Mario Lemieux has been recognized as the NHL's most valuable player for 1987-88, but he's the first to admit that Wayne Gretzky is still the "greatest."

In accepting the Hart Trophy at the NHL's awards banquet Wednesday night, Lemieux broke Gretzky's eight-year reign as most valuable player. But Lemieux said it was Gretzky himself who gave him the impetus and motivation for winning the prestigious award."That's where it all started, playing with Gretzky," Lemieux said of his experience last summer in the Canada Cup. "I learned what it takes to be on the top of your game. Being around the greatest hockey player in the world helped me. I think everybody can learn from him. I know I did. When I got that confidence, I could do a lot of things."

Lemieux scored the winning goal, on a pass from Gretzky, as Canada won the deciding third game 6-5 against the Soviet Union last September.

Lemieux, who finished with 70 goals and 168 points during the NHL season, said Gretzky missing 16 games due to an injury was the major reason he won the Hart.

"The only reason Gretzky did not win the Hart is because he was hurt," Lemieux said. "I was fortunate to be able to take advantage of that."

Gretzky came back from a leg injury to wind up second in the scoring race for the first time in eight years. But he finished strong to lead the Edmonton Oilers to their fourth Stanley Cup championship in five years.

Actually, Gretzky finished third in the Hart voting by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, behind Lemieux and Edmonton goaltender Grant Fuhr.