Reviewing The Gretzky Trade, 21 Years Later.

Kings Ransom ESPN 30 for 30 PosterSo last night I watched Kings Ransom on TSN.

Kings Ransom is a documentary by actor/ director Peter Berg about the trade that brought Wayne Gretzky to the LA Kings in 1988 that was made for ESPN and their 30 for 30 celebration for their 30th anniversary.

In the 21 years since this trade took place there have been a million pieces written about it, and there are even more opinions surrounding it. After watching the doc last night I got to thinking about what the trade means in the context of sports history and the NHL since that day in early August 1988. By the way, I was 6 when the trade went down and here I am today writing about it. That should tell you how big this thing was.

After the 1988 season the Edmonton Oilers had won their 4th Stanley Cup in 5 years. All of those as a result of a great team out together by owner Peter Pocklington and coach/ general manager Glen Sather. At the forefront of those teams was “The Great One”. Wayne Gretzky was their MVP, the leagues MVP and was on his way to changing the NHL history books forever.

Also after the 1988 season Peter Pocklington was feeling a financial pinch and decided that moving his biggest and bluest chip was the answer to his problems. Wayne Gretzky was sold (or traded if you want to be proper about it) to the LA Kings and their owner Bruce McNall. The price for the greatest player in NHL history? $15 million, 5 draft picks and 2 players.

Now, this isn’t exactly like the sale of Babe Ruth the Yankees by the Red Sox in 1920. It’s not like Peter Pocklington pulled a Harry Frazee and used the cash to make some bad musicals or anything. And the Oilers even won 1 more Stanley Cup after Gretzky left so there was no “Curse of The Great One” like there was the “Curse of The Bambino”. But at the end of the day both moves boiled down to being the sales of the best player in their sports.

In the documentary Peter Berg asks Wayne Gretzky about winning Stanley Cups in Edmonton and how many more he thought there could have been. Gretzky thought about it for a minute and ended up giving an answer of 4. He left Edmonton with his name on the hallowed trophy 4 times and retired 11 seasons later with the same number of engravings.

The NHL has changed since that time. There were 21 teams in the league then and there are 30 now. Since 1988 franchises have been started or moved to Anaheim, Tampa Bay, San Jose, Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, Nashville and Sunrise, Florida. I really don’t think that any of these teams would be where they are today if it wasn’t for the move that took Gretzky to LA. In fact, I think that had Gretzky stayed in Canada whether it was with the Maple Leafs or Canadiens or even the Winnipeg Jets we would still have teams in Quebec City and Winnipeg and there may already be a second Toronto team and maybe Hamilton and Halifax would have NHL franchises as well.

Without Wayne Gretzky there wouldn’t have been the glitz and glamour campaign to bring hockey to the southern United States. Pockets of NHL fans would have been there still, but they wouldn’t be watching teams play in front of empty arenas on TV every night.

Peter Berg did a great job in getting interviews from Wayne and Janet Gretzky as well as Peter Pocklington, Glen Sather and Bruce McNall for the doc.

Sather stuck to his guns and said that he was “more than pissed off” by the trade and even told Gretzky that he would resign as general manager if he didn’t want to go so the trade would have had to have been stopped.

Pocklington says that it was a business decision and he would have kept Gretzky if a contract extension could have been reached, but he would have been underpaid.

McNall calls it the biggest thing that ever happened in his life.

There are a lot of people in Edmonton who felt the same way. Their favourite adopted son was taken from them. The City of Champions was rocked by the news, the hockey world was rocked by the news and the landscape of the NHL was changed forever.

Maybe not all for the bad, I mean there is probably no way that Alyssa Milano would have turned into such a big hockey fan if Gretzky hadn’t come to LA while she was making Who’s the Boss?.

In the end even Gretzky says that if he could change everything he’s not sure he would. There are a lot of things that could be very different if Peter Pocklington hadn’t called Bruce McNall. But you know what they say, ‘if ifs and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas.” The only thing we do know is that Wayne Gretzky is the greatest player and icon in the history of hockey. And 21 years later Wayne Gretzky being traded is still one of the biggest things that has ever happened in professional sports.

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Reviewing The Gretzky Trade, 21 Years Later.

Now, this isn’t exactly like the sale of Babe Ruth the Yankees by the Red Sox in 1920. It’s not like Peter Pocklington pulled a Harry Frazee and used the cash to make some bad musicals or anything. And the Oilers even won 1 more Stanley Cup after Gretzky left so there was no “Curse of The Great One” like there was the “Curse of The Bambino”. But at the end of the day both moves boiled down to being the sales of the best player in their sports.

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