The “Legacy Era” of hockey stretches across two astounding decades of the sport. Not only did this period introduce us to top gun scorers of the time, but it was also a season of growth for the National Hockey League.
During this period, the collapse of the World Hockey Association served to strengthen the NHL as players were soon amalgamated to one powerful league. New expansion teams in Edmonton, Hartford, Winnipeg and Quebec City were introduced, bringing the league total to 21 teams.
It was a time of high scoring, fast-paced hockey. As the league expanded across both Canada and the United States, so did its fanbase. As rough and tumble enforcers found their stride protecting 50+ goal scorers, arenas across the league sprang to life kicking off one of the most entertaining eras of the game.
During the 1980s, there were two teams that truly hogged all of the fun of winning the Stanley Cup. The New York Islanders kicked off the decade with a win in 1980, following it up with three more consecutive wins in the finals. Next up was the Edmonton Oilers who followed the Islander’s lead. First they beat them in the finals, and then they went on to win 5 titles in the following 7 years.
The Oilers kicked off the 1990 season with their final cup run, with the remainder of the cups going to the Pittsburgh Penguins (twice), Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings.
This era of hockey is well known for the amount of goals scored. During the 1980s, goal scoring was absolutely staggering and that trend continued well into the 1990s. During the 1992-93 season, the league enjoyed the largest number of 100-point scorers in a single season. That year, 21 players exceeded the 100 point mark and there were 14 50+ goal scorers — talk about entertaining!
The Legacy Era of hockey was not as significant when it came to goaltending, particularly throughout the 1980s. With high-powered offensive play as the name of the game, the best goalies from that decade were the likes of Grant Fuhr and John Vanbiesbrouck. Both players won Vezina trophies with save percentages of .881 and .887, respectively.
Things turned around as the 1990s came into play. During the 1990 season, average goals scored by all 21 teams dropped by 31.5 goals per game.
The Great One
In addition to the above, perhaps one of the most prolific storylines of this era of hockey was the introduction of Wayne Gretzky to the hockey world. Kicking off his professional career with the Edmonton Oilers in 1969, he went on to record blistering stats despite some critics stating that he would never make it in the NHL after getting his start in the WHA.
As previously stated, the Edmonton Oilers was one of four teams introduced to the NHL during the league’s expansion in 1979. During this transition, the Oilers added Gretzky to their roster.
In the midst of his first season in Edmonton, Gretzky set an all-time record of points scored in a rookie season (152) that still remains to this day. In addition to his 51 goals scored, Gretzky was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's most valuable player.
Year two proved to be equally as entertaining for hockey fans, with Gretzky continuing his assault on opposing teams. During his second season with the Oilers, he piled up 164 points throughout the season and was once again awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy.
Gretzky led the Oilers to their first Stanley Cup Finals in 1983, although they were subsequently swept by the New York Islanders. The following year, both teams met again in the Finals — this time with the Oilers coming out victorious. That would mark the first of five Stanley Cups Gretzky and the Oilers would win over the following seven seasons.
Following the 1988 Stanley Cup victory, it was announced that Wayne Gretzky was being shopped to other teams. Rumors swirled that the owner of the Oilers, Peter Pocklington, was in need of some funds to rescue some additional business ventures.
It was later announced in a blockbuster trade that Gretzky, along with teammates Marty McSorely and Mike Krushelnyski, were headed to Los Angeles. His tenure in Los Angeles lasted until 1996 when he was traded to the St. Louis Blues. From there, he only spent one season before being dealt to the New York Rangers. Gretzky remained with the Rangers until his retirement in 1999.
Despite his best efforts, Gretzky was unable to capture another Stanley Cup Championship after the four he won with the Edmonton Oilers early in his career. However, while never returning to the Stanley Cup, Gretzky’s time spent in the NHL is ingrained in hockey history forever.