“Gretzky statue”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Peter Pocklington sent Wayne Gretzky away on a Tuesday, the same instant he broke a city’s heart. Previous to August 9, 1988, Peter Puck could be defended—he brought Wayne and Stanley to our fair city—but on that day the die was cast. The story has not and will not change: It was NOT a hockey trade, it was a sale and a dirty damn deed.

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  • Janet Gretzky: “I know the real story. I know the whole story. I know Wayne didn’t
    deserve any of this. He wouldn’t let Edmonton fans, Canada and, most
    important, his teammates down without good reason.”


  • Wayne Gretzky: “I remember the first weekend I was in L.A. I was going
    by these tennis courts and I stopped the car and told my friend, ‘If we
    were in Canada, people would be playing inline and ball hockey here.’ A
    year later there was a sign on the fence that read, ‘No Inline Hockey
    Allowed.’ It’s come a long way; there are minor hockey teams in
    California now and in Arizona that can compete with the top teams in
    Canada and they’re very good. There aren’t as many, but we are getting
    to that point.”


  • Chris Cuthbert: “I took a call. And we kind of laughed about it,
    then dismissed it. And then, about 15 minutes later, we started talking
    again about why he would be traded and tried to piece together some
    clues. One of the things that convinced us to pursue it was that the
    year before, for the first time, the coaching staff had been openly
    critical of Gretzky if he wasn’t playing at a Gretzky-like pace. Before,
    if anybody ever said anything about Gretzky, the organization would
    almost blackball you. They didn’t like his attitude as much, and that
    kind of tweaked our curiosity a bit. And I guess that was during the
    point where negotiations on a new deal weren’t going that well and they
    might have let their guard down and showed their frustration in another


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I was on holidays (I’m always on holidays when these things happen, one of the reasons I hate holidays). I heard about the news and called Too Tall Matthews (he was John Short’s producer at the time) and he said something like “you didn’t hear it from me but there’s a press conference, maybe Molson House, don’t know yet” and then I knew something was up.

A little later, I had a chance to chat with John Short (one of the real pleasures of my radio career: about 1000 chats with John Short) and he told me some background. Things like it was originally a straight cash deal, but Sather said no damn way and then the players were added (Krushelnyski and McSorley one way, a boatload the other).

There’s also a legendary rumor that Slats told 99 ‘if you say no, I’ll kill this deal’ but the die had been cast.

Rob Vollman says the Kings won the trade, but not by as much as people think.


I will tell you Gretzky wasn’t quite the player in 1988 that he was in 1984. None of that matters. What does matter to the story of August 9, 1988? What should you know?

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It was NOT a hockey trade, it was a sale and a dirty damn deed.


There are those who think that Gretzky has already established
himself as the heir to a tradition of superheroes that dates back to
Howie Morenz, whose magic helped the league move from its Canadian
beginnings to the bright lights of Broadway, or before Morenz, Joe
Malone, who scored 44 goals in the first season the NHL ever played.
Gretzky’s importance to the Oilers is impossible to exaggerate. The 137
scoring points he accumulated last year meant he was involved in 44 per
cent of their goals.

    • R U Kidding Me!

      I agree. The eighties Oilers were essentially split into two teams: Oilers East (Rangers) and Oilers West (Kings). The Oilers themselves one another cup in 1990 and went to the Campbell Conference finals in 1991 and 1992. The King made the finals in 1993, and the Rangers won it all in 1994. Keep them all as Oilers, and the May have had seven or eight cups in ten years.

  • Czar

    There you go LT, ripping open old wounds.

    What made it even worse was how dominant the Oilers played in the 88′ playoffs. They only lost a couple games if I recall correctly and looked like they were ready to do it a couple more times.

    • Serious Gord

      If he had kept the team together he would have sold them to another market and the oil would not exist today.

      Pocklington did what was necessary – getting cash to keep the team afloat and in EDM.

      Trade gretz or lose the team that was the choice. Condemning pocklington is to Favour the latter.

  • dcsj

    Cursed and damned ever since thanks Peter. For those too young to remember or not born yet it was like a punch to the gut. Unfathomable to comprehend and a very sad day in Oiler history.

    • MacTastic

      I was 10 and on vacation with family in BC. Someone told me the news and I absolutely didn’t believe it. I told my Dad and he couldn’t believe it either. So we waited for the next news broadcast on the hour (such a quaint memory now), and it was absolutely true.

      Talk about a punch to the gut. I was devastated. A part of me died that day as well.

      Then again, I suppose tragic endings always make for the most compelling drama. But as a 10 year old, I really didn’t have the stomach for such things. I still hate Pocklington and dream of the Oilers’ glory days of my childhood.

      In a final Shakespearean twist: both Pocklington and McNall have done jail time since, and Gretz never won anything really significant again (91 Canada Cup aside, which featured a dwindling ex-Soviet side).

  • dcsj

    What truly amazes me is the fact that the Oilers lost the greatest player of all time and their starting goalie and still managed to win the cup 2 years later.

  • BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull

    People sell their gold everyday. To Peter Puck Wayne was a business tool that was going to produce the best return. Went to
    5 Stanley Cup parties so who’s bitchin…

  • Reg Dunlop

    To all those crying about what a scum Pocklington was… remember who wheeled Gretz away from Skalbania and brought him here for his prime, along with the cups. THANK YOU PETER.

    Before Gretz, the oil were average at best. The year prior to his arrival it was rumored that Marcel Dionne and Stan Smyl were being pursued. Yikes! Had it not been for Peter Puck and great good fortune, we could have a Vancouver Canuck-ish history.

  • paul wodehouse

    Reg…boy you’re right…pocklington was smart shrewd and could sell anything…he put Gretzky in Edmonton and Gretzky put Edmonton on the world map.
    Mike Barnett said once that it was the fact that he was a hockey player that kept him back from being one of the HUGE world athletes up there with & among the Muhammad Ali’s… Pele’s (Messi) or Michael Schumacher…

    …isn’t 99 on a ‘beauty list’ somewhere though ?

  • Bi-Curious Gord

    I’m too young to remember Gretzky in Oilers silks but my parents claim I was conceived on the day (night) of the trade. My mom wanted to cheer up pops so she let him get after it. Best decision she ever made!

  • ThinkingOutLoud

    You can count me in as a proud, card carrying member of the biggest Gretzky fans group of all time. My childhood was defined by the Oilers, his autographed pic I got at West Edmonton Mall when I was 9 is still one of my cherished possessions, and I proudly display a picture of his last ever goal as an Oiler, the winning goal of their 4th Cup, on my wall. The day he was sold is right up there for me with: the Challenger exploding, and the Berlin Wall coming down in the, “I know exactly where I was when I heard the news” defining moments of my youth category.


    I really think its time for us to let this all go. I mean it’s been 26 years already. Last year for the 25th both the Sun and Journal did anniversary pieces, which is understandable, but the Journal STILL even has a link to that on their Sports Drop-Down for over a year now, and its starting to feel a little embarrassing already.

    I worry that the pressure we exude on the young players today, the way our confidence is shaken when a player doesn’t want to sign here, and how angry we get and turn on good players who struggle, including the the extent to which some people absolutely lost their minds when Pronger decided to leave (for example the guy who bought his old furniture just so he could set it on fire) is a direct result of that trauma.

    As with all traumatic events its important to talk about them and the Internet in many ways has provided an invaluable place for group therapy for the masses…

    I love Wayne, but our city and our team however are far more than one player irregardless if he was the greatest of all time. Honestly it’s time to just move on.

    Just my 2¢

    • Czar

      Great article. It is time to move on.

      I also agree we place a lot of pressure on the current players, it is perhaps because they make a lot of money.

      We blame Pocklington for trading Gretzky, but it was the economics of the time. The small Canadian teams (Winnipeg, Quebec) could not compete with the American teams or larger city Canadian teams.

      Edmonton could not generate enough revenue to retain Gretzky, Messier, Coffee, Anderson, etc.

      Pocklington is not the enemy but did what he had to do (trade and sell players) so the Oilers could remain in Edmonton

  • I was13 and had yet to discover the power of girls full time yet, hockey was my world. I played, ate, slept hockey.

    I’ll admit that I cried a lot that day.

    My little story about Gretzky.

    My mom took me to get Gretzky autograph, I remember standing in the line up at the old Sport Check off the Yellow-head waiting for a picture and autograph from Wayne, i was about 8 at the time, I was about ten maybe fifteen people away from Wayne when they announced he had to leave, well, I started to cry, I remember my mom trying to tell me it would be ok, when Wayne came over signed my picture & my white Oilers T-shirt.

    When your that young and your hero goes out of his way like that, well, that stays with you your whole life.

    I could never bring myself to cheer against Wayne despite my dying loyalty to the Oilers.

    Still pissed at Peter and still would like to smack Crawford upside his head for sticking the greatest player in the world on the bench…….How dare he !

  • Serious Gord

    And make no mistake, it is well-documented that Gretzky was happy to leave EDM. Sure he had some goodbye tears, just as I did when I left home for university, but he like I, very much wanted to leave. It was a great move for him and a great move for the nhl and for hockey globally. My parents were sad to see me go but knew it was for the best as it indeed was.

    We as oil fans should be proud that our team was the place were Gretzky played most of his best hockey and went from being an adolescent to being a mature hockey player (and now an old boy?). He had outgrown the EDM hinterland market.

    All through gretzkys career he played where he wanted to play – where it was to his best advantage – from taking legal action to play junior b in Toronto to not playing in the nhl. The chance to go to LA was a windfall opportunity that he would not pass up.

    I would have done the same.

    And so would you.

      • Rocket

        Sounds like the stuff in Stephen Brunt’s book Gretky’s tears. I haven’t read it but Brunt is always on Bob Mccowan’s show and I remember him talking about this book. He commented on Gretzky’s business associates and how he made his decisions in his career….always going where the money was (wasn’t critsizing Gretzky, just pointing out 99 looked out for himself) and associating with sometimes less than ethical folks along the way.

        • Serious Gord

          Brunt et al – (dowbiggin?) are my sources. This was much more a discussed thing in gretzkys home province where he was and still is regarded with mixed emotions by many. Apparently his dad was a real piece of work when Wayne was a kid. I’m a year younger than Wayne is and went to university with several people who new him from his Toronto and greyhound’s days. The anecdotes were a mix of pro and con…

    • Reg Dunlop

      First off Gordo, I know your parents and they certainly were not sad to see you go.

      Secondly, how is moving from a 750,000 person market where everybody is a fan to a sunbelt city that rates ‘ice hockey’ below rollerderby and pro bass fishing… how is this an upgrade? Had it not been for Pocklington’s other struggling ventures and the fact that the profitable oilers were propping up the empire, Wayne would not have been sold.

      Thirdly, comments like ‘EDM hinterland’ smack of central Canada ignorance. If you in fact went to school in the center of the universe it would explain that comment.

      • Serious Gord

        How ignorant of markets are you? LA is the largest media market in NA. Getting even a small percentage of it to watch hockey and by extension become of interest for national TV is the holy grail. Gretzky was sir Lancelot in a lot of hockey peoples minds. And for quite a while he was.

        EDM is a hinterland. Live with it. Embrace it. It is reality.

        And pocklington’s other financial issues only meant that the oil had to stand on its own two feet financially. And it couldn’t. Proof of that was that once the owners group took over they too couldn’t make ends meet. That wasn’t solved until the cap and the Cdn dollar recovery and the upswing in the oils bidness. Financially during the pocklington years and on up until 2005 the oil was a failure. As were several other ‘hockey market’ franchises – cgy WPG OTT que. Hockey-mad markets are not profitable ones if there aren’t enough people.

  • Rocket

    I blame Allan Thicke. Apparently he knew McNall or someone in that organization and kept bugging them to chase Gretzky. 🙂

    In all the 25th anniversary talk last year of the trade, Thicke told the story of the day of the trade, he was in Europe and Wayne was at his house where he hung out apparently while in LA, a young Robin Blurred Lines Thicke, apparently answered the phone call to Wayne at the house to tell him the trade was done. (pretty sure this story is accurate..someone correct me if wrong)

  • Ever the Optimist

    Ok folks I am gonna get killed for this but in 88 I was in high school cheering like mad for the underdog jets in Winnipeg. When gretz got moved fans in almost every other city were cheering (I know I was). Of course karma had its laugh on those in Winnipeg as my beloved jets are now in the desert and my hatred of the oil turned into an abusive relationship where I love and they get beat but police are never called.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    I was a 15-year-old on Aug. 9, 1988 and a few weeks away from starting my Grade 11 year at Grande Prairie Composite high school.

    On the day of the trade, my Dad and my younger brother were busy tearing down wallpaper in my Mom’s kitchen. It was hot that day (28C or so) and the wallpaper, which had been glued to the wall when it was installed 10 years earlier, was absolutely miserable to tear down.

    Of course, by that Tuesday, the hockey world was abuzz. Reports came on Monday night that the Oilers had scheduled a presser to announce a deal involving Gretzky, so the wallpaper work was basically done as we killed time waiting for the press conference which, as memory serves, was at 3 p.m., Alberta time (will stand corrected on that). We watched it on CBC-Edmonton, on a TV that still used an antenna (we lived out in the country and CBC had a stronger signal than CFRN, the only other channel we could pick up). Both Grande Prairie radio stations carried the press conference live.

    As the TV and radio stations signed off from the presser, we returned to the wallpaper job, discussing the trade at length. I don’t think I was able to eat supper that night.

    The narrative at the time of the trade was that, for all intents and purposes, the trade would mark the end of Edmonton’s dynasty and that a Cup was on its way to L.A. The Oilers would die and the Kings would thrive.

    But, in reality, that narrative wasn’t entirely accurate. The Oilers who were left behind made things more complicated.

    After the first-round loss to the Kings in 1989, the Oilers were able to pull their heads out of their (butts) and move on. They won the Cup in 1990 and Messier won the MVP. And, for two more years, they made the semifinals, beating teams that were better than them on paper.

    The Oilers, of course, faded badly in the 1990s, but that was largely the cycle of dynasties playing itself out (with Pocklington’s financial troubles as the obvious aggravating factor).

    Over in L.A., I’d argue that the Gretzky years – on the ice – were largely squandered. From 1988 to 1996, the Kings made the playoffs five times but lost to the Oilers three times, the Flames once, and an upstart Habs team in the 1993 final. They were never, ever less than five or six players away from being a realistic contender.

    Don’t let any L.A. Kings fan tell you that was a success. Yes – Gretzky’s arrival in L.A did wonders for the development of hockey in the southern U.S. and California, long-term, but the bottom line is the bottom line. If you’re a fan of a Kings team with No. 99 on it, why would you care about him bringing new NHL teams in places like Dallas or Sunrise, Florida, or San Jose if he’s not bringing you any success in the playoffs?

    Another of the narratives is that the “Gretzky Effect” renewed fan interest in the Kings, but that’s largely false as well. In reality, the Kings suffered badly on the ice and at the gate afterward (L.A. is the ultimate fairweather sports town) and went through a roller-coaster ride of ownership after it was discovered that, like Pocklington, Bruce McNall didn’t actually have any of his own money to spend, either.

    In my opinion, the L.A. Kings you see before you now have little-to-no legacy from the Gretzky Years, which is actually a huge credit to them. Their two Cup wins were built after the Gretzky Years were buried behind them.

    • Serious Gord

      Without wayne in LA seven or so franchises never happen. No other player has ever had that kind of market clout / fame. And it would have never happened if he had stayed in EDM or moved to NYC. Going to LA was the fullest fruition of his destiny. Kudos to him and shame on the self-centered fans in EDM who begrudge him.

      • Spaceman Spiff

        Fair comment.

        To be clear, I don’t begrudge Gretzky. One of my points in my admittedly-long diatribe was simply this: If I’m an L.A Kings fan, the only thing I should have really cared about was if No. 99 could lead my team to the Stanley Cup. The seven new franchises and the NHL’s exposure down south shouldn’t matter to a Kings’ fan.

        I will say this: Gretzky probably saved the Kings franchise (much like Mario saved the Penguins as a player). But, like I said earlier, Gretzky’s on-ice legacy in L.A. was iffy, at best, for those eight seasons he was down there.