By Rob MacNeil
February or March, 1988:
According to Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington approaches him and asks to renegotiate his contract so it would run for two more years. Gretzky, who has been saddled with long-term deals since he was 17, tells him, “‘Absolutely not.’ I’d finally got my contract down to four years, and I didn’t want to give that up”, said Gretzky.
May 26, 1988:
Oilers sweep the Boston Bruins 4-0 to win their fourth Stanley Cup in five years, with Wayne Gretzky winning the Conn Smythe Trophy after scoring 12 goals and adding 31 assists in 24 games.
May 27, 1988:
Gretzky learns from his agent, Mike Barnett, and his financial adviser, Ian Berrigan, that a group of Vancouver businessmen were trying to buy the Canucks and have offered Pocklington $22.5 million (Canadian) for Gretzky’s services. Gretzky tells his linemate Jari Kurri that he has a feeling he won’t be with the Oilers next season. “Unless I signed a new contract, which I wasn’t willing to sign, I knew I was going to be traded,” said Gretzky.
Oilers general manager Glen Sather tells New York Rangers general manager Phil Esposito that he thinks Gretzky will be moved, and asks if the Rangers would be interested. Esposito says yes, but thinks the asking price too high.
July 17, 1988:
Gretzky marries American actress Janet Jones in a ceremony at St. Joseph’s Basilica in Edmonton that is broadcast live across Canada.
Rumours that Pocklington is facing financial difficulties. Winnipeg jets owner Nelson Skalbania works on brokering a deal to bring Gretzky to Winnipeg.
July 23, 1988:
Coin-dealer-turned-millionaire Bruce McNall, the new owner of the Los Angeles Kings, calls Gretzky at his new wife’s apartment in California to say that Pocklington has given him permission to discuss a trade to the Kings. Gretzky is angry that Pocklington has not informed him personally that he was being shopped. After his first conversation with McNall, Gretzky calls his father, Walter, in Brantford, Ont. “My dad tried to get me to calm down,” Gretzky said weeks after the trade, “but I told him I’d already made up my mind I was never going to wear an Oilers uniform again.”
August 9, 1988:
The Oilers trade Gretzky, Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski to the Kings in exchange for rising American star Jimmy Carson, Martin Gélinas, three first round draft picks and $15 million, essentially buying the game’s greatest star.
When the trade is announced, NDP House Leader Nelson Riis rises in the House of Commons and asks Brian Mulroney’s Conservative Government to block the trade. ”The Edmonton Oilers without Wayne Gretzky is like apple pie without ice cream, like winter without snow, like the ‘Wheel of Fortune’ without Vanna White – it’s quite simply unthinkable,” said Riis. ”I figure the federal government could purchase Gretzky’s contract and then resell him to a Canadian team. The bottom line is that we have to keep Wayne in Canada where Canadians can see their greatest hockey player ever on a regular basis.”
With files from the Toronto Sun, Edmonton Sun, Washington Post, Sports Illustrated