The Gretzky Trade: Original reports

Read what the newspapers and magazines were saying in the weeks following the trade of Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings on August 9, 1988.

Latest: 25 years after the Wayne Gretzky trade

Wayne Gretzky traded… California, here he comes
Scott Morrison, Toronto Sun, August 10, 1988

The king is dead. Long live the King.

The tearful end to one of the most spectacular chapters in hockey history was authored in Edmonton yesterday, fittingly with one of the greatest trades involving one of the greatest players.

Wayne Gretzky, the king of modern-day hockey, was dealt by the Edmonton Oilers as part of a multi-player, multi-dollar deal, one that granted his wish for a new life with the Los Angeles Kings.

And, the Sun has learned, the trade also involves equity. Gretzky was to receive a 10% ownership share in the team but if league bylaws preclude that, he would receive a payment in the area of $5 million U.S., plus a share in gate receipts from the expected rise in Kings’ attendance from an average last season of about 10,000. The latter is part of a new, four-year contract Gretzky is expected to sign soon.

Gretzky, owner of four Stanley Cup rings, countless league scoring records, eight consecutive most valuable player awards, and other honors with the Oilers, was – at his request – sent to the Kings along with defenceman Marty McSorley and centre Mike Krushelnyski.

Gretzky demanded that McSorley, a noted enforcer, be included in the trade. In return for the best player in hockey, the Oilers received centre Jimmy Carson, a 55-goal scorer last season, rookie left winger Martin Gelinas, the Kings’ first-round draft picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993, as well as $15 million Canadian.

News of the trade set off something of an emotional earthquake. In Ottawa, NDP house leader Nelson Riis asked the government to block the trade. The impact was felt most, though, in Edmonton, and especially by Gretzky and Oilers’ coach/general manager Glen Sather, both of whom wept openly during a press conference.

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Telling It Like it Is
Terry Jones, Edmonton Sun, August 12, 1988

“Peter Pocklington is the reason Wayne Gretzky is no longer an Edmonton Oiler.” [Janet Gretzky] told The Edmonton Sun.

“The key to everything that happened was an event five days after our wedding. Pocklington gave Los Angeles Kings’ owner Bruce McNall permission to take Wayne if he could do it.

“And that did it!”

Sportsnet image
Wayne Gretzky celebrates his last Cup as an Oiler in May 1988.

Pocklington almost got away with keeping the Gretzkys quiet. But Pocklington’s published comments about Gretzky having an ego the size of Manhattan and his suggestion that Gretzky’s press conference tears were all an act was the final straw.

“I never intended to talk. But let’s talk,” said Janet.

“The story of the trade as presented by Peter Pocklington is false. Pocklington is the reason Wayne’s gone.

‘To see Wayne hurt like this hurts me. That’s why I’m making the call to you. But everything is getting out of hand.’

“I know the real story. I know the whole story. I know Wayne didn’t deserve any of this. He wouldn’t let Edmonton fans, Canada and, most important, his teammates down without good reason.”

Gretzky Yields Stanley Cup but Deal Will Spread Wealth
Mike Perricone, Chicago Sun-Times, August 14, 1988

Is the deal good for the NHL? The greatest player is now in the greatest media market. But the NHL has no U.S. TV network contract. In fact, the NHL, in the person of president John Ziegler, has said it is not interested in pursuing a U.S. network contract and is satisfied with its cable-TV exposure. The greatest feat of Gretzky’s career might be changing that outlook, if he can. But this is the NHL.

Is the trade good for Gretzky?

He and Janet are expecting a child, and Janet has her own film career. But above all, it’s a smart business move. Gretzky’s contract has four years to run at roughly $1 million a year, making him grossly undervalued in the sports world. McNall is sure to address that issue. There is no telling how many millions Gretzky can make from endorsements, fueled by regular appearances with Carson and Letterman. Who wouldn’t grasp such potential to provide for his family?

If Gretzky can’t sell hockey in the U.S., no one can.

In Decades Full of Deals, It May Be `The Greatest’
William Gildea, The Washington Post, August 14, 1988

Hockey authorities almost unanimously say that Edmonton made a good deal. In trading Gretzky and two other veterans for five young players-center and 55-goal scorer Jimmy Carson, left wing Martin Gelinas and three No. 1 draft picks-the Oilers insured themselves a bright future. For the Kings, it gave them a long-missing identity. “I think it may have been the best business decision two sports franchises ever made,” said New York Rangers General Manager Phil Esposito.

The Oilers have shopped Gretzky before. Esposito revealed that Oilers general manager and coach Glen Sather told him in June, “I think Gretzky is going to be moved,” and asked if the Rangers would be interested. Esposito said yes, but thought the asking price too high.

In Kings owner Bruce McNall, the Oilers found a man who had only recently become majority owner of the team, and eager to do something that would get people talking about his lowly team-and buying tickets. Around Los Angeles, the Kings are overshadowed by the Lakers, Dodgers, Angels, Rams and Raiders. Esposito believes that with Gretzky the Kings’ franchise already has tripled in value.

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Wayne Gretzky

The Gretzky Grab
U.S. News and World Report, August 22, 1988

For Canada, it was like taking a puck in the teeth-or worse. Wayne Gretzky-history’s greatest hockey player and Canada’s best-loved hero-was traded last week, at his request, by the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. L.A. gave up three hot young players, three first-round draft picks and $10 million-plus for “the great Gretzky,” who at 27 has won the National Hockey League’s Most Valuable Player honor eight times. Bitter Canadians blamed his new bride, actress Janet Jones, for luring him to Hollywood. Parliament Member Nelson Riis urged the Canadian government to stop the trade. “Wayne Gretzky,” he said, “is a national symbol, like the beaver.”

A Nation in Mourning: A Canadian Writes Of Gretzky And His Country’s Grief
Jim Taylor, Sports Illustrated, August 22, 1988

From a cold-blooded business standpoint, No. 99 was just another commodity to be moved while the market was at its peak.

But the greatest player the game has ever seen — our player, dammit! — sent off to Hollywood just 24 days after Edmonton and Canada had gone crazy over his wedding? O.K., so Wayne and his wife, actress Janet Jones, can make zillions in endorsements and live happily ever after raising the child they expect in January, and maybe Wayne can save the Kings and move the game past intramural beanbag tossing in the minds of California sports fans. But, Canadians wailed, what about us?

That’s the nut of it. Forget the controversy over whether No. 99 jumped or was pushed; the best hockey player in the world was ours, and the Americans flew up from Hollywood in their private jet and bought him. It wasn’t the Canadian heart that was torn, it was the Canadian psyche that was ripped by an uppercut to the paranoia.

Woe, Canada
E.M. Swift, Sports Illustrated, August 22, 1988

Wayne Gretzky , the newest member of Tinseltown’s glitterati, was seated in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel last Friday morning and speaking on the phone to his new boss, Bruce McNall, owner of the Los Angeles Kings . “Who called?” Gretzky asked McNall , a roly-poly 37-year-old who some 72 hours earlier had pulled off the unthinkable and put the historically hapless, inconsequential Kings onto the front pages of newspapers across North America . “You’re kidding,” said Gretzky . “Well how old is he? [Pause] Thirty-four? [Pause] Why not? What do you have to lose?”

Gretzky could not suppress a grin. At the end of a long-and at times grim-week, here was some news that tickled him. Guy Lafleur ‘s agent had just contacted the team, saying that Lafleur , the former Montreal Canadiens great, wanted to come out of retirement and try out when the Kings ‘ training camp opened in three weeks. So what if Lafleur is actually 36. The Great One skating side by side with the aging Flower in la-la land, which had suddenly become gaga land over hockey, was no less imaginable than the events that had transpired in the previous few days.

“I knew this thing would be big,” Gretzky said, putting down the phone. “But I had no idea it would be this big.”

In case you have been walking the picket lines outside The Last Temptation of Christ and have missed the news, on Aug. 9 the Kings and the Edmonton Oilers swung the biggest trade in NHL history and, at least monetarily, the biggest in the history of sports. In return for $15 million in cash, plus 20-year-old center Jimmy Carson , first-round draft picks in 1989. ’91 and ’93, and 18-year-old Martin Gelinas , who was the seventh player taken in the June draft, the Oilers traded Gretzky , now 27, who for the past nine years has been, to many, the Edmonton franchise, the spokesman for the game and the greatest hockey player in the world. In addition to Gretzky , the Oilers sent forward Mike Krushelnyski, 28, and tough-guy Marty McSorley , 25, to L.A. (The negotiating rights to a couple of unsigned defensemen-the Oilers ‘ John Miner and the Kings ‘ Craig Redmond-were also exchanged.) If the Great One’s arrival in the City of Angels does not exactly mark the Second Coming, it’s the closest thing to divine intervention that the Kings have seen in their 21 years of trying to put fannies in the seats of the Forum.

The deal stunned the sports world. Not since the Milwaukee Bucks sent Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers in 1975 had an athlete of Gretzky ‘s magnitude been traded in his prime. Because of the huge amount of money that changed hands, comparisons were immediately made to the 1919 deal which sent Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees for $100,000 (see box. page 24). Reactions throughout the U.S. and Canada were immediate and wide-ranging:

– Canada’s New Democratic Party House leader Nelson Riis: ” Wayne Gretzky is a national symbol, like the beaver. How can we allow the sale of our national symbols? The Edmonton Oilers without Wayne Gretzky is like…Wheel of Fortune without Vanna White.”

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