Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Trade: 23 years later

August 9, 1988, is a day that lives in infamy for fans of both the Edmonton Oilers and Canadian hockey. Wayne Gretzky wasn't the only one shedding tears as he said goodbye at a press conference announcing his trade to the Los Angeles Kings. Fans wept, members of Parliament raged and the media soaked it all in.

It became known simply as The Trade.

At the end of the 1987-88 season, there was no reason to believe that Edmonton’s own version of Camelot would soon end. Gretzky had just raised the Stanley Cup over his head to conclude another banner season. The Oilers won their fourth Cup in five seasons, and Gretzky had wowed the League with a 149-point campaign despite missing 16 regular-season games to injury.

In July, he married actress Janet Jones in an extravagant wedding, and Oilers fans believed that hockey’s new royal couple would make Alberta their permanent home.

However, soon after the marriage, there were rumors that Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington was facing financial difficulties. Nelson Skalbania, the man who had sold Gretzky’s contract to Pocklington in 1978, knew of the difficulties and worked on brokering a deal that would send Gretzky to the Winnipeg Jets.

As the Jets continued to work out a deal, coin-dealer-turned-millionaire Bruce McNall, the new owner of the Los Angeles Kings, made the cash-strapped Pocklington an offer for Gretzky's services. In a deal that would send a needed $15 million to Pocklington, McNall bought the Oilers franchise player.

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