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Did Gretzky benefit from a weak division?

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05-01-2005, 01:19 PM
  #1
reckoning
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Did Gretzky benefit from a weak division?

One of the common knocks against Wayne Gretzky is that he was able to rack up points playing against weak teams in his division. Listening to those arguments you`d think he played all 80 games in the Smythe Division and that it contained the four worst teams in the league. Not true. As far as I know, there`s no published breakdown of how many of his points were scored there, but let`s look at what we do know.

As an 18 year-old in `79-`80 he finished tied for the NHL scoring race. As a 19 year-old in `80-`81 he won the scoring race by 29 points (the widest margin ever at the time) finishing with 164 points which broke Esposito`s 152 points record. Both of those seasons the NHL played a balanced schedule of every team playing each other four times, so he didn`t benefit from divisional games those seasons. Since most players produce better in their 20s than in their teens, it`s only logical that his totals would go even higher the next few years, but let`s examine those more closely.

Starting in `81-`82 the NHL had an unbalanced schedule where teams would play their divisional opponents 8 times a year and everyone else 3 times a year. The other teams in Edmonton`s division were Calgary- a good team usually above .500 and fairly strong defensively, Winnipeg- who seemed to alternate between being good and bad year by year, and Vancouver and L.A.- two lousy teams. It should be noted that all divisions had weak links. The Patrick had New Jersey and Pittsburgh when they were the two worst teams in the league and the Norris was just pathetic- a couple of times nobody there finished over .500.

Anyways for each of Gretzky`s scoring championship seasons in that "weak" division with Edmonton, I determined what the average GAA of the teams he played against was by multiplying each teams GAA by the number of times he played against them and dividing the the total by 80. Here`s the results:

`81-`82
NHL average GAA-- 4.01
Gretzky`s opp GAA- 4.09
Difference --- 2.0% higher

`82-`83
NHL average GAA-- 3.86
Gretzky`s opp GAA- 3.93
Difference --- 1.8% higher

`83-`84
NHL average GAA-- 3.94
Gretzky`s opp GAA- 4.05
Difference --- 2.2% higher

`84-`85
NHL average GAA-- 3.89
Gretzky`s opp GAA- 3.98
Difference --- 2.3 % higher

`85-`86
NHL average GAA-- 3.97
Gretzky`s opp GAA- 4.03
Difference --- 1.5% higher

`86-`87
NHL average GAA-- 3.67
Gretzky`s opp GAA- 3.71
Difference --- 1.1% higher

Yes, Gretzky opponents were a little weaker defensively than the rest of the league- by about one or two percent! So playing in that division only got him about 3 or 4 extra points a year than he likely would`ve got with a balanced schedule. Considering that his margin of victory in those years ranged from 65-79 points, taking away 3 or four points from him wouldn`t make any noticeable difference.

In conclusion- Gretzky`s high point totals can`t be blamed on playing in a weak division.

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05-01-2005, 01:26 PM
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Take off 200 goals and 500 assists and he's still significantly ahead of everybody else all time!

His playoff records alone are staggering.

I don't see why a weak division argument would be relevant.

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05-01-2005, 01:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VanIslander
Take off 200 goals and 500 assists and he's still significantly ahead of everybody else all time!

His playoff records alone are staggering.

I don't see why a weak division argument would be relevant.
Neither do I, but you`d be surprised how often it gets mentioned on here.

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05-01-2005, 01:41 PM
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I laugh at those who discredited the Smythe, tell me who were the two most talented teams in the NHL during the 80's - the Oilers and the Flames, the Jets could have even made a run at a division title if they were in ANY other division.

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05-01-2005, 01:48 PM
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[chooch]Gretzky is a girl. He padded he stats in blow-outs. He needed bodyguards to play. If he was so great why didn't he [insert incorrect stat here] when he was over 30? Gretzky sucked because he didn't fight.[/chooch]

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05-01-2005, 01:50 PM
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It was also Gretzky's fault he was born in 1961 and got to play in an era of more open hockey. Clearly he should have been born 20 years earlier or later so he wouldn't have that advantage that allowed him to set all those records.

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05-01-2005, 02:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bulldog fan
It was also Gretzky's fault he was born in 1961 and got to play in an era of more open hockey. Clearly he should have been born 20 years earlier or later so he wouldn't have that advantage that allowed him to set all those records.
I love the argument about how he only scored all those points because he played in a "open" era. Unfortunately those people overlook the fact that even after adjustments have been made based on the average GPG per year, that Gretzky still comes out far ahead.

Also, if playing in a high-scoring era was the reason why he scored all those points, how come no other player in that same era was remotely close to him.

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05-01-2005, 02:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by reckoning
I love the argument about how he only scored all those points because he played in a "open" era. Unfortunately those people overlook the fact that even after adjustments have been made based on the average GPG per year, that Gretzky still comes out far ahead.

Also, if playing in a high-scoring era was the reason why he scored all those points, how come no other player in that same era was remotely close to him.
To the last line, Um... cause they weren't as good??? .

People will always bash success, I think that is how some people try to feel better about themselves .

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05-01-2005, 03:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by reckoning
I love the argument about how he only scored all those points because he played in a "open" era. Unfortunately those people overlook the fact that even after adjustments have been made based on the average GPG per year, that Gretzky still comes out far ahead.

Also, if playing in a high-scoring era was the reason why he scored all those points, how come no other player in that same era was remotely close to him.
The ice surface in Edmonton, the host of weak competition not able to keep up with a good (but not great team) all helped Gretzky's numbers. Gretzky would have had problems with the grind of playing in the East and so would Edmonton if they had to play Eastern Conference teams in the opening rounds of the playoffs...

The competitive balance between conferences in that era of hockey were night and day which is why only one team (Chicago) even qualified for a final for over a decade and why the league did not even have conference playoffs.

Gretzky's Oilers remind me of the Blues teams that went to three finals after expansion in 1967. More a by-product of expansion combined with a very weak conference. A little like putting a very good team in the same Southeastern conference that Carolina won in 2001-02 with only 83 points.

In the Eastern conference teams had to play defense more to win in that era.

Detroit, Toronto and Chicago were not good teams in that era. Atlanta moved to Calgary and immediately became a cup-contender because of the return of conference playoffs and were good enough to defeat Philadelphia once but were hardly on par with the best of the East and never a factor in Atlanta.

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05-01-2005, 03:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NYIsles1
The ice surface in Edmonton, the host of weak competition not able to keep up with a good (but not great team) all helped Gretzky's numbers. Gretzky would have had problems with the grind of playing in the East and so would Edmonton if they had to play Eastern Conference teams in the opening rounds of the playoffs...

The competitive balance between conferences in that era of hockey were night and day which is why only one team (Chicago) even qualified for a final for over a decade and why the league did not even have conference playoffs.

Gretzky's Oilers remind me of the Blues teams that went to three finals after expansion in 1967. More a by-product of expansion combined with a very weak conference. A little like putting a very good team in the same Southeastern conference that Carolina won in 2001-02 with only 83 points.

In the Eastern conference teams had to play defense more to win in that era.

Detroit, Toronto and Chicago were not good teams in that era. Atlanta moved to Calgary and immediately became a cup-contender because of the return of conference playoffs and were good enough to defeat Philadelphia once but were hardly on par with the best of the East and never a factor in Atlanta.
Finally a guy who speaks the truth.

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05-01-2005, 03:30 PM
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I have 3 questions for the bunch of you:

1: how many of you actually saw Gretzky play in his prime?

2: Have you considered how much Gretzly himslef influenced his era, driving up the overall scoring?

3: Teams in his division may have had weaker statistical results because they had to play against the Oilers so often? If they were in any other division would the other teams be worse?


Simple fact is Gretzky changed the game, plain and simple, he was that good. All of you who try to down play his success by looking at variances and stats, remember this, stats are for losers. Gretzky did one thing in his prime, WIN! He won everything thrown at him. Stanley Cups, individual awards. He was simply amazing.

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05-01-2005, 03:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NYIsles1
The ice surface in Edmonton, the host of weak competition not able to keep up with a good (but not great team) all helped Gretzky's numbers. Gretzky would have had problems with the grind of playing in the East and so would Edmonton if they had to play Eastern Conference teams in the opening rounds of the playoffs...

The competitive balance between conferences in that era of hockey were night and day which is why only one team (Chicago) even qualified for a final for over a decade and why the league did not even have conference playoffs.

Gretzky's Oilers remind me of the Blues teams that went to three finals after expansion in 1967. More a by-product of expansion combined with a very weak conference. A little like putting a very good team in the same Southeastern conference that Carolina won in 2001-02 with only 83 points.

In the Eastern conference teams had to play defense more to win in that era.

Detroit, Toronto and Chicago were not good teams in that era. Atlanta moved to Calgary and immediately became a cup-contender because of the return of conference playoffs and were good enough to defeat Philadelphia once but were hardly on par with the best of the East and never a factor in Atlanta.
OK, OK so if Gretzky would have played in the East he would only lead Mark Messier by 670 points, not the 970 points he current leads everyone else who has ever played the game at the NHL level. There, are you happy now.

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05-01-2005, 04:02 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NYIsles1
The ice surface in Edmonton, the host of weak competition not able to keep up with a good (but not great team) all helped Gretzky's numbers. Gretzky would have had problems with the grind of playing in the East and so would Edmonton if they had to play Eastern Conference teams in the opening rounds of the playoffs...

The competitive balance between conferences in that era of hockey were night and day which is why only one team (Chicago) even qualified for a final for over a decade and why the league did not even have conference playoffs.

Gretzky's Oilers remind me of the Blues teams that went to three finals after expansion in 1967. More a by-product of expansion combined with a very weak conference. A little like putting a very good team in the same Southeastern conference that Carolina won in 2001-02 with only 83 points.

In the Eastern conference teams had to play defense more to win in that era.

Detroit, Toronto and Chicago were not good teams in that era. Atlanta moved to Calgary and immediately became a cup-contender because of the return of conference playoffs and were good enough to defeat Philadelphia once but were hardly on par with the best of the East and never a factor in Atlanta.

Good thing the Islanders won those first two cups under a balanced format and the second two before the East gained any strength, because I think they would never have won anything otherwise.

That's about as sensible as your Oilers/Post-expansion Blues comparison.

Just as a footnote, where do you get this "instant contender" bit about Calgary??? I for one do not recall the Flames suddenly becoming any such thing...

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05-01-2005, 04:16 PM
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If there was any benefit at all, it was a weak one. Considering he still had to play those Eastern teams during the season and for the Cup and STILL shredded them with glee, I think it is a non-factor. It isn't like he scored 200 points against western teams and only 12 against Easter ones. He kicked the crap out of everyone.

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05-01-2005, 04:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NYIsles1
The ice surface in Edmonton, the host of weak competition not able to keep up with a good (but not great team) all helped Gretzky's numbers. Gretzky would have had problems with the grind of playing in the East and so would Edmonton if they had to play Eastern Conference teams in the opening rounds of the playoffs...

The competitive balance between conferences in that era of hockey were night and day which is why only one team (Chicago) even qualified for a final for over a decade and why the league did not even have conference playoffs.

Gretzky's Oilers remind me of the Blues teams that went to three finals after expansion in 1967. More a by-product of expansion combined with a very weak conference. A little like putting a very good team in the same Southeastern conference that Carolina won in 2001-02 with only 83 points.

In the Eastern conference teams had to play defense more to win in that era.

Detroit, Toronto and Chicago were not good teams in that era. Atlanta moved to Calgary and immediately became a cup-contender because of the return of conference playoffs and were good enough to defeat Philadelphia once but were hardly on par with the best of the East and never a factor in Atlanta.
Where do I start here?

Firstly, you won`t get an argument from me about the disparity between divisions back then; I`ve always hated the conference playoff format. It should be 1-16 across the league, and if the two best teams are in the same division then they should have the opportunity to play each other in the Final. And you`re right, the Oilers had an easier ride to the Final than the Eastern rep. However, to compare them to St.Louis from `68-`70 is a huge stretch. The biggest difference being that St.Louis lost every single Final game they played while Edmonton with Gretzky won 4 Stanley Cup Finals. It should also be noted that in `82 the Islanders highest ranked opponent was the Rangers who were only #7 overall, the other three teams they faced finished the season #12, #9 and #11; not exactly a gruelling path to the Cup. Plus let`s not forget Montreal in `86, who only finished #7 but didn`t have to play a higher team until the Final. It wasn`t only Edmonton who benefitted from that playoff format.

Secondly, the Norris division teams like Toronto and Detroit were very bad like you said, but Gretzky only played them 3 times a year- the same number of times the Eastern teams played them.

Thirdly, you can say that he couldn`t handle the grind of the East, but it`s pure speculation. Are you saying that he would go from leading the NHL in scoring by 75 pts to not winning the scoring title? How much effect would it have on him? He averaged almost two points a game in the Stanley Cup Finals he played in, which were all against very good defensive teams from the East. He was the top offensive player by far in every Canada Cup/World Cup he played in. If he dominated in those instances out of his division, i don`t see why he wouldn`t if he played in the East. The point of the figures I mentioned in the first post was to show that he did have an advantage playing in the Smythe, but it was very small. Imagine how many points he would`ve scored in `84 if he played Pittsburgh and New Jersey 7 times that year when they were both trying to lose as much as possible to get the Mario pick.

Fourthly, in the Flames first year in Calgary (when they made the semis) it was a balanced schedule and 1-16 playoff format, so they didn`t have any advantage over any other club. As for the rest of the 80s, they were better in Calgary because they had better players. MacInnis, Suter, Mullen, Loob and McDonald were a big improvement over Mulhern, Shand, Chounaird, Vail and Plett. The division had nothing to do with it.

Fifthly, the ice surface?? The ice surface??!! If this is the best argument the Gretzky-bashers can come up with, God help us all.

Finally I don`t think the Oiler teams of the 80s were nearly as good as the Montreal or Islander dynasties; but Gretzky was the greatest player ever; and this somebody who wasn`t his biggest fan.

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05-01-2005, 04:38 PM
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I am still waiting for a reason that the Smythe was so weak - If the Calgary Flames were in the Wales it would be an Oilers Flames cup for atleast 6 years in a row, as well in some of the years the Jets, who were the constant third place team in the Smythe, would been able to win the other three divisions. Compared to the Norris and Patrick the Smythe was heads and tails better than them, and still better then the Adams. Finally you would be hard pressed to find the amount of talent that was in that one division.

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05-01-2005, 05:20 PM
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Originally Posted by JCD
If there was any benefit at all, it was a weak one. Considering he still had to play those Eastern teams during the season and for the Cup and STILL shredded them with glee, I think it is a non-factor. It isn't like he scored 200 points against western teams and only 12 against Easter ones. He kicked the crap out of everyone.
Exactly... It's funny how an Islander fan comes through to discredit Wayne... I wonder why? And Chooch, well we all know about him already..

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05-01-2005, 05:59 PM
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Originally Posted by reckoning
However, to compare them to St.Louis from `68-`70 is a huge stretch. The biggest difference being that St.Louis lost every single Final game they played while Edmonton with Gretzky won 4 Stanley Cup Finals.
The point being in a weaker conference Edmonton had an easy road to the finals like St.Louis did.

What was it Kevin Lowe said before the 84 finals.." We spent all season and the playoffs getting ready to play the Islanders in the finals again. " The Oilers themselves knew how great the disparity was in that conference and they were going back to the finals the day the Isles won cup #4.

No Eastern Conference player could ever say that at any time and it goes beyond a statistical discussion.

Quote:
Originally Posted by reckoning
It should also be noted that in `82 the Islanders highest ranked opponent was the Rangers who were only #7 overall, the other three teams they faced finished the season #12, #9 and #11; not exactly a gruelling path to the Cup.
That sounds nice and reads well but does not really tell the story of the league in that era. The five or six best teams were all from the East regardless of the point totals. The Rangers were good enough to win at least two cups as a Western Conference seed, so was Boston or Philadelphia or Buffalo.

And if those teams were Western Conference seeds with Edmonton and Calgary, I think it would have happened.

Quote:
Originally Posted by reckoning
Thirdly, you can say that he couldn`t handle the grind of the East, but it`s pure speculation. Are you saying that he would go from leading the NHL in scoring by 75 pts to not winning the scoring title? How much effect would it have on him? He averaged almost two points a game in the Stanley Cup Finals he played in, which were all against very good defensive teams from the East. He was the top offensive player by far in every Canada Cup/World Cup he played in. If he dominated in those instances out of his division, i don`t see why he wouldn`t if he played in the East. The point of the figures I mentioned in the first post was to show that he did have an advantage playing in the Smythe, but it was very small. Imagine how many points he would`ve scored in `84 if he played Pittsburgh and New Jersey 7 times that year when they were both trying to lose as much as possible to get the Mario pick.
It is speculation, no doubt about it. I think Gretzky and that collective group would have been worn down much more over 82 games and would have struggled giving up goals to score goals in this conference and I think it would have lowered some of those numbers Gretzky put up because that strategy would not work as well in the East.

I think the West really did not catch up to the East as a conference until 1995 when Detroit went to the finals and Colorado, Dallas and St Louis became top level teams. Edmonton and Calgary beat some very tired teams in those finals that had to go thru much more than they did to get there. After Edmonton dismantled their team mediocre teams like Chicago, Minnesota, Los Angeles and Vancouver were one year wonders in the finals.

Quote:
Originally Posted by reckoning
Fifthly, the ice surface?? The ice surface??!! If this is the best argument the Gretzky-bashers can come up with, God help us all.
To this day that is the fastest ice-surface in the NHL, it did benefit that team and the game they played whether you care to admit that or not. I was not aware I was Gretzky bashing by brining up points as to why he did produce the numbers he did.


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05-01-2005, 06:07 PM
  #19
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Funny, most people who know the game from the 1980s will tell you that the Smythe Division was actually the powerhouse division of the 1980s. Calgary would have likely won multiple Cups from 1984 to 1990 if they didn't have to go through the Oilers. Winnipeg wasn't an offensive dynamo, but they did have Hawerchuk (one of the best offensive forwards ever) and a terrific defence anchored by Randy Carlyle and Dave Babych. Vancouver often posted a winning record against other divisions during the 1980s, but would finish around 70-75 points because they had to play Edmonton and Calgary eight times each. Los Angeles was often the weak sister, but they had some pretty talented offensive players. 1985-86 was the exception, but people in the know always viewed the Smythe as consistently the best division in hockey.

An interesting stat: from 1982 to 1990, the Smythe Division champion advanced to the Stanley Cup every year.

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05-01-2005, 06:08 PM
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Originally Posted by DrMoses
Exactly... It's funny how an Islander fan comes through to discredit Wayne... I wonder why? And Chooch, well we all know about him already..
Since when I am discrediting Gretzky. Why have a topic at all if you cannot bring up points both ways?

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05-01-2005, 09:04 PM
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Originally Posted by NYIsles1
Since when I am discrediting Gretzky. Why have a topic at all if you cannot bring up points both ways?
Because you dared to point something out you are attacked as usual.

What you said :
"Edmonton and Calgary beat some very tired teams in those finals that had to go thru much more than they did to get there"

Again you speak the very Truth! The east was a grind and the ice was lousy in many arenas (basketball had something to do with it in some cities).

No way 99 puts up big numbers getting pummeled 82 games in the East. Big numbers in a balanced sked also doesnt say anything because the East teams were built a certain way. Rugged grinding 7 game series type of players in small arenas like Buff and Bos. A place where the courageous like Lafleur/Bossy/ Mario/Bobby excelled. I glad somebody remembers all this.

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05-01-2005, 09:11 PM
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the snythe division was a strong conference by 84 which is edmontons first or second championship yr winnipeg calgary were 90 point + teams Van and LA 60 to 80

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05-01-2005, 09:43 PM
  #23
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Even with little knit picking about Gretzky's advantage from this or that the facts tell the truth. Gretzky's closest competitor Mark Messier would have had to score more than 50% more points than he did to match the numbers Gretzky put up. Wayne was the best player I have or ever will see, the numbers don't lie.

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05-01-2005, 10:32 PM
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chooch

No way 99 puts up big numbers getting pummeled 82 games in the East. Big numbers in a balanced sked also doesnt say anything because the East teams were built a certain way. Rugged grinding 7 game series type of players in small arenas like Buff and Bos. A place where the courageous like Lafleur/Bossy/ Mario/Bobby excelled. I glad somebody remembers all this.
I`m going to explain this one more time. It was a balanced schedule in `79-`80 and `80-`81 so that means that Gretzky played those tough Eastern teams just as much those years as everybody else did. He played in Buffalo and Boston and Philly as much as Lafleur and Bossy did those two seasons, and won the scoring title by a wide margin as a teenager.

It switched to an unbalanced schedule after that. As far as no way he puts up big numbers playing 82 games in the East-well Bossy and Lafleur weren`t playing 82 games in the East either. Let me explain it to you using Bossy and Gretzky as an example:

- they both played the 5 teams in the Norris division 3 times, so that`s 15 games the exact same
- they both played the 5 teams in the Adams division 3 times, so that`s 30 games the exact same
- they played against each other 3 times, so that`s 33 games
- Bossy played against the 4 other Smythe Division teams 3 times each, so take 3 games that Gretzky played against each of them and that`s 12 more games the exact same for a total of 45.
- Gretzky played the other 5 Patrick division teams 3 times each, so take 3 games against each that Bossy played for 15 more , making 60.

That`s 60 games (75%) of the schedule the exact same. As for the remaining 20:

Gretzky had five extra games against one good team, Calgary, one average team, Winnipeg, and two lousy teams, Vancouver and L.A.
Bossy had four extra games against two very good teams, Philly and Washington, one average team, Rangers, and two lousy teams, New Jersey and Pittsburgh (those must have been real "hard fought" games in `84 when they were trying to lose so they could draft Lemieux.)
So if you cancel out the similar teams there, it`s only a slightly tougher schedule for Bossy. Not nearly enough to explain being 80 points behind Gretzky in the scoring race.

As for Lafleur, let`s look at his 3 scoring titles from `76 to `78. The format those years for him was:

6 games against the teams in his division, 5 games against the teams in the other division in his conference, and 4 games against the teams in the other conference. The top two defensive teams then besides Montreal were Philly and the Islanders, both of whom he was only playing against 4 times.

But what about Montreal`s division; who were the tough powerhouses Lafleur had to play more often than anyone else?

- Los Angeles, a .500 team with only two quality players
- Pittsburgh, a below average team
- Detroit, a far below average team, and last but not least....
- Washington, the worst team in the league
Tough schedule. Montreal definitely took advantage of it. In `75-`76 they were 20-2-2 against those four teams. In `76-`77 they were 19-0-5 against them. That explains the records.

The point is if you`re going to discredit Gretzky`s 80s totals based on his division, then you have to do the same with Lafleurs 70s totals. You can`t have it both ways.

That is unless you honestly believe that Al MacInnis and Jamie Macoun were easier to play against than Yvon Labre or Dennis Owchar.

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05-01-2005, 11:03 PM
  #25
Trottier
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Note to those wasting their energy defending Gretzky's legendary career: you are dealing with at least one PETTY critic in this thread who still wears a homer-fan's blinders at an advanced age. Take it with a grain of salt. Guy is still making excuses (even in this thread!) as to why our beloved Isles lost to an "inferior" Oilers team that went on to win FIVE Cups.

Yep, it was the ice and lack of competition compared to the big bad East that played into #99's legendary career.

Surrrrre....

...And Michael Jordan benefitted all those years from loose basketball rims in Chicago.

Some people cannot simply grown up and acknowledge success in others. It's a sad spectacle.

Next up for the Gretzky critics: questioning whether water is really wet.

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