The NHL's scoring race remains a wide-open affair with two weeks left in the regular season, and the man who claimed a record 10 Art Ross Trophies hopes for just one thing.
"I hope whoever wins, wins outright, I would hate to see a tie," Wayne Gretzky told ESPN.com this week. "Not because I didn't win it that way, but a point is a point in my view."
You may remember that in 1979-80, Gretzky's first season in the NHL after the WHA merger, The Great One tied Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne with 137 points for the NHL scoring lead, but Dionne was awarded the Art Ross on the goal tiebreaker (Dionne's 53 goals bested No. 99's 51 goals).
"Listen, Marcel deserved it, that's the rule," said Gretzky. "But the scoring race is points, I don't like the tiebreaker, and that's not sour grapes. I would just hate to see three guys tied for first this year and one guy gets the Art Ross because he's got more goals than the other guys."
Imagine, Gretzky could actually have 11 Art Ross trophies had he shared it with Dionne, and he probably should have. As he says, the Art Ross is about points, not goals.
Which brings us to this season's tightly contest Art Ross race. Only five points separated scoring leader Sidney Crosby (75 points) from seventh-ranked Vladimir Tarasenko (70 points) as of Friday morning, with John Tavares, Jakub Voracek, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Jamie Benn sandwiched in between -- all with a healthy shot at the scoring race.
Not to mention the fact that Ryan Getzlaf (68 points), Claude Giroux (68 points), Steven Stamkos (67 points), Tyler Seguin (67 points) and Tyler Johnson (67 points) aren't exactly out of it, either. Evgeni Malkin (lower-body injury) also has 68 points but has not played since March 14.
That's a deep race, folks.
"The commissioner wanted parity in the league and he's got that wholeheartedly," said Gretzky. "There are 16 teams that get into the playoffs and legitimately any one of them could get out of their conference this year. That's what the league wanted and they did a nice job. But I don't know if they anticipated the parity of the top eight or nine top players, how similar and how valuable they all are to their own teams; how valuable a guy like Tavares is to the Islanders, Voracek to the Flyers, Crosby to the Penguins, and so on. I don't know if we've ever seen in hockey so many superstars that are so equally matched at this point in their careers. It's parity in teams, and it's parity with the superstars, that's pretty good for hockey."
"If you talk to the L.A. Kings, I think they'd have a hard time trading Kopitar probably for anybody in the league," said Gretzky. "And then if you talk to the Blackhawks, they would probably never trade Toews for almost anybody; the Ducks probably feel the same about Getzlaf, and the Islanders probably feel the same about Tavares. It's pretty intriguing when you've got so many elite players on their respective teams that they wouldn't move them for anybody, I don't think. That's how evenly matched the top guys are right now. That's pretty unique. I don't think the game has ever seen that."
A year ago, Crosby ran away with his second career Art Ross Trophy, easily winning the scoring race by 17 points.
It gave the impression that when finally healthy, No. 87 was unmatched offensively in this league.
Crosby, who has missed five games this season, still leads all NHLers this season with 1.09 points per game. But he's come back to the pack.
But Gretzky says people should cut the 27-year-old some slack.
"As far as Sid goes, let me tell ya, the more you play and the older you get, the harder it is to win those trophies," said Gretzky. "It's not easy winning them. For him to be in the battle again coming off the concussions and everything he's gone through in his career, he's still right there. When you're down a bit in your production obviously people are always pointing, 'What's wrong? What's wrong?' But it becomes harder with each and every year to surpass what you did the year before, simply because you're getting a little bit older and you're getting a little bit more worn. He's played a lot of playoff games and gone to two Olympics. It gets harder and harder. For him to be in the hunt right now says a lot for his makeup. It's tough."
Gretzky said the same goes for Ovechkin, 29, who started Friday just two points behind Crosby and is on his way to another Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL goal-scoring leader with 47 so far.
"That's what's remarkable [about] what Ovechkin has done this year," said Gretzky. "Obviously from the outside, it looks like he's matured (playing a 200-foot game) and yet he's still scoring as many goals as he's always scored. It just shows you, that you can be attentive to what you need to do for your team and yet you can still produce offensively. I think it's remarkable what Ovechkin has done this year."
The fact that there won't be a 100-point scorer this season -- heck, probably not even a 90-point scorer -- doesn't take away from the talent at the top of the class, Gretzky says.
"It doesn't mean the hockey hasn't been good," said Gretzky. "The hockey I've watched this year has been as exciting or better as it's ever been. The players are better today than they were two years ago. Just because we're not going to have a 100-point man, I mean, if you watch Tavares play, he plays hard every single shift, every single night. It's just tougher to score now, as simple as that."
Some of that, Gretzky said, is just how prepared teams are now compared to years ago.
"First of all, the advanced scouting now is so strong," said Gretzky. "I mean, coaches are preparing videos three, four, five games in advance for the teams that they're playing. I know a guy like (Penguins assistant coach) Rick Tocchet is watching videos for a team that they don't play for another seven days. So the advance scouting is so much better now. And then the specialty coaching that we have now, too, it's become more like football, almost, in that hockey has become much more of an X's and O's game, depending on the opponent you're getting that night. There are no surprises anymore. Teams are so prepared for how they're going to play against a line or a player. Even the weaker teams in the league are prepared for what they're going to do. You don't see any 8-1 games anymore, really. Team defense is too strong, now."
Before we ended things, I asked Gretzky where exactly are all those replica Art Ross plaques/trophies were from those 10 NHL scoring titles?
"I know my dad has a couple of those at home (in Brantford, Ontario)," said Gretzky. "I know there's a couple in my restaurant (in Toronto) and the rest would be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. I think the first one, I believe, is in the Hall."
Oh, and there's the one he never got in 1979-80. As Gretzky says, let's not have a tie this year!