Story #86

Gretzky trade sends shockwaves through the hockey world

EDMONTON, Canada – August 9, 1988


On the morning of August 10, 1988, the front page of the Edmonton Sun was, of course, devoted to the shocking news. The lone headline was: "99 tears". At the bottom of the page, below the photo of a young man crying, was added: More on pages: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 18, 19, 23, 30, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 46, 47.

Was this World War III? Did a man land on Mars? Had Canada defeated Brazil in the FIFA World Cup final? None of the above. Edmonton jewel and Canadian national treasure, hockey player Wayne Gretzky, was going to play in the United States. No, Gretzky wasn't getting long in the tooth. He was only 27. No, he wasn't slowing down. The best player in the world had just a couple of months earlier led the Oilers to their fourth Stanley Cup in five years and Gretzky had amassed an amazing 149 points despite missing 16 regular-season games to injury.

Did the Oilers get Taj Mahal in return? Not really. Two pretty average players plus three first round draft choices and $15 million. All this wasn't even close to reflecting Gretzky's sportive and marketing value.

Hockey people from Turku, Finland, through Ostrava, Czechoslovakia to Togliatti, Soviet Union were asking: "Why"? On the morning of August 10 "The trade" was headline news on all radio shows in Europe, even in countries where hockey was a marginal sport. Global publications such as the International Herald Tribune, which only occasionally gave hockey any attention, devoted prime space to the deal. The answer to the question was two-fold: (a) it showed that professional hockey is, after all, a business; (b) it set a benchmark which now announced that no player could anymore be considered untouchable.

To the hockey world that knew number 99 from the 1978 World Juniors, the 1981, 1984, and 1987 Canada Cups, and the 1982 World Championship (he led each of the aforementioned tournaments in scoring), Gretzky was what Pelé and Maradona were to soccer and what Magic Johnson or Larry Bird were to basketball. He was the sport. He personified it; he represented it; he promoted it through excellence on ice and commitment off it.

The trade eventually had implications on the NHL's expansion as Gretzky's move to California paved the way for a second and third franchise in that state (Anaheim and San Jose). In 1993, the same year Gretzky led the Kings to the Stanley Cup finals, Anaheim entered the league, and, ironically, when the Stanley Cup was won by a California team for the first time, in 2007, it was Anaheim. All because of the trade of the century.

 


ABOUT THE TOP 100 STORIES

As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.

 

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