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Wayne Gretzky turns 50 today – How the Great One and 50 go hand in hand

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He’s an icon, a legend, and today Wayne Gretzky is 50 years-old.

He’s a once-in-a-lifetime player that we’ll never see the likes of again. Gretzky’s prolific offense and captivating career from his days with the Edmonton Oilers winning four Stanley Cups, to his shocking trade to the Los Angeles Kings, and culminating with a career that finished on Broadway with the New York Rangers is one that made hockey fans out of millions across the world.

Gretzky’s importance to the NHL cannot be stated without talking about the scoring records and the accolades he’s had throughout his career. With The Great One turning 50 though, it brings up a number that’s been huge throughout his career. Never mind how Gretzky turning 50 might make us feel about ourselves and where we are in our lives, I’m sure Wayne still doesn’t get used to hearing from people that he’s the reason they became hockey players or fans.

While he’s not directly involved in the game now, he’s still arguably the biggest name and face in the sport and all throughout his career the number 50 has played both an obvious and understated role. How so? We’ve got a few ways to pay homage to the Great One via the number 50.

Number of seasons which Gretzky scored 50 or more goals: Nine.

Gretzky had a run of eight seasons in a row from 1979-1980 to 1986-1987 in which he scored 50 or more goals. In his first season with the Los Angeles Kings he score 54 goals thrilling fans in L.A. with a tremendous run in the playoffs. In five of those seasons, Gretzky led the NHL in goals scored.

Number seasons Gretzky scored 50 goals in less than 50 games: Three.

Wayne Gretzky set a record that will likely never be broken again in 1981-1982, just a season after Mike Bossy of the Islanders scored 50 in 50 games. That season, Gretzky scored 50 goals in just 39 games serving notice that the NHL was about to be turned on its ear. That season, Gretzky finished with an NHL record 92 goals.

In 83-84 and 84-85 Gretzky did 50 in less than 50 again. In 83-84, he pulled the feat off in 42 games while the following season he did it in 49 games. After setting the bar at such a ridiculous level in 81-82 it seemed almost like a let down when he pulled off the feat in back-to-back seasons, but only one other player ever pulled off 50 in 50 in back-to-back seasons after that (Brett Hull in 1990-1991 and 1991-1992).

Number of career games scoring three or more goals: 50

Hat tricks are all the rage now, but Gretzky turned it into a fine art and a source of expectation. Going above and beyond that turned some games into a bonus treat. 37 times in his career he had a hat trick. He also had nine career four-goal games and four career five-goal games.

Number of professional seasons in which Gretzky didn’t score 50 or more points: One.

1994-1995 was the lockout season in which the NHL had a shortened 48-game season. Gretzky had 11 goals and 37 assists that year good for 48 points. In even a shortened year, Gretzky still averaged a point per game.

Number of seasons Wayne Gretzky had 50 or more penalty minutes: Two.

Wayne Gretzky was never a goon or an enforcer by any means as he had a long list of players willing to take up for him.  Whether it was Dave Semenko or Marty McSorely, Gretzky had someone watching his back at all times. The fact that Gretzky managed to steer clear of the rough and tumble days of the NHL in the 80s is pretty incredible on its own. Then again, Gretzky was also a five-time Lady Byng Award winner as the league’s most gentlemanly player.

Devils sign star French d-man Auvitu

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 05:  Rapahel Herburger (R) of Austria and Yohann Auvitu (L) of France battle for the puck during the IIHF World Championship group A match between Austria and France at o2 Arena on May 5, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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New Jersey has won the Yohann Auvitu sweepstakes.

On Friday, the Devils announced they’ve signed Auvitu to a one-year, two-way, entry-level contract for the upcoming campaign. The 26-year-old Frenchman had previously garnered widespread NHL interest, largely due to a ’15-16 campaign in which he won the Pekka Rautakallio Trophy for the best defenseman in the SM-Liiga — an award that’s previously gone to the likes of Sami Vatanen and Brian Rafalski.

Auvitu had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games, then six goals and seven assists in 18 playoff games.

There were only three French-born players were in the NHL this season: Philadelphia’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Detroit’s Xavier Ouellet, and Dallas’ Antoine Roussel. It’ll be interesting to see if Auvitu can make it a quartet. He recently played alongside Bellemare for France at the Worlds, scoring three points in seven games.

Dethroned? Kings reportedly strip Brown of captaincy (Updated)

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Dustin Brown
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Dustin Brown, who captained the Los Angeles Kings to the only two Stanley Cups in franchise history, has been relieved of his leadership duties, per TSN.

Brown, 31, was named the 13th captain in team history back in 2008, and has worn the “C” ever since. He’s also served as an alternate captain for Team USA’s silver medal-winning side at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

While there’s been no confirmation or report, one has to think this paves the way for Anze Kopitar to assume the club’s captaincy. Kopitar signed an eight-year, $80 million extension with L.A. in January, and has been Brown’s alternate captain since ’08.

While Brown achieved great things during his run as Kings captain, the tenure ended badly. He’s been largely ineffective over the last two seasons, and his lackuster play has been called out by head coach Darryl Sutter on a number of occasions (see here and here and here.)

Compounding things is Brown’s contract. Despite the fact he’s now essentially a bottom-six forward, he’s still owed a whopping $5.875M annually through 2022. That’s a lot of scratch for a guy that’s posted career-lows in goals (11) in back-to-back seasons.

Compounding that is the fact L.A. doesn’t have a ton of cap space moving forward. Brown’s hit could prevent them from re-upping with pending UFA Milan Lucic, or finding some blueline help in free agency.

Perhaps we should’ve seen the writing on the wall for Brown a couple weeks ago, when Kings GM Dean Lombardi extended Sutter’s contract.

Lombardi admitted the Kings are in “uncharted waters,” and “not where we want to be.” He also suggested there would be significant changes throughout the team, and that those changes would be difficult.

“To get this back on track,” Lombardi said, “there’s going to be some minor punches in the gut as we fight our way through.”

If TSN’s report holds true, the first punch has already been thrown.

Update:

For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

San Jose Sharks Name Peter Deboer Head Coach
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In Pete DeBoer’s first season as head coach of the New Jersey Devils, he went to the Stanley Cup Final with a roster that was headlined by two pretty talented players in Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

For DeBoer and the Devils, it never got better than that. By the time he was fired, the team had missed the playoffs two years in a row, Kovalchuk and Parise were elsewhere and the roster was looking pretty, darn barren.

Now, in his first season with San Jose, DeBoer is once again off to the final, this time with a Sharks team that’s headlined by Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Why, you could almost draw the conclusion that a head coach has a much better chance to win with a roster full of talented players.

Certainly, the teams DeBoer had in Florida wouldn’t hurt that theory.

A motivated roster is nice to have as well, and DeBoer definitely had that when he took over in San Jose.

“I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there,” DeBoer said Wednesday. “First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there.

“I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group, they’re pissed off, they’re embarrassed by the year they just had, and they’re willing to do and buy into whatever you’re selling to get it fixed again.”

DeBoer was also the benefactor of some fine work by GM Doug Wilson, who signed veterans Joel Ward and Paul Martin in free agency and got goalie Martin Jones in a trade. Wilson also signed Joonas Donskoi out of Europe, a year after he did the same with Melker Karlsson. Throw in a few draft picks that have come along — youngsters like Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, and Matt Nieto — and it’s hard to find a real weakness on the roster.

“The additions that Doug made, it just came together,” said DeBoer.

“They were coming off a down season, but they were coming off a decade of great hockey. They’d been well-coached. Todd McLellan and the previous staff are as good as there are in the business. These guys had a great foundation. Right place, right time.”

Related: DeBoer predicts ‘big bounce-back’ in San Jose

Panthers expect Campbell to test free agency

Brian Campbell
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The Florida Panthers are operating on the premise that veteran d-man Brian Campbell will go unrestricted on July 1.

From the Florida Sun-Sentinel:

[GM Tom] Rowe said that the Panthers told Campbell and his agent they want to re-sign him but it appears Campbell, who turned 37 on Monday, will test the market first.

Campbell will be one to watch on the open market. A terrific puck-mover, he finished with six goals and 31 points for Florida last season while averaging a healthy 22:17 TOI per game.

He rarely gets hurt — Campbell hasn’t missed a game in five years — and has excellent skating ability. All of these attributes mask the fact that 1) he’s not overly physical, 2) he’s not what you’d call a “defensive defenseman,” and 3) he’s had an albatross of a contract.

Signed to a whopping eight-year, $57.1 million deal back in 2008, Campbell has been pulling down $7.14M annually, which has sort of skewed perceptions of him. His $7M+ cap hit puts him alongside the likes of P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Kris Letang and Drew Doughty.

But at a lesser price, Campbell might be a really good acquisition.

And what’s more, the market for transitional defensemen is already heating up.

Earlier this week, GM Don Sweeney said the Bruins would be “aggressive” in their pursuit of a puck-moving blueliner.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault conceded his club had a puck-moving problem this year, and could lose both Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle off the blueline.

Finally, there are those Campbell would be up against on the open market.

It’s not an especially deep class for defensmen: Yandle, Alex Goligoski, Dan Hamhuis and Chris Russell headline the list, which makes Campbell all the more valuable.