I was meandering around online the other day when I came across this. It’s a post from bleacher report about two years ago explaining why Mario Lemieux was better than Wayne Gretzky. I always enjoy a good Gretzky/Lemieux debate; it’s fun to hear what people think, especially when they side with Lemieux. It’s easy to just look at raw stats and conclude that Gretzky was the better player, but there’s more to it than that. Usually when someone sides with Lemieux, they have an interesting opinion behind it.
Here’s the deal. Basically, they point out six reasons why Super Mario was better than The Great One. Let’s see what they think!
6. I'll take Warren Young and Mike Bullard, you can have Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and Grant Fuhr.
The caliber of teammates that Gretzky enjoyed playing with early in his career vastly attributed to his success. I'm not saying that without Messier, Gretzky wouldn't have won a Hart or an Art Ross Trophy, I'm just saying he might not have won as many.
Hey, there’s no doubt Gretzky had a better team, but they “vastly attributed to his success?” I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t say he had a great team to start his career. He won the Art Ross in his first season in the NHL, playing on a team with players like Dave Lumley, Brett Callighen, Blair MacDonald, Stan Weir, and a 20 year old Messier who had 33 points in 75 games. Perhaps without Messier, he still would have taken home the hardware. Two years later, he put up 212 points, 65 points ahead of second place finisher Mike Bossy. I think he might have still had a shot at the Art Ross that year had Messier not been on the team. He led the league five years in a row after that, finishing 72, 79, 73, 74 and 75 points ahead of second place in those years. AHEAD OF SECOND PLACE. In 1986-87, seven players finished with 100+ points. Six of the seven finished between 100 and 108 points. And then there was Gretzky, who had 183. That’s almost twice as many points as the second highest scorer in the league. But no, you’re right…he wouldn’t have won those Art Ross trophies without the teammates he had.
Close in a tight game, Wayne didn't have to press to get that insurance goal, he could just dump the puck in and watch Grant Fuhr carry the team to victory.
What does that have to do with anything? If we’re comparing stats, that doesn’t help Gretzky’s cause at all. If anything that just proves that his numbers should have been even higher since he played in “shutdown mode” for the last few minutes of every game instead of trying to provide more offense.
5. Five Goals, Five Different Ways
On December 31, 1988, Lemieux became the first (and only) player in NHL history to score a goal in every possible game situation in the same game. Lemieux netted an even strength goal, scored on the power play, scored shorthanded, converted on a penalty shot, and added an empty netter to cap off a five goal, eight point performance.
That’s fantastic. That’s seriously really awesome. It has no place in this debate, but it is a great story. Did you know that on February 18th, 1989, Gretzky posted a 7 point performance (2 goals, 5 assists) against Quebec, while Lemieux was held pointless against the Rangers? That must mean Gretzky was better.
Don’t use single game performances to compare players. Please.
4. Injuries? No Problem
In July, 1990, Lemieux underwent back surgery and was forced to miss 50 games during the 1990-91 season. Despite significant pain, Lemieux was back for the playoffs. Mario scored 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists), leading all scorers in the playoffs, and more importantly, leading the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup.
Ok. So in Lemieux’s 7th season, he had 44 points in 23 playoff games en route to a Stanley Cup Championship. Guess what? In Gretzky’s 7th season, he had 47 points in 18 playoff games en route to a Stanley Cup Championship. Listen, I get your point. He was injured and had to play through his injury. I’m willing to bet he wasn’t in too much pain though, since he finished the regular season, playing 26 games from January 26th on. They finished first place in their division and comfortably made the playoffs, so I’m going to assume they wouldn’t sacrifice the health of their star player for two dozen relatively meaningless regular season games.
The following season, Lemieux played in just 64 games, but still won the Art Ross Trophy with 131 points. Gretzky played in 74 games with the Kings that year, finishing with 121 points. Oh, but he probably was battling a stuffy nose for a good chunk of the winter.
Oh, ok...that’s fair. Compare Mario Lemieux in his prime to Gretzky when he was 31 years old. You know what? I have some foolproof evidence that Alex Ovechkin is better than both of them. Last year Ovechkin managed 50 goals and 109 points, despite missing 10 games due to injury and suspensions. How many points did Gretzky have last year? Zero. Lemieux? Zero. Ovechkin is better than both of them combined!
3. "66" Saves the Pens, Gretzky's Coyotes Watch the Playoffs From Their Couches
Ten Foot Pole vocalist Scott Radinsky was much better than then his replacement, Dennis Jagard. Why? Because Radinsky went on to be a professional baseball player, and Jagard was a measly sound engineer.
The resurgence of the Penguins had nothing to do with number 1 overall picks Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It was all Super Mario.
2. You Wanna Talk Stats? Here Are Your Stats
Despite playing in 572 fewer games than Gretzky, Lemieux holds the record for the highest career points-per-game average (2.005) and the highest career goals-per-game average (.823). While the title of "greatest" player is debatable, the title of "most productive" player is not.
Despite playing in fewer games, D.J. King had a higher points-per-game average (1.00) in the 2008-09 season than Marian Hossa(0.96). While the title of “greater” player is debatable, the title of “more productive” is not.
Do you even begin to realize how pointless that argument is? The whole reason per-game ratios are useful are to compare players who didn’t play the same amount of games, because otherwise you could just compare points. It’s obvious by using a point-per-game stat in the first place that one player didn’t play as many games as the other, so why even mention that in your argument? And while we’re on that, how is it even a good thing that he played 572 fewer games? Isn’t it more impressive to keep a high level of play over more games, rather than less? Otherwise, you could use a point-per-game stat to argue that D.J. King is better than Marian Hossa.
All of that is assuming your stats are even accurate, which they are not. Gretzky holds the record for points-per-game average at 1.92. Lemieux is second, at 1.88. And Mike Bossy holds the record for goals-per-game average at .76, compared to Lemieux’s .75 GPG. So sure, let’s talk stats, but how about we don’t just make them up and post them as fact. I have no idea where you got your info from, but it’s completely wrong.
The last point touches on Lemieux’s battle with cancer, while still playing at a high level. That’s amazing. Listen, I’m not here to say for sure that Gretzky was better than Lemieux. I am going to say there are a lot of better ways to go about your research than what they have.
Per-game averages, in my opinion tell the true tale of a players' greatness.
I couldn’t agree more. But first you need to learn the correct way to use them to evaluate your statistics. And second, you need to use accurate stats and not just make them up as you go.
I actually compiled some stats in an excel spreadsheet a while back comparing their dominance to the rest of the league, in points per game. This will help to eliminate the difference in league goal production, because let’s face it: the rate of scoring was higher in the 80’s than it was in the 90’s so it’s unfair to compare raw stats from Gretzky’s prime(80’s) to Lemieux’s prime(90’s). It basically judges each player’s dominance by their age, so you can compare their careers . This is because if you compare each actual NHL season, Gretzky was in his prime when Lemieux was just starting, and by the time Lemieux reached his prime, Gretzky was on the south side of 30 years old and on the decline already.
Anyway, this is already way too long, so I’m just going to end this. You can find the spreadsheet here if you’re interested.