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Cullen: Gretzky's scoring feats altered early fantasy rules

Scott Cullen
1/26/2011 12:43:01 PM
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On the day that Wayne Gretzky turns 50, here's a brief look at some historical greatness, as it pertains to fantasy sports. 

Since fantasy sports was in its infancy in the early 1980s, Gretzky's outrageous scoring totals practically broke the game, forcing leagues to either ban Gretzky altogether or split his totals into goals and assists (ie. you could draft "Gretzky's Assists" and "Gretzky's Goals" separately).

It just didn't seem fair to have the first pick make that much difference in a draft.  In 1985-86, when Gretzky had 215 points, he finished 74 points ahead of Mario Lemieux!  In 1981-82, a 212-point season, he was 65 points ahead of Mike Bossy.  That was just too much to overcome, forcing rules to be changed.

So, if you got stuck with Gretzky's assists, consider the following:

- Gretzky had 11 straight seasons with at least 100 assists, starting in 1980-81 and running through 1990-91, then added seasons with 90-plus assists in 1991-92 and 1993-94.

- He scored more than 70 goals four times and more than 200 points four times.

- Four times, between 1982-83 and 1986-87, Gretzky's assist total would have been enough to lead the league in scoring.  During those 11 consecutive seasons in which he tallied at least 100 assists, Gretzky's assists would have finished in the Top 10 in league scoring every season, eight times in the Top Five.

Playing with Gretzky also benefitted his linemates.  Blair MacDonald was a solid pro, a three-time 30-goal scorer in the WHA, but on Gretzky's win in 1979-80, MacDonald tallied 46 goals and 94 points.

MacDonald was surpassed in future years as a coattail rider by Warren Young, scoring 40 on Mario Lemieux's win in 1984-85, but the premise has remained a consistent part of fantasy hockey since. 

Find the lesser player who will benefit from playing alongside a great player.

Chris Kunitz is playing with Crosby?  Mike Knuble is with Alexander Ovechkin?  A couple rounds earlier in the draft. 

Matt Beleskey moves onto the wing with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry for a couple of weeks?  Scoop him off the waiver wire.

So, yes, the NHL's all-time leading scorer had a massive impact on the game -- those Stanley Cups, scoring records and so on -- but the combination of his sensational statistics (don't forget six straight seasons with at least a plus-60 rating) and the peak years of his career occurring in the early days of fantasy, makes him one of the most compelling players historically when it comes to fantasy sports.

There will not be another player worthy of being so good to be banned from fantasy leagues, nor will there be a need to split a player's statistics in order to level the playing field.

With the evolution of fantasy to include other statistics and leagues that have auctions and player salaries, the playing field will always be more level than it was in Gretzky's day, in fantasy and reality.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.



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