NHL Should Honour Wayne Gretzky with Major Award Naming

NHL Awards season is the perfect time to advocate for a major NHL Award to be named for the Great One.

Sure, various Wayne Gretzky Awards do already exist outside of the NHL. For instance, the Ontario Hockey League has a Wayne Gretzky 99 Award that’s fairly prestigious (it’s given to the most valuable player of the OHL playoffs). But that’s just junior hockey, and a far cry from what arguably the greatest player of all-time deserves.

Wayne Gretzky #99 of the Edmonton Oilers
Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

The US Hockey Hall of Fame also has a prize called the Wayne Gretzky International Award. This one honours individuals who’ve made a significant contribution to the advancement of hockey in the United States. Again, not a bad award (and a very nice honour for Gretzky), but certainly not as much as the NHL’s all-time leading scorer deserves.

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In fact, it’s Gretzky’s status as the all-time leading scorer – and in particular his playmaking prowess – that’s inspired the award I’m about to propose. Mr. Gretzky actually has more regular season assists (1963) than the next-highest scorer in league history (Jaromir Jagr) has total points (1921).

This ridiculous fact is exactly why Gretzky deserves an award in his name to be given to the top playmaking skater in each NHL season.

How to Honour the Greatest Playmaker in Hockey History

To distinguish the greatest playmaker in hockey history with an award named in his honour seems like an easy decision. How to adjudge such an award is another matter. 

It’s not that there aren’t plenty of obvious options (particularly statistical ones). The real difficulty is in determining which one is the best method by which to decide who the best playmaker each season is.

Robert Thomas Bulldogs
Robert Thomas of the Hamilton Bulldogs receiving the OHL’s Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as playoff MVP (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The most straightforward and simple method would simply be to give it to the player that accumulates the most assists during the regular season, but I don’t favour this method for two reasons: One, it’s relatively uninspired; And two, not all assists are created equally. 

Secondary assists are, after all, sometimes more of an accident than anything intentional, and I think it would be a shame to give someone an award for leading by a single assist when they have far more secondary assists and less primary ones than the player they’re clipping…

An Award Favouring Primary Assist Accumulation?

A simple alternative, then, would be to give the award to the player accumulating the most primary assists in a season. This method is, I think, better than the total assists approach, but it too has its flaws. 

Related: One for the Ages: Wayne Gretzky’s 1995-96 NHL Season

For one thing, it favours players that play on top scoring lines and highly potent power plays over potentially better playmakers that don’t have the benefit of a 50-goal sniper on their line or power play unit.

Statue honouring Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton (Wiki-commons)

In other words, racking up a lot of primary assists may not be truly indicative of one’s ability as a high-end playmaker.

In fact, some top playmakers are so clever that they can actually engineer successful scoring plays wherein they get neither the goal nor the primary assist—and maybe no assist at all. 

Just as a master chess player can see several moves ahead, the most prolific playmakers in hockey are often able to set a series of events in motion that leads to a goal being scored while entirely omitting themselves from the scoresheet.

Rewarding Creativity Subjectively

Subjectivity is always a difficult means by which to dole out awards. And yet, this is the method by which most of the NHL’s top awards are decided upon. 

I propose, then, another method for choosing the league’s best playmaker each season: complete and utter subjectivity regarding who is the best and most creative playmaker each year. 

Related: All-Time Best Player From Every NHL Team

The Wayne Gretzky Award, then, would take assists (both primary and secondary) into account, but it would also consider brilliantly designed plays wherein a goalie spoils the ending, or scenarios such as the hat trick of missed chances that Jake Guentzel somehow manages to accumulate each night as he fans on open net setups from Sidney Crosby.

Part of the reason why Gretzky accumulated so many assists in his illustrious career (aside from playing with a number of truly great players) is the fact that he had both amazing vision and high intelligence (and creativity) as a playmaker. 

In a league that’s long honoured the legends of the past with awards named after them and other similar accolades, it’s high time Wayne Gretzky was similarly honoured. And as the greatest playmaker of all time (among his many other impressive accomplishments), what better way than with an annual ‘playmaker of the year award’ in his name?