Last modified on 19 April 2009, at 19:59

History of the National Hockey League/1967–1992/Wayne Gretzky

A statue of Wayne Gretzky raising the Stanley Cup graces the front entrance of Edmonton's Rexall Place.

In the latter part of the 1980s, the Oilers won five Stanley Cup titles in seven years, becoming the only team to score 400 or more goals in a season, which they did four times. With future Hall of Famers Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, and Glenn Anderson, they established numerous new scoring records.

The Oilers were led by Wayne Gretzky, who remained with the Oilers when they joined the NHL in 1979. At 5 ft 11 in and 170 lb, some observers doubted that Gretzky could match his offensive performance from his lone WHA season. "I heard a lot of talk then that I'd never get 110 points like I did in the WHA," said Gretzky. He proved his critics wrong, scoring 137 points in 1979–80 and winning the first of nine Hart Trophies as the NHL's most valuable player. Over the next several seasons, Gretzky established new highs in goals scored in a season, with 92 in the 1981–82 season; in assists, with 163 in the 1985–86; and in total points, with 215 in 1985–86. He also scored 50 goals in 39 games, the fastest any player had reached the total in a single season. Gretzky scored his 1,000th NHL point in his 424th game, breaking Guy Lafleur's old record of 720 games.

Gretzky's teammates set records of their own. Fuhr's 14 assists in the 1983–84 season set a record for most points by a goaltender in a season. In 1985–86, Coffey set a record for the most goals in a season by a defenceman, with 48. Adding 90 assists, Coffey wound up a point short of tying Bobby Orr's record for most points in a season by a blue-liner.

On August 9, 1988, Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, in financial trouble, traded Gretzky, along with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski, to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, US$15 million and three first-round draft picks. Gretzky left Edmonton with a tear-filled news conference, and later said that Edmonton was the only place he ever dreaded playing. Gretzky's trade to the Kings popularized ice hockey in the United States, making hockey "cool" in Hollywood, and shocked fans across Canada. The Kings were the most popular Los Angeles sports team, and Gretzky's fame rivaled that of his peers with baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers and basketball's Los Angeles Lakers.

With the Kings, Gretzky broke Gordie Howe's record for career points. On October 15, 1989, against his former Oilers' teammates, and with Howe in attendance, Gretzky tied the record with a first period assist before notching his 1,851st career point with a third period goal. "An award such as this takes a lot of teamwork and help and both teams here today definitely have a part of the 1,851 [points]." said Gretzky.