Gretzky was century’s best |

Gretzky was century’s best

Trevor Smith

Wayne Gretzky hasn’t laced up his skates all year, yet he is still making hockey fans shake their heads. Gretzky was named the greatest hockey player of the century by a panel of experts brought together by the Associated Press.

Gordie Howe was second followed by Bobby Orr. Both Howe and Orr were amazing on the ice, but weren’t able to capture the attention of the media or the public the way Gretzky did.

Each player brought something different to the rink and each was able to, at one time, be considered the greatest hockey player ever to live. Orr had what we would consider a short career, as he played for 12 years, mostly with the Boston Bruins. He won the Stanley Cup in 1970 by sweeping the St. Louis Blues.

Orr paved the way for defenseman like Chris Chelios and Paul Coffey. Orr’s +124 rating in 1970-71 was absolutely incredible, and his six 100-plus point consecutive seasons are unlikely to be broken. Few teams are able to win a Stanley Cup without a puck-handling offensive-minded defenseman on their roster. The Colorado Avalanche has Sandis Ozolinsh, and the L.A. Kings have Rob Blake to validate that point.

Orr was the first defenseman to be an integral part of the offense, while Howe was a revolutionary in his ability to be his own thug. Howe flat out scared opposing players, which made his game even better than it already was. By intimidating the opponent, Howe was able to open the ice up for himself and his teammates depending on the situation.

Then there was Gretzky.

In his 20 years, he set 61 records and won four Stanley Cups while scoring 1,007 points more than Howe, who is second in career scoring. Gretzky’s legacy not only stems from his on-ice accomplishments, but how he brought American interest to hockey and created a whole new avenue for the NHL to prosper.

One man, not even Michael Jordan, has had to carry their sport like Gretzky. Scoring 200 points became natural for Gretzky. He became known as the greatest passer ever, which was evident in 1984 when he dished out 163 assists in 82 games.

But when Edmonton traded Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, it brought the biggest change to hockey that the sport has ever seen. Thanks to Gretzky, cities like Phoenix, San Jose and Dallas have massive hockey followings and are continuing to put good teams on the ice.

Even if Gretzky had never left Edmonton, his impact on the game would have still been great. All the millionaires in the NHL can thank Gretzky. The team salaries have grown by astronomical figures.

There is no doubt Gretzky is the greatest hockey player of the century. The only debate is whether he is the single greatest asset to sports that we have ever seen.

— Gretzky’s former teammate, Marty McSorley, is back in the NHL. McSorley, who is third in league history in penalty minutes, signed a one-year contract with the depleted Boston Bruins to bolster the team’s sagging defense.

McSorley won two Stanley Cups with Edmonton in 1987 and 1988 and was a key ingredient in the Kings making it to the Stanley Cup finals in 1993.

Oddly enough, McSorley also was involved in possibly the strangest incident in playoff history. With the Kings leading in the series 1-0 against the heavily favored Montreal Canadiens, McSorley was caught using an illegal stick.

After that play, the Kings, who were leading 1-0 in Game 2, fell apart. Montreal wound up winning the game and the series in five. The Bruins are the sixth team for the 36 year-old, who is known for his toughness and thuggery.

— Finally, the NHL’s Board of Governors will meet soon, with the main topic on the agenda being the ability of Canadian teams to acquire money from the Canadian government. Ottawa Senators owner Rod Bryden is the main lobbyist due to the possibility that his team, without any tax relief from the Canadian government, will have no choice but to move to America, possibly Portland.

Toronto and Montreal have been able to make it due to strong fan support and tradition. However, Calgary, Edmonton,Vancouver and Ottawa are aided by the contribution of $3-4 million a year to defray the cost incurred by the Canadian dollar.

Canada’s national pastime is on the verge of becoming extinct at the pro level, with the United States being the beneficiary.

Trevor Smith is the Nevada Appeal hockey columnist.