The Los Angeles Kings slaughtered the Edmonton Oilers 6-1 last night. Today’s Kings are a powerhouse, while today’s Oilers are a punchline. In 1989, both were model franchises. Almost entirely because of Wayne Gretzky. And today marks the anniversary of No. 99 setting his greatest record of all.
A quarter century ago, Gretzky broke the NHL’s all-time career points record, then held by his idol, Gordie Howe.
Howe had amassed his total of 1,850 thanks to consistency, and more so, longevity. Howe played 1,767 games across five decades, outlasting his peers and retiring at 52.
Gretzky took a different route to the record, scoring at a freakish, never-before-seen pace that led him to sole ownership of the record by age 28.
It was the beginning of Gretzky’s second season in Los Angeles, and the setting on the evening of Oct. 15, 1989, fittingly, was Edmonton, in front of Oiler fans for whom Gretzky had scored 1,669 points over his first nine seasons.
The point that broke the record, not surprisingly, was dramatic. L.A. trailed 4-3 in the third, the Kings net was empty, and the crowd buzzed in anticipation. Moments after the draw, Gretzky parked himself in front of Bill Ranford and swatted home a backhand to tie the game.
All eyes turned to Gretzky as he was mobbed by teammates and cheered on by Oiler fans who watched him blossom and win four Stanley Cups. Like watching actors break from a scene, the sense of competitive tension vanished from a game headed to OT, and players on both sides acknowledged hockey’s most prolific scorer. To complete the moment, Gretzky shared an embrace with Mark Messier, and Mr. Hockey made a toast to No. 99.
Once the fanfare died down, Gretzky scored the overtime winner. This time, the crowd wasn't so delighted.
Here’s the box score.
Here’s the video:
- Gretzky’s record-tying assist is at 4:30
- Gretzky’s record-setting goal is at 17:00
- Gretzky's overtime winner is at 27:20
After breaking the record at 28, Gretzky played 10 more years and retired with 2,857 points, 1,007 more than Howe’s original record total. Even more impressively, Gretzky’s career assist total of 1,963 is higher than Howe’s point total, and is still comfortably higher than the next best player’s point total.
Unless the NHL increases net dimensions at least 30 percent by the time Connor McDavid makes his league debut, Gretzky’s career point total will never be challenged.