Friday, August 10, 2007

19 Years and the NHL Hasn't Changed One Bit

Mike Ridewood/AP

Well, it seems like exactly everyone has felt the need to write a post about the 1988 trade of Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles. In doing so, everyone also feels the need to beat to death the keen (and I do mean keen) observation that another huge superstar, David Beckham, is making a mildly similar high profile move to LA.

Catch the sarcasm yet?

I'm really not sure what all the hubbub is about. It's been 19 years since this enormous event. Not 10, 20, 25 or some other nice, round number that obligates us to celebrate some contrived, over hyped anniversary.

It's kind of like when Tom Glavine got his 300th win this weekend. It's just a number that people hype up and, at the end of the day, doesn't really matter much. Yes, it is a great celebration of a man who has had a hell of a career, but in the grand scheme of his career, isn't a significant game in the least. But I digress to the more pressing matter at hand.

Ah, yes. It's the 19th anniversary of the Edmonton Oilers trading Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. It's the trade that should have turned LA into a team that would steamroll the West, but instead left them with one Western Conference title Clarence Campbell Conference title to show for three first round picks and 7 1/2 years of service from the greatest player to ever play the game.

From an Oilers perspective, the trade was one of the worst in history (or just one of the worst I can think of) and foreshadowed the small market problems that would escalate in the years following the trade. I'll spare you the details -- you can find them here if you like -- but the trade essentially turned out to be the greatest player ever, a goon (McSorley) and a mediocre veteran (Krushelnyski) getting sent to Los Angeles for $15 million dollars, a young guy who had one great season (Carson), Martin Gelinas and three first rounders who, oh by the way, turned out to be entirely worthless save for Martin Rucinsky. Despite the fact that Gretzky didn't add to his Stanley Cup total during his stay in LA, and Edmonton won in 1990 despite his absence, it was still one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history.

It's hard to describe the magnitude of the impact that this trade had in the NHL. It was so much more than the greatest player in the game shifting teams. It was America stealing Canada's oldest and most beloved son. It was the large market taking from the small market and giving nothing but a bitch slap in return. Most importantly, it was the beginning an era where the NHL tries to sell itself to America in a fashion more desperate than a cheap whore. Putting the best player in the game in the game's biggest market it the oldest marketing trick in the book, and it may have worked to perfection if it were not for the two lockouts, among other things, that followed. This is an era that has seen the NHL all but turn it's back on Canada to sell itself in America and it all began not with a bang but with a giant fucking meteor of a trade.

The funny thing about all this, and I guess one of the reasons why everyone is reflecting on this trade today, is that the NHL is still trying so desperately to sell hockey in America. 19 years and nothing has changed. Now that's progress.


  1. The only impact of Gretz moving to LA is inspiring the scene in Swingers.

  2. Well, I'd say it was worth it then. And btw, Roenick is a god in that game.