The Impact of the Wayne Gretzky Trade

The Impact of the Wayne Gretzky Trade

Continuing with our series on the 25th anniversary of the Wayne Gretzky trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, we look at the impact the trade had on the NHL and on hockey in general.  On August 9, 1988, a solemn Wayne Gretzky spoke to Edmonton media stating that “… I decided that for the benefit of myself, my new wife and our expected child… it would be beneficial to let me play for the Los Angeles Kings.”  A month prior, Wayne Gretzky had married US born actress Janet Jones and during the press conference announcing the trade communicated that the couple were expecting.

Some people suggested that it was Janet who convinced Wayne to be traded out of Edmonton (it wasn’t) and unfairly some blamed Gretzky’s new wife for the trade.  The reaction from fans in Edmonton was immediate, passionate and in some cases over the top.  There is no doubt that this was one of the most significant trades in the history of professional sports let alone of the NHL.  The impact of the Wayne Gretzky trade was huge.  The reaction of the fans in both Edmonton and Los Angeles was but a small part of the overall impact of the trade of Gretzky from the Oilers to the Kings.

The impact of the Wayne Gretzky trade can be measured in a number of areas:

  • the impact on hockey fans
  • the impact on the Edmonton Oilers
  • the impact on the Los Angeles Kings
  • the impact on the NHL
  • the impact of the game of hockey

We’ll examine a few of the areas and how, 25 years later, the blockbuster trade of Wayne Gretzky impacted the game of hockey.

Gretzky Trade - 25 Years LaterFans’ Reaction to the Wayne Gretzky Trade

The fans were loud and clear as to their thoughts on the trade.  The impact of the Wayne Gretzky trade on hockey fans was diverse, many were devastated, fans in LA were excited, many were in disbelief and some simply didn’t care at all.  Some of the comments from hockey fans in Edmonton:

  • “It’s really upsetting.  I never thought that I would see the day.”
  • “I’m mad at Pocklington.  How much money does he need?”
  • “I wouldn’t trust Peter Pocklington and Glen Sather with my dry cleaning.”
  • “The day the Oilers sold Wayne Gretzky was the saddest day of my life…”
  • “It’s sad that he’s letting Janet lead him around…”
  • “It was total shock.  I had just as many tears or more than Wayne.”
  • “Family shocked and mad”
  • “Maybe now Toronto and Calgary have a chance for the Cup”. – Note:  The Calgary Flames would win the Stanley Cup in 1989 the during the first season that Gretzky was a member of the Los Angeles Kings.
  • “I’m mad and I’m cancelling my Oilers’ tickets.”
  • “I’m sad.  Edmonton will never be the same without him.”
  • “I’m very happy for Wayne and very disappointed in the city of Edmonton.”
  • “I’m hurt.  It feels like I’m losing a member of the family.”
  • “Why couldn’t he have married a nice Ukrainian girls and stayed in Edmonton?”
  • “Who cares! I still won’t like the Oilers because they still have the biggest whiner in the NHL – Sather.  Way to go Wayne.”
  • “I’m honored he has chosen to do the right thing and spread his goodwill around.  He’s been a major force assisting my family and me through economic hardship.  Thanks Wayne!”
  • Janet did it.  She’s got hm tied around her finger.”
  • “I’m mad.  Wayne was sold and not traded. There’s a difference.”
  • “I’m in shock.  Edmonton is in shock.  Most of Canada is in shock.  I cannot believe they made this deal.”

Source:  Edmonton Sun.

You can see the diverse reaction.  Many were blaming Gretzky’s new wife, Janet Jones, most were fuming at then Oiler’s owner Peter Pocklington and some were simply in shock and dismay.  The impact on the fans in Edmonton was obviously quite different than what it was in the US and in Los Angeles.

  • Las Vegas odd makers had the Kings at 100-1 to win the Stanley Cup prior to the trade.  Post trade the Kings odds improved to 30-1.
  • Then coach of the LA Kings, Robbie Ftorek stated, “He knows how to win, what it takes to win, and that’s a contagious thing.  Wayne’s presence is going to improve the other players.”
  • Bruc McNall on whether Gretzky is worth as much as Magic Johnson or Kareem Abdul-Jabber were were them playing for the Los Angeles Lakers “He’s certainly in that ballpark.  There’s no question in my mind that he’s worth every bit of what Magic makes…”
  • “There is no idle comparison either.  The Kings getting a 27 year old Wayne Gretzky in 1988 is precisely the same thing as the Lakers getting a 28 year old Kareem Abdul-Jabber in 1975” from Ron Rapoport of the LA Daily News.
  • An LA cab driver had this to say following the trade:  “They put me on hold.  Can you believe it?  It used to be they gave tickets away…” re: purchasing Kings season tickets after the Gretzky trade was announced.
  • The Kings announced  that their season tickets went from 5,200 to at least 13,000 in the days after the trade was announced.  Did Wayne Gretzky have an impact on sports in Los Angeles?  Yup no question.

Outrage in Edmonton and delirium in Los Angeles was an accurate assessment of the reaction by the Herald-Examiner

Reaction around the league and the hockey world was also crazy.

  • Former Oiler Dave Lumley stated: “Edmonton with Wayne was a city with glitter.  Edmonton without Wayne is a city with a hockey team, just another city.”
  • The Brantford paper (from Gretzky’s hometown) wrote:  “All Edmontonians knew instantly that they would forever remember that precise moment, and exactly where they were, when they first heard the news that made it seem as if the earth had stopped in its tracks and the whole universe turned upside down…”
  • Winnipeg Sun columnist Pay Doyle quipped “What are they going to tell us next that Mother teresa and the Pope are secretly married?”
  • Oilers’ now Hall of Fame play-by-play man Rod Phillips was also in shock: “I’m devastated.  I can’t believe it.  It’s stunning.”
  • Paul Coffey was quoted as saying that his best friend, Wayne Gretzky was “just a piece of meat” traded for hard cash by Edmonton Oilers management.
  • Don Cherry stated “I thought he’d be like Jean Beliveau and play his whole career in the same city..”
  • Gretzky’s linemate at the time, Jari Kurri was quoted as saying: “… I’m sad to see him go.  You see a lot of trades in hockey and hear a lot of rumors, but this is something that I never expected to see happen.”
  • Luc Robitaille:  “He’ll really help us on the ice, but he’ll help us more off the ice…”
  • Dale Hawerchuk then of the Winnipeg Jets stated “The game is going to get a heck of a lot more publicity than its ever got…”

No truer words were ever spoken Dale.

Next up we will look at the impact of the Gretzky trade on the game of hockey and how the trade impacted both the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings.