August 09, 2008

The Gretzky Trade: 20 Years Later

Updated: 08/09/08
Also See: Alternative Trades: Yzerman? Linden? Leetch?

It's hard to believe, but its now been 20 years since Wayne Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles.

I remember the day well. I refused to listen to the radio when I first heard it. Still lost in an age of innocence, trading the greatest player in the game was impossible, or at least so I thought. Everyone thought that.

The Oilers had just won their fourth Cup in five years and Gretzky was 27, coming off a year where he put up 40 goals and 149 points in 64 regular season games and 12 goals, 43 points in 19 playoff games. The local radio must have been playing a terrible prank.

After listening to the news reports several times over it finally dawned on me that this was indeed true. Then came the teary eyed press conference followed by the Kings jersey unveiling that cemented a whole new reality in the completely shaken hockey world.

Wayne Gretzky had been traded.

It was probably the biggest trade in the history of sports, or certainly tied with the Babe Ruth transaction. The impact of the move was beyond what anyone could imagine, and is still unfolding.

The NHL went Hollywood and has since gone through immense expansion in US sun belt zones. For a while hockey was even cool in the US, something the rest of the western world already knew though they now craved it even more.

Though Canadians love to accuse these virgin US markets of not being able to support the NHL, in reality grassroots hockey in these parts is now starting to blossom. More kids in America, notably in California and other sunny climes, picked up the game, and now some are starting to make a run at their own NHL dreams.

In Canada, the ramifications were also immense. We all lost a little something when they took Gretzky out of the Canadian prairies. In many ways #99 exemplified the Canadian image: Hard-working and talented yet humble and determined. He wasn’t just a hockey player, he was a national treasure.

For many Canadians, the date of August 9th, 1988 marks the date Canada started losing control of hockey, although in reality it was more of an awakening to a long time reality than a beginning.

Hockey quickly became a big business, and the American dollar and entertainment marketplace called the shots. Gretzky was taken. Soon the Stanley Cup would be hoisted in unthinkable cities like Raleigh, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Anaheim. Though it always seemed America remained disinterested in Canada's game, the game was sold out irreversibly starting on the day Canadians learned who Bruce McNall was.

For me personally, the trade helped cement me as a great hockey fan. The trade set up a season full of intrigue every time the Kings played the Oilers. Gretzky and his new team returned to Edmonton on October 20, 1988, and the Great One scored on his first shift. Later that spring, Gretzky and the Kings eliminated the Oilers from the playoffs. On October 15, 1989, Gretzky made his most heroic return visit of all. In front of cheering fans at Northlands Coliseum, he broke Gordie Howe’s NHL all-time points record by scoring his 1,850th and 1,851st point.

Some great memories, indeed. In some ways my awakening allowed me to cherish Gretzky's Hollywood days more so than my younger days when the Oilers were kings. A whole new hockey landscape was created for me. I don't just mean in the old Smythe Division where the Oilers and Kings faced off regularly. I mean it was a complete awakening for me to realize that hockey was a business, and hockey players are businessmen. My innocence may have been lost, and Canada's greatest hero may have flew south, but my love for Canada's game only grew stronger.

Other players involved in the trade:

Jimmy Carson - He was traded for The Great One. Though he had one of the most impressive three year starts in NHL history, he could never live down the trade.

Marty McSorley - Popular Marty McSorley worked hard to shed his goon image and become known as a good player. Then he blew it.

Mike Krushelnyski - When Mike Krushelnyski potted 43 goals in 1984-85, the Oilers thought they finally found a LW to play with Wayne Gretzky.

Martin Gelinas - Martin Gelinas earned a lot of respect for his hard working, honest game. He showed up every night, gave it his all and was a great teammate..

Also see: Whatever Happened To Those Draft Picks?
Also see: They Said It: Quotes From 20 Years Ago
Also see: Hockey In California Pre-Dates Gretzky
Also see: Wayne Gretzky Trivia
Also see: Wayne Gretzky vs. Mario Lemieux

Here is what the rest of the web has to offer:

NHL.com Coverage

Impact on Canada & California
Gretzky's trade to L.A. sent shockwaves through Canada and California.

End of Innocence
How this trade created the cliche: If Gretzky can be traded.....more

Gretzky Recalls Trade
An interview with Wayne Gretzky ... more

A marketing dream
Wayne Gretzky wasn't just "The Great One" on the ice.. ...more

Is this the year?
Will anyone ever touch The Great One's 92 goals in a season? ...more

Gretzky By The Numbers
An in-depth look at his great career. Stats Video

Top Ten Trades Of All Time
A history of blockbuster NHL trades ...more
(Joe's note - hey, where's the King Clancy trade?)

Edmonton Sun
The Shocking Trade - Terry Jones, (Aug. 3rd, 2008)
Not So Happy Anniversary in Oilerland - (Aug. 9th, 2008)

Edmonton Journal
Don't Ever Call It The "Gretzky Trade:" It Was A Sale - David Staples (Aug 8th, 2008)

Los Angeles Times
Gretzky's Trade To Kings Ice Breaker For NHL - Thomas Bonk (Aug 8th, 2008)

Orange County Register
Why Is This Weekend So Special? Hint: Gretzky - Dan Wood (Aug 9th, 2008)

National Post
It's Like Losing A Son, More Than A Hockey Player - (Aug 9th, 2008)
Just Business - (Aug 9th, 2008)

20 Years Ago The Gretzky Deal Shocked The World - (Aug 9th, 2008)

The Gretzky Trade: 20 Years Later
The Original Reports: A collection of newspaper reports from Aug 9, 1988
The Gretzky Trade: By The Numbers
Gretzky Gallery

Residual Effect From Gretzky Trade Still Felt Today - Scott Burnside (Aug. 8th, 2008)

Fox Sports
Twenty Years Later It's Still A Great Trade - Lyle Richardson (Spector)

USA Today
Gretzky Trade Had 'Seismic Impact' - Kevin Allen (Aug. 8th, 2008)

CBS Sportsline
Gretzky Deal Still Resonates Through Hockey - Wes Goldstein (Aug. 8th, 2008)
Gretzky Trade: What happened to.... - Erin Brown (Aug. 8th, 2008)

The Sporting News
The Gretzky Trade At 20: McSorley's Perspective - Craig Custance (Aug. 9th, 2008)

CanWest News Services
Gretzky Forgives And Forgets - Aug 8th, 2008

The Tennessean
Gelinas Recalls Hockey's Biggest Trade - John Glennon (Aug. 8th, 2008)
Gretzky Trade Spurred NHL To Expand Here - John Glennon (Aug. 8th, 2008)

Historical Coverage

(video) - The Shocking Trade (August 9, 1988)

New York Times - The Two Sides of The Gretzky Trade (August 11, 1988)
In Los Angeles: New Day Dawns - - In Edmonton: Future Is On Hold

Sports Illustrated
The Gretzky Trade (Video)
Woe, Canada
- August 22, 1988
A Nation In Mourning
- August 22, 1988
New King Boffo At Box Office
- October 9, 1988
Life Without Gretzky
- December 26, 1988
More Than A Man Can Do
- November 28, 1988
Gretzky Returns Edmonton
- October 31st, 1988

Edmonton Sun
The Great Trade - August, 1998 (ten year anniversary)

How The Deal Was Done - Sporting News Staff (Feb 12th, 1989)

Online articles:
Don't Ever Call It The "Gretzky Trade:" It Was A Sale - David Staples
Gretzky Trade Still Shapes Hockey - Eric McErlain
Forgotten Benefit Of Gretzky Trade - Greg Wyshynski
20th Anniversary of "The Trade" - Masiv Blog
Gretzky Broke Non-Crying Promise To Messier - Covered In Oil
20 Years Later And 10 Years Too Young - AOL Fanhouse
Remembering The Gretzky Trade of 1988 - Waiting For Stanley
A Look Back At The Historic Gretzky Trade - Battle of NY
What If Gretzky Had Gone To Detroit - Eric McErlain
It Was Twenty Years Ago - NHL Home Ice
Hey Dad! Gretzky Got Traded - Puck Hog
The Gretzky Deal: 20 Years Later - James Mirtle
There's Just One Nagging Little Thing - Frozen Royalty
It Was Twenty Years Ago Today - Eyes On The Prize
Also From Eyes On The Prize
The Gretzky Trade - Part 1: The Hockey World Stands Still
The Gretzky Trade - Part 2: Getting Analytical
The Gretzky Trade - Part 3: Transaction Breakdowns


Buckaroo Banzai said...

And to this day, people in Edmonton want Peter Pocklington's head on a plate.

The trade did wonderful things for the sport, but I only wish he could have to come to my hometown (Philly) and wear the orange and black.

Mattias said...

Talk about the trade of all trades.

Been having a very busy July, so I just noticed the link to my blog on the right. Thanks for the plug, Joe!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Joe. Great links.

I was a young radio sportscaster when the deal was made. Rumors were flying for days, and I remember going on the air and predicting it wouldn't happen. Trade was announced a few hours later. Not my greatest moment.

Kevin said...

Excellent reading, and I appreciated the links to more information.

When you see the people the oilers could have had, and what they ended up with... glaring. But that's the way the draft works... rarely ever a sure thing.

Joe, is the moment you heard about the trade etched into your memory like so many people feel the kennedy assination was? Not to equate the two... but is it one of those times when you remember exactly what you were doing?

Joe Pelletier said...


I was 14 at the time, and I believe my brother and just came in from either cycling or maybe tennis. My mom told me and I wouldn't believe her until I heard it myself on the radio. Like my article says, I still didn't believe it.

I don't think it was quite like JFK in USA or Henderson '72 in Canada, but it is something I'll never forget.

Joe Pelletier

Anonymous said...

Great post, Joe. I was a very young CBC radio reporter back then. Rumours were flying in the days leading up to the deal, and I remember going on the radio and predicting it would never happen. The trade was announced a couple of hours later. Perhaps not my finest moment.

Sal said...

That issue of The Hockey News is funny, because the Guy Lafleur comeback is the *second* most important article. That would have been front page news on its own any other issue.


Sal said...

That issue of The Hockey News cracks me up. To think that Lafleur's comeback was the *second* most important story at the time.