At the tender age of 16, Wayne Gretzky was already a local legend when he scored 70 goals and 182 points for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 1977-78. To the consternation of a drooling NHL, Gretzky was snapped up after the season by the Indianapolis Racers of the renegade World Hockey Association.
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After a 43-goal rookie season in the WHA, during which he was sold to Edmonton for $850,000, Gretzky and the Oilers were absorbed by the NHL in 1979. He became an instant All-Star (the first of his 23 selections) and won the Hart Trophy that season after scoring 51 goals and 137 points.
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The Stanley Cup followed in 1984 as the Oilers dethroned the four-time defending champion New York Islanders. It was the first of Edmonton's four Cups, with the Great One spearheading their often breathtaking offense.
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During his nine seasons in Edmonton, Gretzky began re-writing the NHL record book with single-season marks for goals (92, in 1981-82), assists (163, in 1985-86) and points (215, in 1985-86).
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Gretzky was saddened on Aug. 9, 1988, when cash-strapped Oilers owner Peter Pocklington traded him, Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski to Los Angeles for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gélinas, three first-round draft picks and $15 million. Gretzky's move south coincided with the NHL's push into non-traditional markets in southern regions of the U.S. and made him the sport's ambassador.
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Blessed with great vision and an uncanny sense of a play as it was still developing, Gretzky often set up shop behind the opposing team's net -- an area that became known as his "office" -- to better track the action and feed the puck to open teammates.
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On May 24, 1994, Gretzky beat Canucks' goalie Kirk McLean to score his 802nd goal, breaking the career mark of his childhood hero, Gordie Howe. Gretzky's famous 99 was a homage to Howe, who wore 9.
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His powers beginning to wane and eager for one more shot at the Stanley Cup, Gretzky finished the 1995-96 season with the St. Louis Blues after a trade that sent rookies Craig Johnson and Patrice Tardif, prospect Roman Vopat, and two draft picks to L.A.
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Gretzky took his act to Broadway for 1996-97, signing with the New York Rangers, with whom he spent three seasons. Gretzky and his old partner Mark Messier failed to recreate the magic they enjoyed in Edmonton, as the Blueshirts missed the playoffs.
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The 1998 Winter Olympics turned out to be one of the more downbeat moments of the Great One's career as Team Canada failed to medal when it was upset in the bronze medal game by Finland, 3-2.
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The Great One played his final NHL game -- on April 18, 1999, against the Penguins -- and retired with 10 scoring titles (including seven consecutive), nine Hart Trophies, and 61 NHL records including 1.016 career goals and 3,238 points (including playoffs). Induction to the Hall of Fame followed seven months later and his number 99 was retired by the league.
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In 2001, Gretzky became a managing partner of the Phoenix Coyotes, moving behind their bench as their coach in 2005.
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