Season||Scoring Leader||Runner-up||Diff||% Diff||Low Gretzky||Average Gretzky||Max Gretzky|
Note: Low/Average/Max Gretzky is calculated by taking the points scored by the runner up and adding the relevant margin of victory for each Gretzky version (8.3%/40.3%/69.4%) - for example if the runner up scored 100 points, max Gretzky would have scored 169 points (100 * 1.694).
As you can see from the above grid, scoring leaders outscored the runner-up by an average of 5.5 goals compared to Gretzky's 52.2 average margin of victory. Combined, scoring leaders put up 1,472 points vs. runners-up putting up 1,395 points or a difference of 77 points (5.5%).
It's clear there aren't the same levels of dominance in today's game that we saw when Wayne Gretzky was dominating the scoring race.
The most dominant season since Gretzky's retirement came in 2013-14 when Sidney Crosby scored 104 points or 17 points more (19.5%) than runner-up Ryan Getzlaf. An average Gretzky margin of victory in 2013-14 would've been 122 points with a max Grezky margin of victory being 147 points.
Without question, the NHL game has changed with better and faster players and much better goaltending. However, it's clear that we have yet to see a player as dominant in the game as Wayne Gretzky was during his years as a scoring leader.