Saturday, August 09, 2008

Wayne Gretzky and THE Trade - 20 years later

I know I was shocked a couple of weeks ago when Ken Griffey Jr and Manny Ramirez switched teams in baseball. While they were somewhat sudden, they're still not going to change the face of the game.

It was 20 years ago today that THE trade happened. It wasn't a baseball trade or a football trade. It was a hockey deal. Yes, that little sport that can't even garner the same ratings as pro bowling. When Wayne Gretzky was sent from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, it was and remains the biggest trade in the modern sports era.

Even if you've never watched a hockey game before in your life, chances are you've heard of "The Great One." For the sport he did more than Michael Jordan did for basketball. Perhaps his lone contemporary so far as raising a sport to another level of exposure is Tiger Woods.

In Canada Gretzky was as close as you could get to a living god. Children worshiped him with their hockey cards, pillow cases, action figures (no, they weren't dolls), lunch boxes and, of course, jerseys. He was the spokesman for ProStars cereal and even went on to star in a Saturday-morning cartoon with the same name, fighting alongside Jordan and a larger-than-life Bo Jackson.

Gretzky holds virtually every major career record in the NHL including most points, goals and assists. Nobody else comes close. He made hockey look easy, making ridiculous no-look passes akin to a point guard in basketball.There is an aura of legend around Gretzky, some of which may not truly be understood.

Although, for now, hockey laments in its status as the "number four" sport in the United States behind baseball, football and basketball, it is still king in Canada and in many other parts of the world. In going to Los Angeles Gretzky was able to get the game much more exposure (think David Backham but with someone who actually made a difference to his team rather than being a traveling novelty attraction). Ironically, although he made the Kings a much better team, Gretzky failed to win another Stanley Cup after leaving Edmonton. On the flip side, the Oilers won another Cup just a couple of years later. Oilers fans might have wondered, "What if?" had number 99 stuck around a couple of more years and finished out his contract, but that final Cup win certainly did take away some of the sting left by the sudden trade.

Here's an excellent video story from TSN (Canada's ESPN) that sheds an honest and in-depth light on how the trade came to be.

Cool compilation of career highlights:

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