August 09, 2013

Gretzky Traded! The 25th Anniversary Of The Wayne Gretzky Trade

It's hard to believe that 25 years ago that headline screamed across the world, changing it forever. On August 9th, 1988 Wayne Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles.

Also See: Alternative Trades: Yzerman? Linden? Leetch?

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 his 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.

Also see: Whatever Happened To Those Draft Picks?
Also see: They Said It: Quotes From 25 Years Ago
Also see: Hockey In California Pre-Dates Gretzky
Also see: Wayne Gretzky Trivia
Also see: Wayne Gretzky vs. Mario Lemieux

Also see: 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..

As the week of the 25th anniversary kicks off, we can fully expect to be inundated with reflections and memories and too many images of Peter Pocklington and a puffy-eyed Great One with a bad hair cut. I will highlight the best of the web right here as the week goes on. 

Edmonton Journal - Gretzky Trade Site
The Globe And Mail
The Hockey News
Also for your entertainment, the must-watch ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the Gretzky Trade, A Kings' Ransom courtesy of YouTube:


Derek O'Brien said...

My uncle actually told me a few days before it was announced that Gretzky was going to get traded to the Kings--contrary to what people say now about it coming out of the blue, there were rumours out there that were getting reported in the newspapers. Of course, he always joked with me and I dismissed it, then a few days later I was in the front yard and my dad came out to tell me. As a 12-year-old Canucks fan, my biggest thoughts about the trade were how much more difficult it was going to be to make the playoffs now that the Kings would be much stronger.

scott in halifax said...

It was an exciting time.bright lights and glory for Wayne in LA. but heart wrenching for Edmonton and Canadian fans.perhaps Gretzky's biggest career flop.fresh off the Oilers 4th Cup.the Oilers were a powerhouse team.he ditched the Dynasty Oilers to bask in the Hollywood starshine.but never regained the champion status he gained in Edmonton.the Kings became a spectacle of frustration for Gretzky fans.and the Oilers came back to trump the Gretzky legacy.Gretzky could have stayed with Edmonton for another cup or two.which would have suited his superstar ego.then perhaps made the retirement trade to LA to give appease to all hockey fans.Gretzky ended up with his skate in his mouth and went out looking desperate.shame shame Wayne.you blew it.