Gretzky To The Kings: The Biggest Trade In Hockey History Happened 35 Years Ago; Can Anything Ever Top It?

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The NHL changed forever when Wayne Gretzky sat behind a table and dabbed his tears on Aug. 9, 1988. That day, the Edmonton Oilers announced that they had traded the Great One to the Los Angeles Kings.

It was easily the biggest trade in hockey history and one of the biggest in sports.

It was a turning point for the NHL as the league’s biggest star switched from playing in a smaller market in Alberta to playing in Los Angeles.

This trade was so massive, that ESPN did a documentary about it; one of the few instances they didn’t try to completely ignore the NHL.

However, the trade was bigger for the sport than it was for either team involved, but it also got me wondering: could a trade of that magnitude could ever happen again?

Gretzky Was Traded To LA In A Mega-Deal

When the Oilers and Gretzky decided to go their separate ways, they had already cemented themselves as one of the NHL’s greatest dynasties. While the New York Islanders owned the first half of the 1980s, the Oilers were the unquestioned top dog in the second half. They won Stanley Cup titles in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988.

The decision to part ways was more or less mutual, but good luck explaining that to fans. There were accusations from fans that Gretzky’s wife, Janet, wanted to be in Los Angeles for acting work. Canadian fans were upset that the best player in the world — a home-grown Canadian boy — was leaving the Great White North.

Breakups are hard.

Still, it was an emotional moment for both sides. However, the Oilers didn’t let emotions get in the way of cutting a good deal.

The trade package was substantial. It often gets overlooked that the Kings didn’t just receive Gretzky in the trade. They also received center Mike Krushelnyski and defenseman/Gretzky’s enforcer Marty McSorley. The latter was a trade requirement put forth by Gretzky himself.

While that’s a nice haul, the Kings were essentially betting the farm on immediate success. They sent center Jimmy Carson and forward Martin Gélinas to the Oilers along with first-round picks in 1989, 1991, and 1993.

Oh, and they threw in $15 million just to seal things.

The Oilers went on to win another Stanley Cup without Wayne Gretzky. Meanwhile, the Great One led the Kings to the Cup Final after winning the Campbell Conference Championship in 1993. (Getty Images)

Who Won The Trade?

So, who won this blockbuster to end all blockbusters?

If you want to look at on-ice success it was the Oilers. They still had key pieces from their four Cups like Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, and Jari Kurri in the fold, and won the Stanley Cup in 1990.

As for the Kings, they reached the Cup Final in 1993 but lost to Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens. That was as close as the Gretzky-era Kings came to a Stanley Cup victory.

But that trade had a massive impact off the ice as well. It put the league’s best player of all time in a more visible market. This helped to grow the sport and was without a doubt a factor in allowing expansion and relocation into non-traditional markets. Places like Tampa, South Florida, Arizona, Nashville and Las Vegas may not have teams had Gretzky not been dealt to the Kings.

So, back to the original question: could anything like this happen again?

The best player in the NHL is Connor McDavid. However, if he was traded, would it fundamentally change the face of the NHL the way the Wayne Gretzky trade did? (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Gretzky Trade Was One-Of-A-Kind

Let’s think about it by looking at the best player in the NHL today. I don’t think many would argue against that player being Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid.

Of course, McDavid — like Gretzky — plays in the frigid Alberta city of Edmonton. I’m sure it’s great, but it’s not the most visible place for a big-name athlete to play.

So then seeing him shipped to Los Angeles or New York or another major market would make just as big of an impact as Gretzky being dealt, right?


Nope. Gretzky was traded after winning four Stanley Cups. McDavid hasn’t been able to lead his iteration of the Oilers over the hump. I think the number of Stanley Cups is a huge factor in this discussion. The only modern players comparable to Gretzky are Tom Brady and Michael Jordan, Neither one was ever traded. They both decided to retire or sign elsewhere on their own accord.

Gretzky to LA was sort of that in Gretzky wanted out, but it still required a lot of moving pieces to get the job done.

If the top brass in Edmonton were to finally throw their hands up in frustration and ship McDavid to a new team. It’d be a big deal. If he went to a major city, you’d have celebrities jockeying for primo seats for his debut. His quest for a Stanley Cup would be the main storyline of the entire season, and there’s no doubt it would be captivating.

But still, this wouldn’t even enter the same zip code as when Gretzky was traded.

Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle

Written by Matt Reigle

Matt is a University of Central Florida graduate and a long-suffering Philadelphia Flyers fan living in Orlando, Florida. He can usually be heard playing guitar, shoe-horning obscure quotes from The Simpsons into conversations, or giving dissertations to captive audiences on why Iron Maiden is the greatest band of all time.

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  1. The Lindros trade directly built the Avalanche team that won 2 Cups, getting the Nordiques and Roy out on Canada, and sparking one of the best rivalries in the 1990s, all while fueling love/hate for the Flyers team that landed Lindros. Gretzky got the Kings to the Final to watch McSorley’s bent stick get the Canadiens another Cup before spending some mediocre years in LA before splitting to NYC. So…

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