June 14, 2008

The Great Trade

By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

How would history have changed if Glen Sather had talked Wayne Gretzky out of it? How many more Stanley Cups would the Edmonton Oilers have won? How much longer would it have taken for the NHL's salary structure to go crazy? What would the NHL look like today?

"I guess I think about that all the time,'' Sather says of the deal he tried to stop at the last minute, the sale of Wayne Gretzky to Bruce McNall and the Los Angeles Kings. "I think about it every time I see him. I think about it every time I see something about him in the paper. "I wonder what we could have accomplished. That team was settling in pretty good that summer. It had become so strong internally. There wouldn't have been much that could have torn it apart. "But that was the one thing that definitely would have done it.'' Aug. 9, 1988.


Sports Illustrated called it the biggest trade in the history of sport. In Edmonton it was instantly viewed as strictly a sale.

And ten years later it still looks like a sale.

Wayne Gretzky, Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas along with the Kings' first-round picks in 1989 (acquired by New Jersey for somebody that Sather can't even remember now), 1991 (Martin Rucinsky) and 1993 (Nick Stajduhar)
plus $15 US, which was worth only $18 Canadian back then.

Sather tried to talk Gretzky out of it all at the last minute. Ten years later he's willing to tell the whole story.

"I took Wayne into a room with just the two of us at Molsons where we held the press conference. "I talked to him for a few minutes. I told him I'd stop the deal. I told him I'd tell Peter I'd resign if he didn't stop the deal. But Wayne decided not to because he felt
it was all beyond repair at that point.''

Sather's side of the story has never really been revealed.

"I was the last to know. We went to the Arctic fishing. I think everybody on the Arctic trip knew about the deal except for me. When that was over Peter invited me to President Ford's golf
tournament in Beaver Creek, Colorado. That's when he told me.


"I got on to the phone to Bruce McNall from there. That's when I began to understand that the deal was already done. Peter was afraid to tell me. And I don't blame him.I was pretty upset at him.

"Krushelnyski and McSorley were already part of the deal. Gretzky had got them in. By the time I got involved, I got Gelinas and Carson and the draft picks out of McNall by convincing him I would queer the deal. But to me it didn't matter. It didn't make any difference. It wouldn't be the same.''
Sather says it didn't have to happen in 1988. Or 1989. Or 1990. Or maybe even 1991.

"If the team had been a separate entity, if Peter was not involved in the other businesses, I think we could have kept that team together for quite a while longer. It was so close-knit. And they could all see the things they could accomplish together historically. I know we would have won more than one more Stanley Cup. Probably two or three. We were too good at that point. I think,
financially, we would have been able to keep that team together another three or four years. It was just starting to hit it. They were just going into the prime of their careers.''

Sather isn't sure what the dollars would be like in the game today. Gretzky going to L.A. was the one deal which started the spiral.

"McNall was giving money away as if it didn't mean anything because it didn't mean anything.''

Peter Pocklington fostered the idea that Gretzky's new and pregnant bride from the Royal Wedding in Edmonton a month earlier, Janet Jones, was behind it. And some suckered. 'Jezebel Janet' was one headline. And one cartoon had Janet pictured walking in front of Wayne with
Gretzky hustling behind her saying 'Coming, Dear.'

Pocklington, only weeks before, had denied the whispers.

"He ain't for sale ... It doesn't matter. You can put a price tag on him and he isn't for sale. He's Edmonton property and hopefully the longevity of his career will match that of Gordie Howe.''

Pocklington went on record recently in an interview with The Sun on the subject. "It was strictly a business decision and one that now I will say honestly I hated to do. I am a fan, was a fan and always will be a fan. I love the sport of hockey and it was a cruel decision I didn't want to make but unfortunately did. I must admit I'm sometimes not the brightest guy in the world ... I think in many ways I regret it, in other ways I don't.''

No comments: