Photo credit:B Bennett
99 Days Until The Season Begins
By Cam Lewis7 months ago
Start the countdown!
Throughout the summer and into the fall, we’ll be counting down the days until the Edmonton Oilers begin their 2023-24 season with a daily trip down memory lane.
There are 99 days to go, so let’s kick things off with The Great One himself — Wayne Gretzky.
Edmonton Journal Clipping From Friday, November 3, 1978
The most important trade in the history of the Oilers came before they were an NHL team. They acquired Peter Driscoll, Eddie Mio, and 17-year-old phenom Wayne Gretzky from the Indianapolis Racers in exchange for $825,000 in cash.
Gretzky scored 70 goals and 182 points for the Soo Greyhounds in 1977-78 and was the most highly-touted player coming out of major junior since Bobby Orr the previous decade. Not wanting to wait until he was 20 years to be drafted by an NHL club, Gretzky opted to sign a contract with a team from the World Hockey Association.
Nelson Skalbania signed Gretzky to a seven-year, $1.75 million contract with a $50k signing bonus to play for the Racers. After just eight games, Gretzky, Driscoll, and Mio were sold to Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington so that Skalbania could handle the expected loss of $1 million from the Racers’ season.
Gretzky scored 43 goals and 104 points throughout 72 games for the Oilers and added 10 goals and 10 assists in the playoffs as Edmonton lost in the Avco Cup Final to the Winnipeg Jets. Gretzky was awarded the Lou Kaplan Trophy for the WHA’s top rookie while teammate Dave Dryden won the Gordie Howe Trophy for the league’s most valuable player.
The 1978-79 season was the final in WHA history, as the league reached a deal in March of 1979 to have four teams absorbed into the NHL: the Oilers, Jets, Quebec Nordiques, and New England Whalers. The four teams were treated by the NHL as expansion franchises, as they had to pay a $6 million fee to join the league and were only able to keep two goaltenders and two forwards.
Also, the minimum age for the NHL Entry Draft was lowered from 20 to 19, so Gretzky was eligible to be selected by another club. But since Gretzky had signed a 21-year personal services contract with Pocklington on his 18th birthday, he was able to dodge the draft. If not for that, Gretzky would have gone first overall to the struggling Colorado Rockies.
The rest is history.
Gretzky scored 137 points in his first season in the NHL and was awarded his first of nine Hart Trophies. Two years later, he scored 92 goals and 212 points, setting two single-season records that’ll most certainly never be broken. Two years after that, he led the Oilers to their first Stanley Cup. The next year, he led the Oilers to their second Cup, and then their third in 1987 and their fourth in 1988.
In the August following that fourth Stanley Cup, just shy of 10 years since he had landed in Edmonton, Gretzky was sold again. This time, Pocklington was the one with bills to pay and Bruce McNall was the one with cash. Gretzky was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for some players, some picks, and $15 million.
Gretzky passed Gordie Howe for the NHL’a all-time lead in goals and points while with the Kings but he never won a Stanley Cup in Los Angeles. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues as a rental in 1996 and then finished off his career as a member of the New York Rangers with 894 goals and 2,857 points.
No player will ever wear No. 99 in the NHL again, as the number made famous by Gretzky has been retired league-wide.
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How many days are left until the Edmonton Oilers start the 2023-24 season? 99!
Can you guess who will be featured in tomorrow’s countdown?
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