Introducing The Hockey Writers’ Countdown to Puck Drop series. From now until the puck drops on the 2019-20 NHL’s regular season on Oct. 2 when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Ottawa Senators, we’ll be producing content that’s connected to the number of days remaining on that particular day. Some posts may be associated with a player’s number, while others will be connected to a year or length of time. We’re really excited about this series as we take you through the remainder of summer in anticipation of the return of NHL hockey.
That Magical ’80 Season For Gretzky
Day 80 of The Hockey Writers’ Countdown to Puck Drop series features a record-breaking season from one of, if not the, best player in the history of the game of hockey.
Wayne Gretzky is still celebrated to this day as the greatest player to ever play in the NHL. He was called the ‘Great One’ for a reason and in 1980, he was a player you “couldn’t put in your back pocket” (as was claimed possible by Montreal goaltender Richard Sevigny). Gretzky showed that he was going to be a talent to watch for years to come.
The 1980–81 Edmonton Oilers season was the Oilers’ second season in the NHL. A new team with the game’s newest superstar, Gretzky led the Oilers to a 74-point season. While nowhere close to their best overall season finish, it was a five-point improvement over their inaugural campaign.
More impressive than what the team did, was what its clear emerging star was doing on the ice. Wayne Gretzky simply caught fire, easily winning the Art Ross Trophy, as the league’s leading scorer. An amazing 164-point season was good for 29 points more than the next closest finisher, Marcel Dionne. He broke Phil Esposito’s point record and only five players had as many or more points than Gretzky had assists (109).
If anyone was denying how good Gretzky was by this point, they were simply ignoring the obvious.
Only Cementing Gretzky’s Career Greatness
That same 1980 season, Gretzky would also win his second consecutive Hart Memorial Trophy proving he was going to be a force in the NHL for a long time. That second win was one of eight-straight Hart Trophies as the league’s most valuable player.
On a team that now included youngsters Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, and Mark Messier, the Oilers were setting the foundation to become a dynasty in hockey. They would later add Grant Fuhr and Paul Coffey, among others.
As the playoffs approached in 1980, the Oilers would be pitted up against another dynasty in the Montreal Canadiens and shockingly sweep them in three games. Edmonton was eventually bumped out of the postseason, thanks to a six-game series loss to the defending Stanley Cup Champion New York Islanders, but a very bright future was awaiting them.
Oh, and Gretzky scored a mere 21 points in nine playoff games that season.
1980 Was a Memorable Year for the Oilers
Proving the team would never be out of a game, a series or a season, the year 1980 didn’t actually start all that well for the Oilers. But, they came on and made their presence known, making a loud statement that season when they booted the Canadiens from the playoffs.
In all honesty, people already knew Gretzky was a special player. There was talk about how good he was before he started shattering records and posting numbers no one would ever match. But, 1980 was a year that Gretzky put a stamp on just how much people needed to keep talking about his greatness and as his supporting cast in Edmonton grew into form, there would be plenty of Stanley Cup Championships to come.
Glen Sather was promoted to the positions of GM and president by owner Peter Pocklington that year (still considered one the best GM’s in hockey), Messier set the world on fire in the last 24 games of that season and the Oilers used that season to starting working out the kinks as simply a talented team. After that, they became a rock-solid group that learned how to win when it counted. By 1984, they were winning regularly, taking home five Stanley Cups by 1990.
1980 was a memorable year for the Oilers but, moreover, Gretzky used the 1980 season to shatter records that a lot of people assumed might never be shattered.