Simpson: A jet-lagged walk down memory lane

Today we kick off our week long look back at the 25th anniversary of the trade that sent Wayne Gretzky from Edmonton to Los Angeles. This was a walk down memory lane for me — a chance to catch up with the key principals involved in the biggest trade in hockey history, all of whom were happy to share their story. Or at least their version of it.

My road trip saw me travel over 9,000 km spanning 11 days to get 10 interviews. And it all began in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Alan Thicke was there hosting a show at Fallsview Casino when I requested an interview. Thicke’s California home is where Wayne and Janet, along with my brother Craig and Thicke’s now famous musical son Robin, were staying when the deal went down. Then I was off to California.

First stop was to Palm Desert, Calif., and the office of Peter Pocklington. He works for a mining company now, far removed from his days as owner of the Edmonton Oilers. I met Bruce McNall in the Santa-Monica, Calif., office of A-Mark Entertainment, the movie production company he’s involved with now. Still very Hollywood, but a far cry from the glitz and glamour that came with being owner of the L.A. Kings. Michael Barnett, Wayne’s agent and key confidante during that time, joined us there while he was in California from his home base in Phoenix. As intriguing as the interviews with both of them were, the lunch the three of us had after the cameras stopped rolling was one of the highlights of my trip. Oh, the stories.

I met Luc Robitaille at the Kings’ practice facility in El Segundo, Calif., to chat about the fact that, if Glen Sather had had his way, it would have been Robitaille in an Oilers uniform instead of Jimmy Carson. Television and film producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a huge hockey fan from his days growing up in Detroit, invited me to his production offices in Santa-Monica. He had just returned from a world tour promoting his latest movie, The Lone Ranger. Despite being jet-lagged from having flown in from Paris the night before, he was more than happy to chat about how Gretzky’s presence in L.A. made him a Kings season ticket holder and made hockey games at the Fabulous Forum the place to be for Hollywood stars.

Next it was on to Banff, Alta., and a visit to Glen Sather’s home. Slats may have been the Oilers GM and coach at the time but even 25 years later he makes it clear this was not a deal he wanted any part of and still insists on calling it a ‘sale’, not a ‘trade’.

Back to Toronto for a day and a visit to the CBC for an interview with national news anchor, and hockey fan, Peter Mansbridge. He gave his uniquely Canadian story of where he was when he heard about the trade. He also provided context to just how this story went beyond the sports pages. This was a national news story. Other voices like musician Jim Cuddy, NBA star Steve Nash, sprinter Donovan Bailey and former Oiler teammates Mark Messier and Craig Simpson also chime in on where they were when they first heard the news.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be known as the guy traded for Wayne Gretzky? I went to Rochester, Mich., to find out. Carson was just 20 at the time of the trade and despite putting up 49 goals and 100 points the next season with the Oilers, he never could live down being a symbol of Gretzky’s departure. Jimmy is a fascinating guy who, after a 10-year NHL career, now works in the financial services industry in Michigan.

So many people have been involved in putting together this week-long retrospective on the 25th anniversary of the Gretzky trade. We hope you enjoy taking this walk down memory lane with us all week long on Sportsnet Connected and

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