Always a fun topic, and God knows we're all looking for something to talk about other than the lockout. So here it is: Lemieux vs. Gretzky. Who was better? If you're from Canada, you probably say Gretzky without even thinking (unless you're from Quebec). If you're from Pittsburgh, you'll say Mario was better and will immediately be called a homer. I'm from Pittsburgh, but whatever.
Let's break it down by hockey skills.
Better shot: Not even close. Lemieux is the greatest goal scorer ever. Harder, more accurate shot. Gretzky once said Lemieux could shot a wrist shot through a refrigerator door. Edge: Lemieux
Better passer: I'll give Gretzky the edge, but it's very close. Mario's playmaking went overlooked because of his superior goal-scoring. But Gretzky's assist numbers are hard to overlook. Edge: Gretzky
Breakaways: Mario was the best ever in this category. Gretzky wasn't even close. Edge: Lemieux
Faceoffs: Neither was dominant in this category. Gretzky was probably a touch better, but Mario scored an unusual amount of goals on faceoffs plays. Edge: Even
Defense: Mario was better than Gretzky defenseively, but didn't always bother playing defense. Edge: Even
Skating: Very close here. Gretzky was a genius with the pull-up move at the blue line, but when Mario was in full flight, he was simply unstoppable and more impressive. Edge: Lemieux
Power: Gretzky was a relatively tiny man. Mario was a giant. Edge: Lemieux
Vision: Easy to say Gretzky here, but the truth of the matter - and Gretzky has admitted this - they saw the game in virtually the identical way. Edge: Gretzky
Stickhandling: Big edge to Mario. Was a human highlight-reel. Edge: Lemieux
We could on and on...it's fun to talk about. Here's where I stand on the whole Lemieux vs. Gretzky debate...I've always believed that Gretzky is the most accomplished hockey player of all time. This is pretty much undeniable. You can't dismiss the numbers he produced and the way he changed the game.
But does that make him the best player ever? I'm not sure about that. Mario was significantly more gifted than Gretzky. He was bigger, stronger, had the longer reach, a better shot...66 could beat you in a lot more ways than 99.
Here's the best way to put it: Gretzky had more great games than Mario, whether it be because of his consistenty and/or Mario's health. But Mario's greatest games were greater than the Great One's greatest games.
To me, Mario was the greatest hockey player ever.