Ask Peter Pocklington if he is concerned about the reaction he’ll get from Edmonton Oilers fans at Friday night’s big reunion, and the well-read charmer quickly recites a high-handed quote about a man and his courage. But, of course, he can’t help himself from authoring a nugget of his own:
“I don’t really give a damn about what some of the unwashed have to say,” the former Oilers owner said on Wednesday. “Someday they’ll grow up.”
Pocklington, like the rest of the 1984 Oilers, is in town for the 30-year reunion of Edmonton’s first Stanley Cup. It was a victory over the New York Islanders that took place in what was then known as Northlands Coliseum, a place Pocklington recalls, er, fondly. “I think Northlands was a piece of crap, quite frankly.”
In an interview conducted with select media outlets, the 72-year-old held back a tear however, when he spoke of a team that was dear to his heart.
“We did have a family. It was a family experience that leaves me a little bit emotional even now. It’s amazing how close we became,” he said. “We all truly believed, including me, that there was no question we were going to win Stanley Cups.”
Pocklington is known to revise history to suit his side of a story, to be sure, What is undeniable however — whether you love him or hate him — is that without Pocklington, the dynasty that was the Oilers would almost certainly never have existed.
Though he is best remembered for selling Wayne Gretzky in the summer of 1988, it was Pocklington who bought Gretzky from fellow World Hockey Association owner Nelson Skalbania back in 1978. He also identified Glen Sather as the right man to put together his Oilers, and that began a run of scouting by chief scout Barry Fraser that will never be matched.
It was then that Pocklington predicted a Stanley Cup in five years, and his team made good on that prediction 30 years ago. “It wasn’t a prediction. It was a fact,” he said.
Pocklington was vilified by Oilers fans for selling Gretzky to Los Angeles Kings’ owner Bruce McNall. But in his true spirit, he titled his 2009 biography: I’d Trade Him Again: On Gretzky, Politics And The Pursuit Of The Perfect Deal.
“I was surprised that we brought up this 25th anniversary of trading Wayne (Gretzky). My God, the town went crazy,” he said of the 2013 anniversary. “I had no choice about trading Wayne … we certainly couldn’t have paid what the market commanded at that point.
“The spew of hate that came out, for doing something as a businessman I had to do,” he marveled. “It was good for the league, it was good for Wayne and Janet, and quite frankly, it was even good for Edmonton. We had the greatest and best years from Wayne. And whenever you have — and I hate to say this — a depreciating asset, there’s only one time to get rid of the depreciating asset and that’s at its peak. That’s being a little cold-blooded, but it was reality.”
Welcome home Peter. By the way, when are you heading back…?