What Year Did Wayne Gretzky Retire From Hockey? [Ultimate Guide!]

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Though it may seem odd to ask at this point, it is not entirely inaccurate to wonder: What year did Wayne Gretzky retire from hockey?

While hockey was still going strong in the 1980s – with four Stanley Cup victories in the ‘80s alone – it was certainly becoming apparent that Gretzky’s extraordinary career would eventually come to an end. At least, that is what he claimed. In fact, Gretzky would go on to play for another two seasons, winning two more Cups, before hanging up his skates for good in 1996.

Gretzky’s Final 2 Years

The great Canadian left wing – who was widely considered to be the greatest player ever to grace the ice – made no secret of the fact that he was hanging up his skates. However, it wasn’t until 1996 that he officially announced his retirement. In fact, the year before he made the big step, he had signed a one-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers, largely so he could continue playing in the NHL Winter Classic game.

“It’s something that I always wanted to do,” he said about playing in the Winter Classic. “When they asked me to do this one year, it was a no-brainer for me. I love competing, I love playing in front of a crowd, and I love the atmosphere.”

The decision to retire from hockey was not an easy one for Gretzky to make. Born into a hockey household, he grew up idolising the sport and playing in front of large crowds. When he finally decided that it was time to walk away, it was with trepidation that he did so.

“It’s weird,” he said about his decision to retire. “I’ve been lucky enough to do this for as long as I’ve wanted, and I’ve always wanted to keep playing. Now that my career is winding down, it’s definitely something that I’m going to miss. But at the same time, I’m looking forward to focusing on my family and being a little more regular.”

How Did Gretzky’s Career Come To An End?

The most decorated player of all time was entering the final year of his contract with the Oilers in 1995-96. However, the year before, he had signed a one-year deal with the New York Rangers, which was set to run from October to April. Naturally, the Oilers hoped that he would be back for one more campaign. They had a contractual right of first refusal if he decided to join another franchise, but the Rangers were the only club that he signed with. In fact, the deal was somewhat complex, as it guaranteed him US$5.625 million, or roughly C$6.8 million Canadian.

Gretzky’s numbers had begun to fall off in recent seasons. He scored just 29 goals in 1993-94, which was a career low. It was obvious that something was amiss, although he still managed to score 49 points – his lowest point total since his rookie season.

Still, the news that Gretzky was considering retirement was a shock to many. He was arguably the greatest player of all time and one of the greatest of all time to have played in the NHL. To see him walk away was heartbreaking for hockey fans around the world. To that end, the hockey community was still reeling from Gretzky’s pending retirement when his first pass at the NHL Winter Classic game went off without a hitch.

“It was tough,” he said about his decision to play in the Classic. “I mean, I love playing in front of large audiences, and the atmosphere is something that I’ve always enjoyed. It was hard for me to walk away from that.”

Gretzky had other offers from a handful of teams, but he ultimately chose to forego the opportunity and retire from hockey.

The True Greatness Of Wayne Gretzky

Of course, not all was well for the Great Canadian, as he would find out during the final year of his contract with the Rangers. That year, he was a healthy scratch for 11 of the team’s final 18 games and did not play at all in a 3-0 victory over the Boston Bruins in the quarterfinals.

Still, he managed to win his third Stanley Cup with the Rangers in ’95-96. Naturally, that was the last hurrah for Gretzky in the NHL, as he would retire from hockey a short time later. The great winger still holds the record for most regular-season games played (1,836), most goals (896) and most assists (1,040) in the league’s history. Moreover, he still holds the record for most points by a rookie (573) despite playing 21 years in the NHL. Simply put, there is no player quite like Wayne Gretzky.

Sadly, even his retirement would not be as glorious as it could have been. Just three days after he announced his retirement, Gretzky was involved in a car accident that left him with facial injuries. He lost several teeth, and, as a result, had to undergo jaw reconstruction.

Still, the injuries were not too severe, and he bounced back quickly from the auto accident. However, it was clear that no one could ever replace the great Canadian in his heart and mind. Though he did not play a single game after the season had ended, he was named to the NHL All-Star Game and scored a goal to help the All-Stars defeat the Penguins 5-4 in the season finale.

Gretzky would go on to coach the St. Louis Blues for three seasons, winning the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year in ’99. He would also spend time working with the Vancouver Canucks and the Toronto Maple Leafs, winning two more Stanley Cup championships with the latter. In 2002, he was named co-commander of the year alongside Mario Lemieux, after leading the Maple Leafs to the franchise’s second championship in three years. Though he would not play a game after sustaining a concussion in the first round of the 2003 playoffs, Gretzky’s incredible career was finally over.

Legacy And Style

While it is easy to point to the numerous achievements of Wayne Gretzky, it is also important to consider his larger-than-life personality. From the very beginning, Gretzky was known for his dominance on the ice as much as his prodigious talent. Moreover, he was never afraid to showboat or be theatrical whenever the occasion demanded it. This bravado would alienate many fans and endear others to the hockey superstar.

“He was definitely an odd duck,” said Grant Acton, who played defence for the Oilers in the 1980s and coached against Gretzky in the ‘90s. “Off the ice, he was more of a clown. He would put on jokes, make up funny stories. On the ice, he was a fierce competitor who would drop the gloves with anyone at anytime. It was a 50/50 mix of styles that didn’t necessarily work.”

Still, many consider Gretzky’s career to be among the greatest of all time, so much so that there is an entire website, greatwayne.com, devoted to chronicling his amazing career. The Canadian hockey star will forever be remembered for his extraordinary skill and his outsized personality. In short, it was an incredible 20th century for Wayne Gretzky and the hockey world would be significantly different without him.

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