It's was 20 years ago today on August 9, 1988 that teary-eyed Wayne Gretzky was shipped to the Los Angeles Kings from his beloved Edmonton Oilers. Never again did The Great One play above the 49th parallel again.
However, the trade has more of a back story than you might think. Gretzky had a major role in the dealings between the Oilers owner Peter Pocklington and Kings owner Bruce MacNall.
Wanting to get his fair market value at the time, Gretzky was determined to see how he stacked up against other players. Getting paid below what many others were getting at the time, the deal may have been a future builder for the Oilers, but shocked and angered many Oiler faithful.
Yet Gretzky said if a trade were to happen, Pocklington and MacNall should include Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski. When the deal was all said and done, the Oilers received rookie phenom Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, and $15 million US up front.
Why would Pocklington trade Gretzky away at the peak of his career? Simple. Money.
Many have blamed the trade on the fact that Pocklington was too flamboyant with his money spending and could not afford to keep the Oiler dynasty intact for much more than a decade.
Even though Gretzky had seen better point production earlier in his Oiler career―212 points in 1981-82, 205 in 1983-84, 208 in 1984-85, and a career-high 215 in 1985-86―Pocklington knew full well Gretzky's worth in the market. And despite a drop in points during the 1987-88 season from 183 to 149, Gretzky was still the best player in the NHL.
Gretzky would never be the same though after he left Edmonton. He would break all the biggest records in LA black and silver, including reaching the 2000 point plateau, breaking Gordie Howe's 801 goal record, along with his 1851 point record.
Despite the milestones, Gretzky's numbers went down. His first season in LA was his best. He notched 54 goals and 168 points. From there, Gretzky would lead the Kings to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1993.
Gretzky was still that dynamic player that could make those around him play better. He has a firm grasp on the NHL scoring title after winning the Art Ross Trophy in 1993-94 with 130 points. He would never have another 100 point season as he was not happy with his situation in LA.
"At the time I was doing it, I don't really think I really got it," commented Kings former owner Bruce MacNall. "Looking back, now I see it had a big, big impact."
And so it did. It changed the landscape of the NHL. With Gretzky in LA, the game took off in the US South with expansion teams coming into Anaheim, Dallas, Florida, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Nashville, San Jose, and Atlanta.
Yet the trade left a bitter taste in the mouth of many Oiler and Canadian fans. Money and the big neighbour to the south took Canada's greatest hockey star away from them and he never returned. At the same time, the move and the aftermath of the trade with teams such as Winnipeg and Quebec City moving down south gave many fans a feeling of betrayal.
And now 20 years later, we still see how the Gretzky trade―the greatest trade in history―is still impacting the game of hockey.