|6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)|
185 lb (84 kg/13 st 3 lb)
Los Angeles Kings
St. Louis Blues
New York Rangers
|Born||January 26 1961 (age 62),|
Brantford, Ontario, CAN
|Pro career||1978 – 1999|
|Hall of Fame, 1999|
Born and raised in Brantford, Ontario, Gretzky honed his skills at a backyard rink and regularly played youth hockey at a level far above his peers. After a stellar youth career, Gretzky signed with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association (WHA), where he briefly played with the Indianapolis Racers before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers.
When the WHA folded, the Oilers joined the NHL, where Gretzky established many scoring records and led his team to four Stanley Cup championships. His 1988 trade to the Los Angeles Kings had an immediate impact on the team's performance, leading them to the 1993 Cup finals. Gretzky's play with the Kings is credited with popularizing hockey in the southern United States. He then played briefly for the St. Louis Blues and finished his career with the New York Rangers.
Despite his unimpressive stature and lack of speed, Gretzky's intelligence and reading of the game were unrivaled. He became especially known for setting up behind the net, an area that was nicknamed "Gretzky's office" because of his skills there. After his retirement in 1999, he was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He is the current part-owner, head of hockey operations, and head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Gretzky's paternal grandfather, Anton (Tony) Gretzky, was an immigrant who came to Canada via the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century from Grodno Governorate of the former Russian Empire, now part of Belarus. Wayne's father, Walter, taught him and his brothers to play hockey on a rink Walter made in the back yard of their home, nicknamed the "Wally Coliseum." Gretzky was a prodigy with extraordinary hockey skills.
At age six, Gretzky played on a team of ten-year-olds, starting a pattern of playing at a level far above his peers throughout his early years. By the age of ten, he had scored an amazing 378 goals and 120 assists in just 85 games with the Brantford Nadrofsky Steelers. His play attracted media attention even beyond his hometown of Brantford. By 13, he had scored over 1,000 goals.
At 16, Gretzky surpassed the Ontario Metro Junior Hockey League (OMJHL) single-season scoring record, winning the OMJHL Rookie of the Year and Most Sportsmanlike awards. He was then selected to play for Canada at the 1978 Ice Hockey Junior World Championships. The youngest player in the tournament, he finished as its top scorer.
World Hockey Association
In 1978, the National Hockey League did not allow the signing of players under the age of 20, but the competing World Hockey Association (WHA) had no such rule. Several WHA teams courted Gretzky, notably the Indianapolis Racers and the Birmingham Bulls. Bulls' owner John F. Bassett wanted to challenge the NHL by signing as many young and promising superstars as possible and saw Gretzky as the most promising young prospect, but it was the Racers' owner Nelson Skalbania who signed 17-year-old Gretzky to a seven-year personal services contract worth $1.75 million.
Gretzky scored his first professional goal against the Edmonton Oilers in his fifth game, with his second goal coming four seconds later. However, he only played eight games for Indianapolis. With the Racers losing $40,000 per game, Skalbania sold Gretzky and two other players to the Oilers for $700,000. The money was not enough to keep the Racers alive; they folded 17 games later.
One of the highlights of Gretzky’s season was his appearance in the 1979 WHA All-Star Game. The format was a three-game series between the WHA All-Stars against Dynamo Moscow. The All-Stars were coached by Jacques Demers, who put Gretzky on a line with his boyhood idol Gordie Howe and his son, Mark, and the WHA team won all three games.
In 1979, Gretzky finished third in the league in scoring at 110 points, behind Robbie Ftorek and Réal Cloutier. He captured the Lou Kaplan Trophy as rookie of the year and helped the Oilers to first place overall in the league. The Oilers reached the Avco World Trophy finals, where they lost to the Winnipeg Jets in six games. It was Gretzky's only year in the WHA, as the league was dissolved the following the season.
After the WHA folded, the Oilers joined the National Hockey League. Some critics suggested he would flounder in the bigger, tougher, and more talented league. Gretzky's basic athletic abilities were not considered impressive. He was 6 feet (1.83 m) tall and weighed only 160 pounds as an 18-year-old NHL rookie in 1979. Many critics opined that Gretzky was "too small, too wiry, and too slow to be a force in the NHL." On the other hand, his intelligence and reading of the game were unrivaled, and he could consistently anticipate where the puck was going to be and execute the right move at the right time.
Edmonton Oilers (1979–1988)
In his first NHL season, 1979–80, Gretzky proved his critics wrong. He was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the League's Most Valuable Player (the first of eight in a row) and tied for the scoring lead with Marcel Dionne with 137 points, which remains the most points by a first-year player. Gretzky became the youngest player to score 50 goals but was not eligible for the Calder Memorial Trophy, given to the top NHL rookie, because of his previous year of WHA experience.
In his second season, Gretzky won the Art Ross Trophy (which had been given to Dionne the previous year due to Dionne's holding the tie-breaker with more goals) as the league's top-scorer. Gretzky scored a record 164 points, breaking both Bobby Orr's record for assists in a season (102) and Phil Esposito's record for points in a season (152).
During the 1981–82 season, Gretzky surpassed a record that had stood for 35 years: 50 goals in 50 games, set by Maurice "Rocket" Richard during the 1944–45 NHL season and later tied by Mike Bossy during the 1980–81 NHL season. Moreover, Gretzky accomplished the feat in only 39 games. His fiftieth goal came on December 30, 1981, in the final seconds of a 7–5 win against the Philadelphia Flyers and was his fifth goal of the game. Later that season, Gretzky broke Esposito's record for most goals in a season (76). He ended the 1981–82 season with 92 goals, 120 assists, and 212 points in 80 games, becoming the first and only player in NHL history to break the 200–point mark. That year, Gretzky became the first hockey player and first Canadian to be named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. He was also named 1982 "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated.
The following seasons saw Gretzky break his own assists record three more times (125 in 1982–83, 135 in 1984–85, and 163 in 1985–86); he also bettered that mark (120 assists) in 1986–87 with 121 and 1990–91 with 122, and his point record one more time (215). By the time he finished playing in Edmonton, he held or shared 49 NHL records, which in itself was a record.
The Edmonton Oilers finished first overall in their last WHA regular season. The same success was not immediate when they joined the NHL, but within four seasons, the Oilers were competing for the Stanley Cup. The Oilers were a young, strong team featuring forwards Mark Messier, Gretzky, Glenn Anderson, and Jari Kurri, defenseman Paul Coffey, and goaltender Grant Fuhr. Gretzky was its captain from 1983–88. In 1983, they reached the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals, only to be swept by the three-time defending champion New York Islanders. The following season, the Oilers met the Islanders in the 1984 Stanley Cup Finals again, this time winning the Stanley Cup, their first of five in seven years.
Gretzky was named an officer of the Order of Canada on June 25, 1984 for outstanding contribution to the sport of hockey. The Oilers also won the Cup with Gretzky in 1985 Stanley Cup Finals, 1987, and 1988; and without him in 1990 with Messier as captain.
Los Angeles Kings (1988–1996)
On August 9, 1988, in a move that heralded significant change in the NHL, the Oilers traded Gretzky along with two other players to the Los Angeles Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million in cash, and the Kings' first-round draft picks in 1989, 1991, and 1993. This upset Canadians to the extent that New Democratic Party House Leader Nelson Riis demanded that the government block it. Gretzky himself was considered a "traitor" by some Canadians for turning his back on his country. However, after the 1988–89 season, a life-sized bronze statue of Gretzky was erected outside the Northlands Coliseum, holding the Stanley Cup over his head.
The Kings named Gretzky their captain, a position he held until his trade to St. Louis in 1996. He made an immediate impact on the ice, scoring on his first shot on goal in the first regular-season game. The Kings got off to their best start ever, winning four straight on their way to qualifying for the playoffs. Despite being underdogs against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Oilers in the Smythe Division semifinals, Gretzky led the Kings to a shocking upset of his old squad, spearheading the Kings' return from a 3–1 series deficit to win the series 4–3. For only the second time in his NHL career, Gretzky finished second in scoring, but narrowly beat out Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux (who scored 199 points) for the Hart Trophy as MVP. In 1990, the Associated Press named him Male Athlete of the Decade.
Gretzky's first season in Los Angeles saw a marked increase in attendance and fan interest in a city not previously known for following hockey. The Kings now boasted of numerous sellouts. Many credit Gretzky's arrival with putting non-traditional U.S. hockey markets on "the NHL map." Not only did California receive two more NHL franchises (the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and San Jose Sharks) during Gretzky's tenure in L.A., but his popularity in Southern California proved to be an impetus in the league establishing teams in other parts of the U.S. Sun Belt.
Gretzky was sidelined for much of the 1992–93 regular season with an upper back injury, the only year in which he did not lead his team in scoring. However, he performed very well in the playoffs, notably when he scored a hat trick (three goals) in game seven of the Campbell Conference Finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs. This victory propelled the Kings into the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history, where they faced the Montreal Canadiens. After winning the first game of the series by a score of 4–1, the team lost the next three games in overtime, and then fell 4–1 in the deciding fifth game. The next season, Gretzky broke Gordie Howe's career goal-scoring record and won the scoring title, but the team began a long slide, and despite numerous player and coaching moves, the Kings failed to qualify for the playoffs again until 1998.
St. Louis Blues (1996)
On February 27, 1996, Gretzky joined the St. Louis Blues in a trade for Patrice Tardif, Roman Vopat, Craig Johnson, and two draft picks. He partially orchestrated the trade after reports that he was unhappy in Los Angeles surfaced. Gretzky was immediately named Blues' captain. He scored 37 points in 31 games for the team that year, including the playoffs, and the Blues came within one game of the Conference Finals. Gretzky rejected a three-year deal worth $15 million with the Blues, and on July 22, he signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent, rejoining longtime Oilers teammate Mark Messier for a two-year, $8-million contract.
New York Rangers (1996–1999)
Gretzky ended his professional career with the Rangers, where he played his final three seasons and helped the team reach the Eastern Conference Finals in 1997. The Rangers were defeated in the conference finals by the Philadelphia Flyers, despite Gretzky leading the Rangers in the playoffs with ten goals and ten assists. The Rangers did not return to the playoffs during the remainder of Gretzky's career.
In 1997, prior to his retirement, The Hockey News named a committee of 50 hockey experts to select and rank the 50 greatest players in NHL history. They voted Gretzky number one.
Gretzky participated in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Expectations were high for the Canadian team, but without the presence of Mario Lemieux and several other star Canadians due to injury, the team lost to the Czech Republic in the semi-finals.
The 1998–99 NHL season season was Gretzky's last. He reached one milestone in this last season, breaking the professional total goal-scoring record which had been held by Gordie Howe. Gretzky's last goal brought his scoring total for his combined NHL/WHA career to 1,072 to break Howe's record by a single goal. Gretzky announced his retirement before the Rangers' last game of the season.
The final game of Gretzky's career was a 2–1 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 18, 1999, in Madison Square Garden. He scored his final point in this game, assisting on the lone New York goal scored by Brian Leetch.
Nicknamed "The Great One," Gretzky is generally regarded as the best player in the history of the NHL. Upon his retirement on April 18 1999, he held 40 regular-season records, 15 playoff records, and six All-Star records. He is the only NHL player to total over 200 points in one season—a feat he accomplished four times. In addition, he tallied over 100 points in 15 NHL seasons, 13 of them consecutively. He is the only player to have his number (99) officially retired, not only by his own time but by the NHL for all teams.
In his career, Gretzky captured nine Hart Trophies as the most valuable player, ten Art Ross Trophies for most points in a season, five Lady Byng Trophies for sportsmanship and performance, five Lester B. Pearson Awards, and two Conn Smythe Trophies as playoff MVP. Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 22, 1999, becoming the tenth player to bypass the three-year waiting period. He was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000.
Gretzky married American actress Janet Jones on July 17, 1988. They had first met when he was a celebrity judge on Dance Fever. He became an American citizen following their marriage. The Gretzkys have five children: Paulina, Ty Robert, Trevor Douglas, Tristan Wayne, and Emma Marie.
Figures in boldface italics are NHL records. GP = Games played; G = Goals; A = Assists; Pts = Points; PIM = Penalty Minutes; +/– = Plus/Minus; PP = Powerplay Goals; SH = Shorthanded Goals; GW = Game-Winning Goals
|1977–78||Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds||OHL||64||70||112||182||14||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|1988–89||Los Angeles Kings||NHL||78||54||114||168||26||+15||11||5||5||11||5||17||22||0|
|1989–90||Los Angeles Kings||NHL||73||40||102||142||42||+8||10||4||4||7||3||7||10||0|
|1990–91||Los Angeles Kings||NHL||78||41||122||163||16||+30||8||0||5||12||4||11||15||2|
|1991–92||Los Angeles Kings||NHL||74||31||90||121||34||-12||12||2||2||6||2||5||7||2|
|1992–93||Los Angeles Kings||NHL||45||16||49||65||6||+6||0||2||1||24||15||25||40||4|
|1993–94||Los Angeles Kings||NHL||81||38||92||130||20||-25||14||4||0||—||—||—||—||—|
|1994–95||Los Angeles Kings||NHL||48||11||37||48||6||-20||3||0||1||—||—||—||—||—|
|1995–96||Los Angeles Kings||NHL||62||15||66||81||32||-7||5||0||2||—||—||—||—||—|
|1995–96||St. Louis Blues||NHL||18||8||13||21||2||-6||1||1||1||13||2||14||16||0|
|1996–97||New York Rangers||NHL||82||25||72||97||28||+12||6||0||2||15||10||10||20||2|
|1997–98||New York Rangers||NHL||82||23||67||90||28||-11||6||0||4||—||—||—||—||—|
|1998–99||New York Rangers||NHL||70||9||53||62||14||-23||3||0||3||—||—||—||—||—|
|NHL career totals (20 seasons)||1,487||894||1,963||2,857||577||+518||204||73||91||208||122||260||382||66|
|1978||World Junior Championships||Canada||6||8||9||17||2||Bronze|
|1987||Rendez-vous '87||NHL All-Stars||2||0||4||4||0||N/A|
As of May 2008, Gretzky is active as the head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.
|Team||Year||Regular Season||Post Season|
|PHX||2005–06||82||38||39||5||81||5th in Pacific||Missed playoffs|
|PHX||2006–07||82||31||46||5||67||5th in Pacific||Missed playoffs|
|PHX||2007–08||82||38||37||7||83||4th in Pacific||Missed playoffs|
|Total||246||107||122||17||Points %: 46.95 %|
Source: Wayne Gretzky's profile
- Oilers Heritage, Wayne Gretzky—The Great One. Retrieved January 17, 2009.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Diamond, Dan (ed.), Wayne Gretzky, and John Davidson. My Life in Pictures. Toronto: Total Sports Canada, 1999. ISBN 0920445675.
- Dryden, Steve. Total Gretzky: The Magic, The Legend, The Numbers. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1999. ISBN 0771041772.
- Gretzky, Wayne, and Rick Reilly. Gretzky: An Autobiography. New York: HarperCollins, 1990. ISBN 0060163399.
- Redmond, Gerald. Wayne Gretzky: The Great One. Toronto: ECW Press, 1993. ISBN 1550221906.
- Taylor, Jim. Wayne Gretzky: The Authorized Pictorial Biography. Vancouver, BC: Opus Productions, 1994. ISBN 9781895565386.
All links retrieved May 3, 2023.
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