Wayne Gretzky turns 60 today. No player has ever dominated their sport quite the way he did. To simply say that Gretzky was the National Hockey League’s all-time leader in goals and assists is to minimize his accomplishments. In 1983, for example, Gretzky had more assists (125) than the second-leading scorer in the NHL, Peter Stastny, had points (124). That season, Gretzky added 71 goals to lead the league. He netted 153 of those points during a record-breaking 51-game point-scoring streak. Gretzky, always known more for his passing, scored a league-record 92 goals in 1982 — 27 more than Alexander Ovechkin’s best season — and 87 in 1984. In 1985, Gretzky had more points than 13 teams had goals last season in the NHL. He scored over 200 points four times in his career. No one else has done it once, and it’s doubtful anyone will ever do it again.
Gretzky is also the all-time leader in playoff points with 382. The closest contemporary player on that front is Sidney Crosby, who is 193 points behind him.
It’s true, the league is different. Bigger and faster. It’s true that Gretzky played on a team teeming with future Hall of Famers (though, perhaps, some of them would not be there without him.) Even as a kid, I’d watch Gretzky play on those great Edmonton teams, curling up at the blue line with his head up, and wonder why someone didn’t just knock him down or run him over. By professional sports standards, he was an unimpressive 6’0”, 185 pounds, without any discernible physical advantage over most players. He looked like a soft-spoken junior tax accountant. Also, he happened to be the smartest hockey player on the ice. Always.