Oilers trading Wayne Gretzky to the Kings is still shocking

wayne gretzky
Mar 13, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The statue of Wayne Gretzky watches over an empty Rogers Place as the NHL suspends games because of the COVID-19 outbreak at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Wayne Gretzky was traded!”

I remember hearing that and being totally shocked. Why in the world would the Edmonton Oilers trade the greatest hockey player to ever lace them up? It was unfathomable then and it still is today.

August 9, 1988 is a landmark date not only in the NHL but all of sports. News flashes across North America relayed Wayne Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski, and Marty McSorely were traded to the Los Angeles Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first-round picks and $15 million.

Peter Pocklington, who owned the Oilers at the time sat with general manager Glen Sather at Edmonton’s Molson House to discuss the trade. Beside them was a teary-eyed Gretzky along with Bruce McNall, the Kings owner.

“I told Mess I wouldn’t do this,” Gretzky began. “But as I said, there comes a time when…”

And that was it. Wayne mentioned his good friend Mark Messier and broke down unable to say anything more.

Looking back, the Oilers didn’t think Gretzky was likely going to re-sign in Edmonton and opted to take the Kings offer (and money). Wayne had also just married actress Janet Jones and felt this was a good opportunity for him and the game of hockey to grow.

“I believe [Gretzky] has earned the right to determine his own destiny,” he said. “We are not replacing Wayne Gretzky in this trade. You cannot replace Wayne Gretzky. … It’s like losing a son. He’s been more than a hockey player to me.”

Peter Pocklington, via NHL.com

Wayne Gretzky traded to the Kings

wayne gretzky traded
Jun 10, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Former NHL player Wayne Gretzky is interviewed after game five of the 2019 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena. The Golden State Warriors won 106-105. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Wayne’s trade to the Kings did indeed popularize the sport to a broader U.S. audience. He’s widely considered a key reason why there are hockey teams in the Sunbelt. The state of California saw the Sharks join the league in 1991 and the Ducks in 1993. Florida also received franchises with the Panthers in 1993 after the Lightning joined in 1992.

The “Great One” as he’s been dubbed, started shooting tennis balls at his grandmother as soon as he could stand. He learned the game being glued to Hockey Night in Canada with a notepad and a pencil. While watching he would just draw where the puck was going because he wanted to see where the puck was on the ice most of the time.

It soon became apparent to him that setting up behind the net was a great way to generate offense and pick up points. That spot behind the goal is now officially known as Gretzky’s Office.

Number 99 holds or shares 61 NHL records. He is the game’s all-time leading goal scorer (894), assist getter (1962), and point producer (2856). Matter of fact, had Gretzky never scored a goal, he’d still be the all-time leader in points by 41, over Jaromir Jagr’s 1921 points.

When Gretzky was traded by the Oilers, he had led the team 4 Stanley Cups. Individually, Wayne won 8 Hart Trophy titles as NHL MVP, 7 scoring titles, and 2 Conn Smythe’s as playoffs MVP.

Which is why the trade is so stunning.

When was the last time a player was dealt at the height of their career like that? Wilt Chamberlain going from the Philadelphia 76ers to L.A. Lakers in 1968 is the closest one I can think of. However, Wayne was 27 and Wilt was 31 when it happened.

In the end, Gretzky proved that he was not only the greatest hockey player of all-time but that anyone can be traded.