He’s been called the greatest hockey player who ever laced up a pair of skates, earning his way to both the WHA and NHL in order to put in no less than 20 years of entertaining, high-scoring, award-winning sport. This man is, of course, Mr. Wayne Gretzky. Some might scoff at the idea he was the greatest, but his goal and assist records speak for themselves. When Wayne was at his best, no one could touch him. Especially when Edmonton Oiler enforcer Dave “Cement-Head” Semenko was around.
It’s been over 25 years since Wayne Gretzky was traded to the LA Kings from the Oilers. As hard as it was back then though, Peter Pocklington claims he would still have made that trade today. He felt he had no choice in passing on ‘The Great One’, as Wayne’s contract with Edmonton had come to an end and with the salaries he was being offered by other teams, Peter simply couldn’t compete.
Compared with the $20 million, 8-year deal Gretzky was offered by the Kings, the most the Oilers could muster up was $1 million per year. Wayne had been playing his heart out for ten years with the Oilers, but now it was time to move on. One of the most intriguing factors of this trade is that Wayne found out about it just 2 hours after he’d helped Edmonton win the Stanley Cup. It’s a good thing his father stayed in the know about his son’s hockey business.
Canada went insane over this trade. How dare Wayne betray his adopted city and native country for money. Back in 1988 this was considered such patriotic blasphemy that NDP leader Nelson Niis demanded the Canadian government block the trade. Of course, there was nothing the government could do about a hockey player being traded to an American team.
The streets of Edmonton were rife with anger and resentment toward Peter Pocklington and Wayne Gretzky. Still, when Wayne showed up for his first game as a King on Edmonton home ice he had managed to pack no less than 17,503 people into the arena for the event – the largest attendance to that date yet. He received a 4-minute standing ovation. Edmontonians had found it in their hearts to forgive ‘The Great One’, understanding that sometimes even the best players have to move on. Even if that hockey player at one time belonged to them.
Looking back at how we Canadians reacted to Wayne Gretzky moving to LA in 1988 it’s almost comical in relation to how things work today. Canada loses dozens of great hockey players to US teams every year and hardly a word is uttered about it.
Wayne Gretzky went on to even further greatness after he left the Oilers. He put in 10 years of exceptional hockey with the St. Louis Blues for one year and the New York Rangers for the remaining 9 seasons. Then he became a decent coach for the Phoenix Coyotes (now the Arizona Coyotes), from 2005 to 2009.
We still miss Wayne Gretzky here in Edmonton, but at least we have those 10 years of fantastic memories where he helped take our team all the way to the top of the heap no less than 4 times. Thank you Mr. Gretzky for your dedication and contributions to the game of hockey.