The Impact of the Wayne Gretzky Trade on the NHL

The Impact of the Wayne Gretzky Trade on the NHL

With our third post on the 25th Anniversary of the Wayne Gretzky trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings we take a high level look at the impact the trade had on the National Hockey League.  If you missed our first two posts, be sure to check out:

The Wayne Gretzky Trade 25 Years Later

The Impact of the Wayne Gretzky Trade (on hockey fans)

So just how much of an impact did the Wayne Gretzky trade have on the NHL?  Well let’s examine how the trade went down.

Players Involved in the Wayne Gretzky Trade

Los Angeles Kings All-Time TeamTo Los Angeles

  • Wayne Gretzky
  • Marty McSorely
  • Mike Krushelnyski


Edmonton Oilers To Edmonton

  • Jimmy Carson
  • Martin Gelinas
  • 3 First Round draft picks
    • 1989 drat pick – traded to the New Jersey Devils – New Jersey selected Jason Miller
    • 1991 the Oilers selected Martin Rucinsky
    • 1993 the Oilers selected Nick Stajduhar
  • $15 million US cash

So the winner in the trade?  From a financial perspetive Oilers then owner Peter Pocklington.  From a hockey perspective, the Los Angeles Kings as they were getting the best player and players in the deal.  From a retrospective perspective, the Edmoton Oilers as they would go on to win yet another Stanley Cup in 1990.  Players, coaches, and even the players involved were in disbelief.  Mike Krushelnyski was later quoted as saying that: “(The trade) went against the grain. The Stanley Cup was not the priority. Neither was the team, nor the people. Money was. Plain and simple.”

There are four main areas in which the Gretzky trade impacted the NHL:

  1. Wayne Gretzky is reason for NHL expansion into sun-belt markets – there would be no Anaheim Ducks, there would be no Phoenix Coyotes, there would be no San Jose Sharks, there would be no Florida Panthers, there would be no Tampa Bay Lightning had Wayne Gretzky not been traded to the Los Angeles Kings.
  2. The emergence of hockey in California would have not had happened – in the early nineties there was a surge of interest in hockey in southern California.  Roller Hockey leagues were all over the place and kids in So-Cal found a new sport of interest.  Michael Farber in conjunction with TSN has a great report on this on what they called ” Gretzky’s Childeren”.  There is no doubt that Wayne Gretzky redefined sports and hockey California and in the southern States.  The Kings instantly became one of the NHL’s marquee teams.  Current Oilers’s GM Craig MacTavish stated: “I don’t think you can understate that, the importance of Wayne and how he brought hockey to California. Even when he was playing in Edmonton, he really transcended the sport of hockey. He made hockey sexy again. He was the greatest athlete in any of the big four sports at that time and he had a real allure because he always delivered. He was a drawing card for people that weren’t even hockey fans.”
  3. Only three Canadian teams have won the Stanley Cup since the Gretzky trade – only the Calgary Flames in 1989, the Edmonton Oilers in 1990 and the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 have won the Stanley Cup since Wayne Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles in August of 1988.  That’s basically one in every eight years since the trade.  One of the negative impacts for Canadian hockey fans is that US expansion has limited the ability of Canadian markets to hoist the Stanley Cup.  Canadian teams have only reached the Stanley Cup finals on five occasions (excluding the three teams above) with Vancouver (1994, 2010), Calgary (2004) and Edmonton (2006) all losing in game sevens of the Stanley Cup Finals.  Ottawa made it to the finals as well but lost out to Anaheim in five games. You have to think that had Wayne Gretzky not been traded to the Los Angeles Kings, the Oilers would have most likely won another 3-4 Cups as opposed to just the one that they won without the Great One.
  4. The game of hockey turned into the business of hockey – there is no question that this trade was done for business reasons.  I’ve read all of the books, I’ve followed it in the papers, I’ve relived this trade in the 25 years since it has happened and Peter Pocklington made a business deal, not a hockey deal.  As TSN suggests, “When then-Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall tore up Gretzky’s 25-year, $25 million contract, it changed the game and the very definition of a player’s worth.”  For better or worse, how NHL players were paid now changed.  If Wayne Gretzky could be traded (sold) anyone could be traded.  Look at all of the transaction now as the NHL’s salary cap goes down this season.  Lockouts aside hockey is a business and the business of hockey is good.  You have to credit Wayne Gretzky for elevating the status of the game of hockey in the US markets.  The game is currently experiencing record profits.  Whether you believe it or not, Wayne Gretzky had a dramatic impact on the NHL and the game of hockey that we have today.  He always said that hockey was the greatest game in the world and I agree.

I’ve never had the priveledge of meeting Wayne Gretzky, and Wayne if you ever get to read this, I would love to meet you next time you are in Kelowna, BC.  For me, Wayne Gretzky had an impact on the NHL like no one before him and like no one will after him.  He transcended the game and the NHL as one can once in a lifetime.  He loved and still loves the game of hockey.  As former LA King and Gretzky teammate Luc Robitaille states:

Winning was all Wayne cared about. He wanted to win and he was going to do whatever it took to help his team win. Wayne was a student of the game, a huge fan. If you talked to Wayne after a game, he was so aware of everybody. He knew who had goals, assists, how many shots guys on either team would have. His passion was for the game. He was aware of everything that went on on the ice. If you ask some guys, they’ll say, ‘yeah I had a good game’ but they can’t tell you much after that. Wayne was different.

While Wayne Gretzky would never win a Stanley Cup after being traded from the Edmonton Oilers, you have to think that recent Cup wins from teams like Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Dallas, Colorado, Carolina (blech) and yes even the LA Kings last year would simply not have materialized.  Perhaps those teams owe Wayne Gretzky a Stanley Cup ring?