Monday, November 07, 2011

Oilers History: Wayne Gretzky (1981-1982 Season)

During the five year period of 1981-1986, Wayne Gretzky recorded four 200 + point seasons and had another that fell just short at 196 points. In the 394 games he played during that period, he put up a mind numbing 375 goals, while adding a mere 661 assists for a grand total of 1036 points. To put that total into perspective, own its own, it would place Gretzky in a tie with Bobby Smith for the 64th best total in NHL history. Those five seasons, saw the Great One score at an astonishing clip of 2.63 points per game and as impressive as those seasons were, the one that stands out above the rest, was the year that number 99 manged to put together in 1981-1982.

While some would argue that his 1983-1984 season of 205 points, in 74 games, was better, I would have to disagree. By the time the 1983-84 season rolled around, Edmonton had not only Gretzky putting up points but they also had three players, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri, crack the hundred point barrier and another, Glenn Anderson, finish the season with 99 points. That was the year that the Oilers set the new standard for goal scoring by a team in a single season, with a staggering 446. 

In contrast, during the 1981-82 season he was surrounded by those same players but they had yet to develop into the players that they would soon become. In fact, Anderson was the only other player that reached 100 point mark but the club did manage to break the 400 goal plateau for the first time, finishing with 417. Gretzky had his hand in on 50.9% of the Oilers goals that season and it was the start of what many consider to be the most dominant era of any one player has put together in professional sports. His performance erased all doubt, when it came to deciding who the best player in the game was.

Gretzky had already won the previous seasons scoring race with164 points, twenty nine points better then the Kings Marcel Dionne, whom was awarded the 1979-1980 scoring title on the strength of scoring two more goals, of the then 19 year-old rookie. So it was no surprise that number 99 went on to win the scoring title in was just how he did it, that was so damn impressive. I remember watching the season unfold in front of my eyes as a kid and it seemed as though Gretzky was on another planet. He seemed like he could do whatever he liked out on the ice and there was simply nothing anyone could do about it. When you examine the stats further, my eyes were definitely not deceiving me.

Wayne scored an NHL record 92 goals and wound up scoring 212 total points, a record that he would break only four years later. The kid had goals in 44 of the Oilers 80 games and put up 10 games in which he scored at least a hat trick. That's right...10!!! Gretzky had six hat tricks on the season, three four goal performances and his historical five goal game, that put an exclamation mark on his incredible 50 goals in 39 games.

From a very young age, he seemed to have a flare for the dramatic and that was further solidified during his record breaking season. Most people forget, that leading up to his memorable performance against the Flyers, Gretzky was on a four game run in which he scored 19 points, which included a five and seven point games. If you include his five goals against Philadelphia, he scored 15 goals and put up 25 points in five games! Scoring 50 in 39 is an accomplishment in itself but doing it in the fashion he did, makes it even more memorable. The scary thing is, he put a similar stretch together one more time...and not surprisingly, it was again during one of those special occasions.

As he neared Phil Esposito's single season record of 76 goals, the media scrutiny increased and Mr. Gretzky took his game to another level. During the Oilers 61st, 62nd and 63rd games of the season, Gretzky had three consecutive five point nights, which left the young phenom tied with Espo and Edmonton heading to Buffalo for their next game. With Esposito in attendance, number 99 had two assists through two periods but the Sabres had managed to keep him from getting number 77...that all changed in the third period. In typical Gretzky fashion, he forced a turnover at the Buffalo blueline, broke in and slipped the unassisted marker under netminder Don Edwards. Not only was it number 77 but it also put Edmonton back in the lead. After a lengthy celebration on ice with Esposito, the Great One proceeded to put his usual stamp on the moment. He scored two more late in the period to give him 79 on the season and his fourth consecutive five point night! I remember watching the ITV telecast back in the day and at the end of the game just laughing to myself. Even as a kid, I sort of understood what I had just witnessed but all I could do was chuckle in amazement.

Wayne Gretzky played all 80 games during the 1981-82 season and he was held off the score sheet on eight separate occasions. His point totals for the remaining 72 games, are listed below:
  •   1 - seven point game
  •   1 - six point game
  • 10 - five point games
  • 10 - four point games
  • 15 - three point games
  • 24 - two point games
  • 11 - one point games
When you add those numbers up, you realize that Gretzky managed to put up at least two points in 61 of the Oilers 80 games. He wound up beating Mike Bossy by an incredible 28 goals in the race for the leagues top goal scorer and won the scoring race by 65 points! That more then doubled the amount he beat Dionne by, in the previous season. This was the first year Gretzky led the league in goals but he also went on to lead the league with six short-handed goals, 12 game winning goals and a plus/minus rating of  +81.

When you factor in everything that the then 21 year old accomplished during that 1981-1982 campaign, in my mind, it not only was the best season of his illustrious was the greatest single season in the history of the game.

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