Growing up in northern Alberta in the eighties I was a fan of the Edmonton Oilers. While my favorite player was Mark Messier, as I liked his overall style of play, the player I most respected was Wayne Gretzky. And you know, it wasn’t always cool to like Wayne Gretzky. People called him a whiner, a wimp or worse, yet Wayne Gretzky is the greatest player and point producer of all time.
On Aug. 9, 1988, the hockey world was forever changed. The greatest hockey phenom of all time was traded or sold (depending on whom you talk to. On August 9th, 1988, Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings.
The Hockey Fanatics present part one of our series on the 25th anniversary of the Wayne Gretzky trade.
The Wayne Gretzky Trade: 25 Years Later
It was one of those events that you remember exactly where you were when the news broke. I was enjoying summer vacation at home in Alberta entertaining relatives from Manitoba. I happened to turn on the TV mid-afternoon and on all of our channels (which were based out of Edmonton) rumors that a Wayne Gretzky trade was in the works dominated the airwaves. Remember this was the age before the Internet and Twitter so breaking news on television and radio was the main form of communication. Could the unthinkable happen? Could the Edmonton Oilers trade Wayne Gretzky?
Roll back to September of 1987, NHL training camps had opened and expectations were high in Edmonton that the Edmonton Oilers wold repeat as Stanley Cup champions. The Oilers had won their third Stanley Cup in four years and were riding high as the NHL’s latest dynasty. They made a few trades mid-season as they seem to do every year including a somewhat major trade sending Craig Simpson to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Little did hockey fans know at the time that this trade was nothing compared to what was upcoming 11 months later. The 1987-1988 roster for the regular season Oilers was pretty impressive consisting of the following:
Grant Fuhr played a whopping 75 games in net for the Oilers and won 40 games and had an impressive 8 assists during in the regular season. Not bad for a goalie. The Oilers would in fact go on to win their fourth Stanley Cup in five years and everything was fine in the City of Champions, Edmonton, Alberta. Early July would see Canada’s own royal wedding as Wayne Gretzky married US born actress Janet Jones in Edmonton and everything seemed fine if you were a fan of Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. That quickly unraveled in the first few days of August 1988.
Courtesy of YouTube
The unthinkable had happened… Wayne Gretzky had been traded from the Edmonton Oilers. It truly was like a death in the family. As a hockey fan and diehard fan of the Edmonton Oilers, I was in total shock and disbelief. How could this happen? How could you trade the greatest player in the world? Oilers owner Peter Pocklington instantly became the most hated man in Canada. How can we ever forget these words from Peter Pocklington:
“…that I announce, and more important confirm that the Edmonton Oilers have agreed to trade Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles….”
Wow. An unbelievable moment in the history of the game. Reaction from around Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, North America and beyond was immediate. Some of the headings in the local Edmonton papers said it all:
- Gretzky Gone – Oilers superstar now a King
- A city stumbles in shock
- The best trader (read Glen Sather) was not smiling
- Gretzky traded like a piece of meat, Coffey charges
- Oilers want Pocklington to sell, report says
- Pockliongton fires shot at Gretzky ego
- Kurri in shock over loss of Great One
- Fans in shock as news sinks in
- Pocklington not free to make trade – NDP
- Fuming over trade, fans take action
- The Greatest Trade or the Greatest Charade?
- A King-Sized Controversy!
- Trade Wasn’t Wayne’s Idea
- Furore sparks ticket policy
- Gretzky’s mates shocked, skeptical
- Great One worth every cent – Flames
- It Came Down to Dollars
I still have my scrapbook with all of the clippings. Tuesday, August 9, 1988 is a day I will never forget. Wayne Gretzky traded to the Los Angeles Kings. It is still hard for me to say that out loud. I’m still in disbelief 25 years after the trade.
In part two of the post we will look at the impact of the Wayne Gretzky trade and share some of the feelings that hockey fans communicated days after the trade.