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kipwinger

What Might Have Been: Gretzky to Detroit?

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His plus/minus would imply otherwise. The guy was a consistent minus player throughout the last decade of his career (ie the 90s), which at the most fundamental level tells me that the strength of his possession game wasn't enough to keep the puck out of his own zone, nor out of his own net. The opposition consistently outscored his line. And I know +/- is a team stat and blah blah blah, but you'd think for someone who holds almost every offensive record in the books, and continued to produce at an elite level up until his retirement, he would have been able to have at the very least a decent plus minus for half those seasons, especially because that negative +/- was pretty consistent over three different teams (and who knows how many linemates) in the 90s.

The guy was an offensive god, but his defense was little to non existent. The real question is had the Wings acquired him, would he have been Bowman's example for the Wings to adapt a two-way game as Yzerman did, or would he have continued to do what made him famous? The last part is why in retrospect, I would have stuck with Yzerman (although in 1989 I would have made the trade 10 times out of 10).

Firstly, I've heard you rail about how bad a stat +/- is about a thousand times. So it seems like you're nitpicking stats that you'd otherwise argue aren't worth a damn. But I'll play along...

In, the last decade of his career Gretzky had a negative +/- seven times. Five of those times his team didn't make the playoffs (e.g. they were bad teams). The fact that he drives possession doesn't mean he's going to make bad teams into defensive stalwarts, and I never claimed such. But it does mean that on good defensive teams (like the 97 and 98 Wings) his "lack of defense" will likely be made up for by his contributions to possession.

I think the reason why that seems less clear based on +/- stats is because increased possession leads to more powerplays (e.g. those Wings teams were on the PP all the time, hence "our PP is our enforcer), and the additional offensive zone time (and points) gained on the PP does not affect the +/-. For example, if Gretzky was doing his thing in the offensive zone, creating offense on the cycle, and generally pressuring the opposition (like he did his whole career), the opposing team A) can't generate offense (so you're not playing defense) and B) has a greater likelihood of taking a penalty (so you're not playing defense). When they do take penalties, and Gretzky's team scores, it won't affect his +/- but nevertheless his possession lead to A) scoring, and B) long periods of time in which his team didn't have to play defense. He did this ALL THE TIME during his career.

But don't just take my word for it. Here's two time Stanley Cup winning coach Daryll Sutter making the EXACT same argument while explaining how Marian Gaborik's defensive shortcomings wouldn't matter to LA.

"The game’s changed. They think there’s defending in today’s game. Nah, it’s how much you have the puck. Teams that play around in their own zone (say) they’re defending but they’re generally getting scored on or taking face-offs and they need a goalie to stand on his head if that’s the way they play,” said Sutter.

http://www.sportingnews.com/nhl/story/2014-03-10/la-kings-news-darryl-sutter-quotes-corsi-for-definition-sidney-crosby

Edited by kipwinger

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Firstly, I've heard you rail about how bad a stat +/- is about a thousand times. So it seems like you're nitpicking stats that you'd otherwise argue aren't worth a damn. But I'll play along...

In, the last decade of his career Gretzky had a negative +/- seven times. Five of those times his team didn't make the playoffs (e.g. they were bad teams). The fact that he drives possession doesn't mean he's going to make bad teams into defensive stalwarts, and I never claimed such. But it does mean that on good defensive teams (like the 97 and 98 Wings) his "lack of defense" will likely be made up for by his contributions to possession.

I think the reason why that seems less clear based on +/- stats is because increased possession leads to more powerplays (e.g. those Wings teams were on the PP all the time, hence "our PP is our enforcer), and the additional offensive zone time (and points) gained on the PP does not affect the +/-. For example, if Gretzky was doing his thing in the offensive zone, creating offense on the cycle, and generally pressuring the opposition (like he did his whole career), the opposing team A) can't generate offense (so you're not playing defense) and B) has a greater likelihood of taking a penalty (so you're not playing defense). When they do take penalties, and Gretzky's team scores, it won't affect his +/- but nevertheless his possession lead to A) scoring, and B) long periods of time in which his team didn't have to play defense. He did this ALL THE TIME during his career.

But don't just take my word for it. Here's two time Stanley Cup winning coach Daryll Sutter making the EXACT same argument while explaining how Marian Gaborik's defensive shortcomings wouldn't matter to LA.

"The games changed. They think theres defending in todays game. Nah, its how much you have the puck. Teams that play around in their own zone (say) theyre defending but theyre generally getting scored on or taking face-offs and they need a goalie to stand on his head if thats the way they play, said Sutter.

http://www.sportingnews.com/nhl/story/2014-03-10/la-kings-news-darryl-sutter-quotes-corsi-for-definition-sidney-crosby

Good point on the power play, but you're still vastly overrating his puck possession ability and ignoring his defensive short-comings. There's only one puck and ten guys on the ice. The puck possession skills of one guy, whether that's Wayne Gretzky or Brett Lebda, can only do so much, which is why +/- is generally a tricky stat to interpret. But your argument is that Gretzky's puck possession game would lead to huge gains for the team both offensively (which everyone should agree on) and defensively "which would be better by virtue of never having to actually play in their own zone". That quote is yours, and I understand the concept of exaggeration but you make your point quite clear, and +/- is an excellent way to see just how much Gretzky's presence kept the puck out of his own zone. Again, those last ten years at even strength, Gretzky's line, regardless of who his linemates were, was fairly consistently outscored, which means that his puck possession skills didn't do much to keep the puck out of his own zone. And even if I were to concede the point that having Gretzky on the ice means that the puck will rarely be in your own zone (despite plus minus clearly saying otherwise), Yzerman was also no slouch at the puck possession game, and I don't think the difference between the two of them would have compensated for Gretzky's overall lack of a defensive game compared to Yzerman's.

Edited by Echolalia

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And Kocur. What a lineup that would have been.

With Probert on the team there would have been no reason for Marty to come here. Also with the other muscle in the next few years to come. He would have been a wasted trade.

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With Probert on the team there would have been no reason for Marty to come here. Also with the other muscle in the next few years to come. He would have been a wasted trade.

Probert or no Probert, I don't know that Gretzky was going anywhere without McSorley. It's possible Detroit could have included Probert or Kocur in the return package.

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I'm one of the biggest Yzerman fans around, but yes I would have traded Yzerman for Gretzky back in 1988. I'm glad it didn't happen though.

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Looking at this potential in 1988, no question, you'd do the trade 10 out of 10 times. However, let's not forget the hit from behind Gretzky took from Suter in the 1991 Canada Cup. He was not the same player for the rest of his career after that. Yes, he still put up significant offensive numbers, but he no longer left the rest of the league in his dust.

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Looking at this potential in 1988, no question, you'd do the trade 10 out of 10 times. However, let's not forget the hit from behind Gretzky took from Suter in the 1991 Canada Cup. He was not the same player for the rest of his career after that. Yes, he still put up significant offensive numbers, but he no longer left the rest of the league in his dust.

Well, the game changed offensively, not to mention, he was already in his 30's by that point. No reason why he would be leaving people in the dust by the mid 90's.

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Well, he had just turned 30, so really not that old (Datsyuk's best offensive seasons...by far....were at the age of 30 and 31). The real low scoring years didn't really come until the real late 90s and even then, scoring was higher than now (going by scoring leaders list anyway...not by any in-depth analysis). Anyway, that really doesn't matter as it is really his production compared to the rest of the league.

You are right though, regardless of health, would be a bit much to expect him to continue to outpace everyone by a significant margin past the age of 35. That's the other consideration as well....in 1988, Wayne was 27 and Stevie was 23. So if you are thinking about a magically age that players "lose it", you'd be getting an extra 4 years out of Stevie.

A fun stat as well...at that point, Gretzky amassed 1,669 career points, compared to Yzerman's 410 (of course, Gretzky had 4 more years in the league). If you look at stats only from when Yzerman was in the league, Yzerman averaged 95 points per 82 games (so he was a star for sure by that point)....but Wayne averaged 209 points over 82 games during that same period.

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Don't forget, 1987-88 was the year Yzerman blew out his knee on the goal post. Stevie missed the last 20 or so games of the season and only played in 3 playoff games. The Oilers probably weren't interested in taking a risk on him. Add to that, Yzerman didn't really become "Steve Yzerman", until the next season. Carson was the bigger star at the time.

Looking back, it's better the trade didn't happen. I think with Gretzky we probably would have won the Cup before 1997, but who knows if we would have won it 4 times.

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