Would a Third Hart Memorial Trophy See Connor McDavid Overtake Wayne Gretzky as Canada’s Hockey GOAT?
It’s time to spark a debate. Who is Canada’s hockey GOAT?
After dropping that bombshell, let’s ease our way in. The 2022-23 NHL regular season is just around the corner, and it promises to be a banner year for Canada’s national winter sport (lacrosse being our official summer sport). Each of the top three Hart Trophy favourites on the NHL odds board at Bodog Sportsbook plays north of the border:
Connor McDavid +250
Auston Matthews +425
Leon Draisaitl +600
It’s hardly shocking to see McDavid at the top of the list as we go to press. The Edmonton Oilers centre and team captain has already won the Hart twice (2017, 2021), and he’s widely considered to be the best player in the world today, taking the torch previously held by Sidney Crosby.
Once upon a time, that torch was held by another member of the Oilers. Wayne Gretzky was an instant success when the NHL absorbed Edmonton and three other WHA teams in 1979. Gretzky would go on to set just about every record possible for a forward, scooping up nine Hart awards and four Stanley Cups along the way.
Gretzky is still considered Canada’s hockey GOAT – the greatest of any nation actually – by just about everyone, but now that McDavid is entering his prime, comparisons between the two Oilers are inevitable. So let’s get the McDavid vs. Gretzky debate started right here at Bodog.
A Case for McDavid
It might seem a bit early for this debate, but if McDavid wins this third Hart Trophy – and especially if he leads the Oilers (+1400 at press time) to the Stanley Cup – he just might be surpass Gretzky as Canada’s hockey GOAT.
The “All Time” part is the kicker here. Comparing players across different eras is highly subjective, but in general, athletes have gotten bigger, stronger and faster as the generations have passed. They also have access to better equipment, better training, and better coaches. Watch some old NHL games, and you’ll see how these players have evolved over the years.
With that in mind, it’s much easier to draw a through-line connecting the best players of each generation. The earliest years of the NHL were rather roughshod; it wasn’t until Howie Morenz made his debut for the Montreal Canadiens in 1923 that hockey had its first true superstar.
Following Morenz was legendary Boston Bruins defenseman Eddie Shore, who still holds the record for blueliners with four Hart Trophies. Shore then passed the torch to Canadiens RW Maurice Richard, who passed it to Detroit Red Wings RW Gordie Howe, who passed it on to Gretzky.
There’s a bit of a gap between Gretzky and Crosby, but only a short one – you could slip Eric Lindros in between them, and Lindros was indeed considered “The Next One” before concussions slowed him down. Whatever the case, each of these superstars was ultimately better than his predecessor.
Which brings us to McDavid. He’s not the only superstar in the NHL today; Matthews is the reigning Hart winner, coming off a 60-goal season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and McDavid’s teammate Draisaitl (55 goals last year) won the Hart in 2019-20. But based on overall play, McDavid outshone them both last year, winning the Art Ross Trophy with 123 points and leading the league in Goals Created, a relatively new “hockey analytics” stat that measures both scoring and playmaking.
Winning a third Hart Trophy would only cement McDavid’s status as the best player in hockey today, and his GOAT status in turn. Note that we’re leaving goaltenders out of this debate; if you bet on NHL games at Bodog Sportsbook, you know the goalies are the most important players on the ice, but comparing them to skaters is like comparing pitchers to hitters in baseball – there’s no point.
Gretzky will Forever be the GOAT
Having said all of that, McDavid still has some catching up to do if he’s going to be widely acclaimed as Canada’s hockey GOAT. Gretzky is No. 1 on most people’s list because of how dominant he was compared to his peers. When he retired in 1999, The Great One held 61 NHL records, almost all of which he still holds today. Here are some of the biggest:
Most goals in a season: 92
Most career goals: 894 (1,016 including playoffs)
Most points in a season: 215
Most career points: 2,857 (3,239 including playoffs)
Most 50-goal seasons: 9
Most 100-point seasons: 15
Longest consecutive points streak: 51 games
Even in the freewheeling 1980s, Gretzky’s 92 goals in 1981-82 seems unfathomable – Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders was second that year with 64 goals. None of the other torch-bearers on our generational list was that much better than his contemporaries.
Then you have to consider the larger impact Gretzky had on the game. His move to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988 was headline news on both sides of the border; Gretzky made hockey cool in LA, and he almost won another Cup with the Kings in 1993 before they fell to the Canadiens.
Gretzky’s impact off the ice might play an even bigger role in the GOAT debate. In his early years, Gretzky was a heart-throb, unlike the bruisers who came before him. Gretzky appeared on soap operas and variety specials, and even had a cartoon series in 1991 called ProStars where he, Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson fought crime. ProStars also happened to be the name of the 1980s breakfast cereal that featured Gretzky on the box.
Then you have “Canada’s Royal Wedding” in 1988 between Gretzky and American actor Janet Jones, which was broadcast live from St. Joseph’s Basilica in Edmonton. There’s simply no comparison between that level of spectacle and anything hockey fans had witnessed before – or since.
So now that we’ve seen both sides of this debate, who gets your nod as Canada’s hockey GOAT? That’s up to you. What we can tell you is that McDavid and the Oilers have a golden opportunity to carve out some hockey history of their own this year. You can bet on them right now at Bodog Sportsbook with the help of our NHL crypto betting explainer, so check out our NHL betting page, and get ready for what should be an amazing 2022-23 campaign.