THE TRADE: AN OUTSIDER'S LOOK

Robin Brownlee
August 08 2013 07:51PM

Twenty-five years after the sale of Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in a deal orchestrated by Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, there are still plenty of hockey fans in this town who speak with a great deal of passion about Aug. 9, 1988. Is it any wonder?

I, however, am not one of them. By the time I arrived in Edmonton in December 1989, Gretzky, the best player ever to take a twirl in the NHL, was long gone. The Oilers were Mark Messier's team. There was a fifth Stanley Cup to come for Pocklington's Gretzky-less Oilers. I missed all the fuss.

When I did get here, it was as a relatively young sportswriter. I was sent to follow future HHOF writer and long-time Oiler beat man Jim Matheson around what was then Northlands Coliseum as his back-up on the hockey beat. I had no history with the Oilers, no road stories to tell about the Boys on the Bus. I was an objective observer, writing sidebars all the way through that fifth Cup, learning as I went under Matheson, who knew everything and had history with absolutely everybody on that team.

My memories of the Oilers as a fan, in the days before I stopped cheering for anybody -- around 1982 when I entered journalism school -- was of Gretzky and his pals beating my hometown Vancouver Canucks for fun. Not long after getting into the NHL, they were way too good for the Canucks.

The Oilers were way too good for a lot of teams, except save the New York Islanders, for a few years at least. And that Gretzky kid, the one Nelson Skalbania handed over to Edmonton, well, it was obvious he was something special, that he'd live up to the hype, even as a rookie. Oilers fans saw that up-close-and personal. I saw it, and the talents of No. 99's supporting cast, only when Edmonton came to wax the Canucks or, once in a while, on TV.

GREATNESS FROM AFAR

While the sale of Gretzky sent shock waves through the entire sports world, including the newsroom at the Kamloops Daily News, Gretzky's teary farewell at Molson House alongside a stone-faced Pocklington didn’t move me even a bit. While outraged fans in Edmonton burned Peter Puck in effigy, The Trade was nothing more than a news event, albeit a big one, to me.

I only got to know the Great One after he was gone – as a reporter interviewing him with Bruce McNall's Kings, during his cup of coffee with the St. Louis Blues and with the New York Rangers, who won a Stanley Cup with a bunch of old Oilers before Gretzky arrived for his swan song in Manhattan. I knew Gretzky as a coach in a forgettable stint with the Phoenix Coyotes. Through all that, Matheson, who was waiting when Gretzky arrived in Edmonton as a pimply-faced teenager, filled in the blanks.

I'd chat with Gretzky at morning skates or we'd have a coffee here or there, like when we bumped into No. 99 at our hotel in Phoenix during a road trip or when he came through Edmonton for his jersey retirement or for the Heritage Classic. By then, all the magic fans here witnessed on the way to those first four Cups was a warm and fuzzy memory in the rear-view mirror for the Great One. My recollections of Gretzky and most of the stories about him come after the fact. I missed all the fun.

It's for all the above reasons that, as fans mark the 25th anniversary of The Trade, your perspective is far more pointed and passionate than mine. I've never tortured myself with what could have been. You have. How many Cups would the Oilers have won had Pocklington not sold Gretzky? I'd like to hear your stories, your angle, your perspective on what unfolded Aug. 9, 1988 and what it's meant to be an Oilers fan since then.

From Gretzky's point of view, there's a quote in a recent piece in The Hockey News by Adam Proteau from No. 99 that sums up pretty well his feelings about being the centerpiece of the Glory Days in Edmonton as an Oiler.

"Listen, Edmonton became a home for me," Gretzky told THN. "Mark Messier is an Edmonton boy. He was their son, and I’d say I was their adopted son. Really at no time over my career there did I consider people to be fans; I know they’re fans, but I became more friends with the people. They were always good to me.

"In the whole unfolding of this thing, as is the case in a lot of these instances, the people who got hurt the most are the people who were the most innocent – and that’s the third party, the fans. So from that point of view, it was difficult for me. I love everything about hockey, but the one thing I hated in my career was playing as an opponent in Edmonton. It was always very difficult for me."

READ ALL ABOUT IT . . .

The Edmonton Journal, as you'd expect, is doing a take-out on the Gretzky trade and a lot of what you'll read comes from Matheson, who knows No. 99 better than any scribe still toting a notepad. If you want to access the electronic version of the section, you can link to it AFTER 12:01 a.m. tonight here. The link won't be live until then.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 D
August 09 2013, 10:30PM
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719 wrote:

I love Gretzky as much as the next guy, still idolize him, but Gretzky wanted to be traded to L.A.

Facts:

1. Gretzky would not sign an extension, he wanted to see what his value on the open market was.

2. He was in Bruce McNall's office right after the Oiler's won the stanley cup. Why would he be there? Bruce McNall himself said this when he said Gretzky was in his office when Peter Pocklington just happened to call.

3. Gretzky helped Bruce McNall structure the deal, he got his protectors included in the deal. So he knew the deal was going down very early and was working on it with McNall.

4. Gretzky married a girl from California, and its obvious he liked the lifestyle down there (still lives there).

We always blame Pocklington, but Gretzky also shoulders the blame. In the end we won another cup and Gretzky never did, we won the trade IMHO.

This is the type of information that has been passed around by quite a few people for a long time and has been refuted by McNall and to an extent, Pocklington himself.

1. Gretzky would not sign an extension. This is incorrect - Gretzky would not sign an extension without a no trade clause, which of course Pocklington would not give because Pocklington had other plans. http://coyotes.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=428208

2. In McNall's office right after the Oilers won the Cup. Incorrect. It was well into the summer, and after Walter told his son that the Oilers were trying to trade him hours after they won the 88 Cup. Even then, Gretzky did not want to go to LA - by Bruce McNall's own admission. It was only after that telephone call, and Pocklington bad-mouthing Gretzky on the speaker-phone, that Gretzky decided that he would move to the Kings. http://www.edmontonjournal.com/sports/hockey/edmonton-oilers/gretzky-trade/he-would-still-trade-him-again/index.html

3. Gretzky helped McNall structure the deal. Yes - after the writing was on the wall.

4. California lifestyle. That didn't stop Gretzky from leaving for St. Louis and New York - neither of which has any likeness to the California lifestyle.

Would Gretzky have left Edmonton eventually? With an owner like Pocklington, in all likeliness, yes. But if you are so certain that Gretzky also shoulders the blame, I would ask this question: If Daryl Katz was the owner of the Edmonton Oilers in 1988, would we even be having this discussion?

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#52 DSF
August 08 2013, 09:03PM
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OilFan wrote:

Just a heads-up that, in the book he wrote in 1999 commemorating the Oilers 20th anniversary, he said he didn't get the news. FYI.

His headline writer did.

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#53 Reg Dunlop
August 08 2013, 09:14PM
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My folks had season's tickets from '72 to '84 and I saw the Wayner hundreds of games. He did things on the ice that no one else had ever done or ever will do. He was sublime, and because of that and the unofficial 'no-hit rule', #99 was not universally liked even in Edmonton. I used to golf with a tough old bird named John Carp who played minor pro in the pre-expansion days and he continually railed about why doesn't someone take the body on that skinny kid. He absolutely hated Gretz and likely the success he enjoyed. I struggled as a player and being the same age as #99, I am sure my envy led to the same kind of thoughts. In fact, when coach Drake brought his pal Tom Watt(Jets coach) in to speak to us Bears prospects, Watt admitted that there existed a do-not-crush attitude when it came to Wayne as he was good for the game, especially financially for all other NHLers. Why else did Toronto's Bill McCreary disappear after snot-bubbling Gretz?

Anyway, RB is correct when he says Edmontonians who lived through the sale remain emotional to this day. 25 years later there is still graffiti on the wall where I work that reads 'Oilers minus 99 equals zero', of course with the zero scratched out and 'Stanley' added in 1990.

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#54 Oilbaron
August 08 2013, 11:46PM
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thank god I was too young to care about this. Man would I have been sad

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#55 The Soup Fascist
August 09 2013, 07:32AM
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D wrote:

One of the worst days in my life.

How many cups? I think an argument could be made that they would have won in 89, 91 (when they made it to the semifinals without half the dynasty team), 92 (semifinals again), 93 when the Oilers West (Kings) made it to the finals, and 94 when the Oilers East (Rangers) won it all.

To be an Oilers fan since then, for me is to live pretty much the rest of my life wondering "what if?"

Oops. Double post. Extra salty 25 year old tears must have shorted out the old iPhone touchpad.

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#56 The Soup Fascist
August 09 2013, 08:10AM
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@Robin Brownlee

A serious question. WTF was the deal with "Molson House"? I realize it was 25 years ago but the Gretzky presser looks like it took place in my Uncle Jeb's basement.

Not sure if Molson House was around when you arrived in good old "our town" but could someone in the Oilers PR department not have found a nice hotel meeting room without faux wood panneling?

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#57 Ryan2
August 09 2013, 08:48AM
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WRT how many more cups, if I recall correctly, Gretzky said he passed on 2-3 or something like that in a recent documentary (20 year anniversary?) about the trade. It would have been great to have seen an Oilers/Pens final with Gretz vs. Mario. That type of final would have been huge for the game.

The better question is this - if Gretzky had not been traded how many cups would the Flames have won? ;)

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#58 D
August 09 2013, 10:32AM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

In the 30 for 30 episode "A King' s Ransom" - which is excellent by the way - when director Peter Berg asked him how many more cups they would have won had the Oilers stayed intact, I believe Gretszky said "at least four more". So you are pretty much bang on.

One interesting part was how good a deal "monetarily" it was for McNall. Twenty five years ago $15 million seemed like a ton of money. But the first year alone the Kings went up in attendance by like 10,000 per game. I am guessing on numbers a bit, but if tickets averaged $25 a game for 40 home games, McNall added $ 10 million to the King's coffers (or his own pocket) each year. And that is not counting a single beer, popcorn or jersey sold.

On a side note, with McNall and Pocklington both being convicted felons, a doff of the chapeau to everyone one schlepping off to work this morning. We may not be "wealthy savvy entrepreneurs", but the bulk of us have never had bracelets around our ankles while serving house arrest or on parole either.

Following up on your last paragraph Soup Fascist, I've watched this Pocklington video a dozen times this week. It helps salve the wound a little. http://youtu.be/QFnBgTVitRw

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#59 Rocket
August 09 2013, 01:30PM
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Wow, 25 years ago. Feels like yesterday. I'm really digging all the media coverage on the anniversary.

I'm totally gonna pop in a VHS tape of 80's Oilers moments I recorded & remember what it was like to cheer for a team that won consistently in Edmonton.

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#60 tileguy
August 09 2013, 09:34AM
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what soup guy wrote x 2. no make that a 1000.

On a side note, with McNall and Pocklington both being convicted felons, a doff of the chapeau to everyone one schlepping off to work this morning. We may not be "wealthy savvy entrepreneurs", but the bulk of us have never had bracelets around our ankles while serving house arrest or on parole either.

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#61 match16
August 09 2013, 10:39AM
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andrewmk20 wrote:

I understand you are trying to get your point across and that internet blogs don't really use proper sentence structure and punctuation but please stop destroying the English language.

Although I agree that a continuing theme for DSF is that he continually alludes that he was an insider when it comes to anything Oilers. Brag to friends and family about being all knowing when it comes to the Oilers. Otherwise stick to the subject matter that is being discussed on the blog.

haha... "friends"

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#62 2004Z06
August 09 2013, 02:57PM
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I was 17 at the time and this was not the last of Pocklingtons influence in my life. After meeting Wayne on several occasions as a kid, one could not help but think of him as family. My brother and I were devastated that day as Oiler fans but a little less than 2 years later, Peter puck struck again. My father, a supervisor for Swift's meats, lost his job along with hundreds of others. In 1990, the provincial government took over the company after Pocklington defaulted on a $6-million loan. The province sold the company, including the Swift’s facility on 66th Street, to Burns Meats in 1994.

On another note, anyone else remember the "Puck the plastic dragon" song?

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#63 PutzStew
August 08 2013, 11:34PM
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Sorry Brownlee. I screwed up and had to try the link. It's only 11:30 but it works.

Really great pieces on it too.

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#64 Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate
August 09 2013, 05:56AM
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I was Sixteen, and

I thought, Peter Puck You SUCK.

I cried for two days

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#65 Oilcruzer
August 09 2013, 08:06AM
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Citizen David wrote:

I know you'll deny it Brownlee, but I have never bought it for a second that the media personnel don't cheer for teams. You may have to bury it when you write or talk so that your work is objective but no way would you not care if Edmonton stank, as they have, or not be pleased with them winning another Stanley cup. If I was a writer and had to move to Buffalo to cover the Sabres, it would turn me into a Sabres fan. If I had to cover the Stars, it would turn me into a Stars fan.

Sounds good in theory but blood (or Oil) is thicker than water.

Your heritage never leaves you. If you grew up a fan of a team, that team becomes part of you. I have lived in BC for three years. Didn't hate them before I moved. Can't cheer for them though.

Gretzky, Coffey, Messier... the list goes on. All started their NHL career in Edmonton. They all go into the hall fondly talking about their roots, as an Oiler.

In RB's case, his roots aren't from growing up waving the Oil flag. Might be a bit different if a writer was covering the first team he grew up with.

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#66 I tried it at home
August 09 2013, 12:23PM
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@SrCain

Exactly what I meant to post, you beat me to it. Well said, sir. I was pissed at the time too, but I didn't take it personally, just another one of life's disappointments. Let's hope the drama queens get it out of their systems this time so we don't have to listen to it anymore.

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#67 D
August 09 2013, 02:06PM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

@ D

Thanks for the video. Pretty shocking the guy was convicted of perjury after reporting less than $3000 in assets and almost $20 million in debt.

Had to be a bunch of Columbo's working at Ye Olde Bankruptcy office to solve that one.

This guy blamed EVERYBODY but himself for everything that went south in his life:

- Gretzky wanted the trade.

- His lawyer screwed up the bankruptcy papers that he signed.

- The engraver messed up and put Puck's Dad's name on the Cup.

- His campaign manager was responsible for his collapse during the ill-fated run for the Prime Minister's office

- HHOF writer Jim Matheson "made up" the crocodile tears and ego as big as Manhattan quotes about Gretzky.

The list goes on and on ....

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but the guy is a serial liar who would sell his grandmother if it meant a buck for himself. My contempt for Petey boy goes way beyond the Gretzky trade.

Serenity now ... serenity now.

He's still at it. In a recent interview (in the last 48 hours or so), the host asked him if the NHL could have intervened in the Gretzky trade and quash the deal like they often do today. Pocklington said no (which would have been a fine answer), but then added something along the lines of "it was a personal services contract, and no league could interfere with one of those."

We all know that after Peter tried to take the Oilers public in 1987, the personal services contract was renegotiated to an NHL contract. Peter just can't help himself when it comes to telling lies.

Here's the interview I believe: http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/pocklington-mcnall-recall-gretzky-trade

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#68 Bruner
August 09 2013, 02:38PM
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Oilcruzer wrote:

Saw many key moments live, his first goal, his 50th in 39, the contract he signed with the Oilers til 1999 that he didn't want to sign (funny he retired in 1999)... I'll never forget the OT shorty against Calgary in game 2 and the roar of SWEEP SWEEP in game 4...

It hurt. A lot.

Let it be known. This was not a trade. It was a sale.

Peter Puck was nothing more than a pyramid scheme businessman. Buying a company, using the equity to leverage another purchase and so on and so on.

I have nothing good to say about that day. May have been the best thing ever for players as the market grew, and demand outgrew supply.

Salaries went up and now Joe Fan can't afford to take his family to see what I grew up with.

Thanks Peter.

With or without Gretzky/Pocklington/Mcnall the salaries still would have gone up and it still would suck for Joe Fan. It's always been a business and there was always money to be made

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#69 The Soup Fascist
August 09 2013, 04:36PM
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2004Z06 wrote:

I was 17 at the time and this was not the last of Pocklingtons influence in my life. After meeting Wayne on several occasions as a kid, one could not help but think of him as family. My brother and I were devastated that day as Oiler fans but a little less than 2 years later, Peter puck struck again. My father, a supervisor for Swift's meats, lost his job along with hundreds of others. In 1990, the provincial government took over the company after Pocklington defaulted on a $6-million loan. The province sold the company, including the Swift’s facility on 66th Street, to Burns Meats in 1994.

On another note, anyone else remember the "Puck the plastic dragon" song?

That was an amusing little ditty. Best part of the song...

"Little Waynie Gretzky, loved that rascal Puck,

And Puck loved Wayne, but not as much as 18 million bucks!"

Gotta see if I can find a copy of that baby somewhere .......

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#70 Quicksilver ballet
August 09 2013, 10:33PM
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@719

The part of seeing what he's worth is accurate. The part about wanting to be traded isn't. It wasn't till Wayne found out he was being shopped that he began to think it was a possible reality.

Wayne would've remained an Oiler if Pocklington had remained patient and see what he was worth that summer. He got 8 from the Kings, but i'm sure he would've given the Oilers/Pocklington the hometown discount. 6.75-7 per season, probably would have kept him in Oiler colors another 5 yrs, me thinks.

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#71 K_Mart
August 09 2013, 12:58AM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

I was 5 when Gretzky was traded. I have a bit of a different take on The Trade

Good stuff. I was 4 yrs old.

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#72 Archaeologuy
August 09 2013, 09:57AM
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@John Chambers

Thanks! That Jimmy Carson sweater would be tough to wear around though. Yikes.

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#73 Citizen David
August 09 2013, 10:03AM
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Oilcruzer wrote:

Sounds good in theory but blood (or Oil) is thicker than water.

Your heritage never leaves you. If you grew up a fan of a team, that team becomes part of you. I have lived in BC for three years. Didn't hate them before I moved. Can't cheer for them though.

Gretzky, Coffey, Messier... the list goes on. All started their NHL career in Edmonton. They all go into the hall fondly talking about their roots, as an Oiler.

In RB's case, his roots aren't from growing up waving the Oil flag. Might be a bit different if a writer was covering the first team he grew up with.

Three years isn't enough time. I know a guy who grew up in Calgary, so obviously was a Flames fan. He moved to Edmonton for work quite some time ago. I remember him telling me one day he was watching a Flames Oilers game and the Oilers scored. Without even thinking about it he jumped up and cheered. Then he said guess I'm an Oilers fan now. If I moved somewhere the Oilers would always be number one. But I would be drawn to the local team. Because of the accessibility and the common fans being everywhere.

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#74 MessyEH!
August 09 2013, 10:09AM
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DSF wrote:

My Story:

Just want to set the record straight.

Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun was the first to learn that Gretzky had been traded.

However, since he couldn't publish until the next morning, (and no Twitter at the time) his info was leaked to CFRN Radio, now the Team 1260.

We went with the story in the evening before the morning papers were published although the station's sports staff, who shall remain nameless, had to be threatened with their jobs to follow up on the story since they couldn't believe this was actually happening.

More than a few "journalists" have claimed they "broke" the Gretzky trade story but Jones had the info first and CFRN made it public first.

Thank you for sharing. I recall you mentioned being there on the day of THE TRADE.

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#75 Bucknuck
August 09 2013, 04:40PM
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Worst. Day. Ever. I thought my step-dad was pulling my leg, until he started really swearing. It was a scary day to be in my house. If Peter Puck would have opened the door to our house that day, he would have been murdered.

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#76 SrCain
August 09 2013, 05:12PM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

You are right. Let's talk more current and relevant hockey news going on in early August.

Hmmm ....

Let's see ..... Wasn't it Sid's birthday or something ???? ....

Err ...... Um ......

How about you start us off?

Well lets see, there's NFL training camps going on, world junior exhibition games, steroids in baseball, but no, lets instead keep talking about a supposedly painful memory from 25 years ago instead, cause that's fun. I wonder if the Cavs will rehash LJ decision to sign with Miami in 25yrs, or maybe the Colts will have a cry session about Manning leaving. It is a slow news season in sports, but it would be nice if the msm could show a little creativity and find something else interesting to write or talk about between dozens of sports and decades of history.

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#77 SrCain
August 09 2013, 07:03PM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

All wonderful and interesting stories to discuss.

You do know this is O-I-L-E-R-S Nation right?

The name kind of implies that topics will be ..... you know ...... related to the OILERS.

I do get that. However ON is the only site I comment on, so I decided to use it as my place to show how annoyed I am that all week long I've had to hear about 'the trade'. To talk about it just on the actual day it happened is fine, but to have a week of talking leading up to the day it happened is too much.

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#78 SrCain
August 09 2013, 08:21PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

You haven't "had" to do anything. Your choice what and if you read, what and if you listen to. Simple as that. Stop snivelling.

I never said I "had" to do anything Brownlee. I simply stated that I'm disappointed in the content from all types of local media this week. My apologies for upsetting your delicate media loving feelings. I would've thought that you would be able to handle a little criticism, especially since it wasn't directed at you specifically. I shouldn't be surprised, your always whining at other peoples comments.

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#79 719
August 09 2013, 09:58PM
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I love Gretzky as much as the next guy, still idolize him, but Gretzky wanted to be traded to L.A.

Facts:

1. Gretzky would not sign an extension, he wanted to see what his value on the open market was.

2. He was in Bruce McNall's office right after the Oiler's won the stanley cup. Why would he be there? Bruce McNall himself said this when he said Gretzky was in his office when Peter Pocklington just happened to call.

3. Gretzky helped Bruce McNall structure the deal, he got his protectors included in the deal. So he knew the deal was going down very early and was working on it with McNall.

4. Gretzky married a girl from California, and its obvious he liked the lifestyle down there (still lives there).

We always blame Pocklington, but Gretzky also shoulders the blame. In the end we won another cup and Gretzky never did, we won the trade IMHO.

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#80 SrCain
August 09 2013, 10:34PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

"I do get that. However ON is the only site I comment on, so I decided to use it as my place to show how annoyed I am that all week long I've had to hear about 'the trade'."

First, those are YOUR words. So, you never said you "had" to do anything? Looks like you said exactly that, no?

Second, my response to you had nothing to do with not being able to handle criticism. It's based on having no patience for the total waste of time that is snivelling about something nobody forces you to read or listen to. Now, you've compounded matters by denying you said it when it's here for all to see.

Lastly, a heads up: write another word or turn another phrase directed at me that I don't like and you're done here. I promise. Got it?

Fair enough. Since I am an avid 1260 listener, and much prefer it to 630, in my eyes I "had" to listen to it. Listening to the radio helps me get through my work day. I'll admit to my mistake in how my thoughts appeared in type. EDIT: You could have stopped there, but you didn't. So . . .

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#81 madjam
August 10 2013, 06:22AM
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Gretzky may have been led out by Janet's request ?

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