Remembering the Trade That Sent Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings

Wayne Gretzky
INGLEWOOD, CA - JANUARY 14: Wayne Gretzky #99 of the Los Angeles Kings on January 14, 1991 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. (Photo By Bernstein Associates/Getty Images)

To those of you who have been following the NHL for years, most will remember the trade that took place 31 years ago today on August 9, 1988. In the trade that rocked the NHL, the Edmonton Oilers did the unheard… they traded Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. Along with Gretzky the Oilers sent Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski. The Oilers received Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, the Kings first-round draft picks in 1989, 1991, and 1993, plus $15 million in cash. Back in 1988, that was a huge sum of money. In today’s market, it would be equivalent to $32,477,979.71.

Revisiting the Wayne Gretzky Trade

The Oilers should have received quite a bit for the best player on the planet. They got it in the form of Carson, who headlined the Kings return package. The Kings drafted Carson second overall in the 1986 draft. He played his rookie season the year after, scoring 79 points in 80 games. This was an incredible showing from 18-year-old Carson, who ranked third in Calder Memorial Trophy voting that year. Ahead of him were future Hall-of-Famers Luc Robitaille, who won the award, and Ron Hextall. Carson came out even stronger the next year. During the 1987-88 season, he scored 55 goals and 52 assists for a staggering total of 107 points. This was amazing. Only two other teenage players, Gretzky and Sidney Crosby, have scored more than Carson’s 107 points.

Jimmy Carson as an Oiler

Carson’s first season in Edmonton made it appear that the trade was equitable. He led the team with 49 goals and 100 total points. It seemed all was well. But, in his second campaign with Edmonton, after just four games, Carson seemed weary of the comparisons to Gretzky and requested a trade to his hometown Detroit Red Wings.  This too could be described as a blockbuster trade with Petr Klima, Adam Graves, Joe Murphy, and Jeff Sharples coming back to Edmonton in exchange for Carson, Kevin McClelland, and a fifth-round draft pick.

Following the trade, Carson told The Times Herald, “I’m ecstatic about this. I’ve waited for a long time to put on this jersey. I’ve always dreamed of being a Red Wing. I wanted to be drafted by them, but most of the general managers in the league had Joe Murphy rated No. 1. I figured if I could play hard, maybe people would someday say, ‘Jimmy Carson is a better player than we thought he was.” In the end, the trade failed to do much for the Oilers.

Carson was a solid NHL player, but his statistics dropped off significantly in the years after the trade. He never came close to the success he achieved in his first several seasons. However, both Klima and Graves helped the Oilers obtain their Stanley Cup win in 1990. Klima, in fact, nearly matched Carson’s production. He was eventually traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1993 for a third-round draft pick.

Gelinas, who was also acquired in the Gretzky deal, ended up playing five seasons with the Oilers before being dealt to the Quebec Nordiques after the 1992-93 season. He accumulated 60 goals and 60 assists in 258 games for Edmonton.

Little Known Facts About the Wayne Gretzky Trade

  • A politician wanted to get the Canadian government to cancel the transaction. From NHL.com: A member of Canada’s Parliament even proposed the federal government block the trade or buy Gretzky’s contract and sell it to another Canadian team.“The Oilers without Gretzky is like apple pie without ice cream, like winter without snow, like Wheel of Fortune without Vanna White,” New Democratic Party House Leader Nelson Riis said.
  • Oilers owner Peter Pocklington and GM Glen Sather tried to get the deal canceled right before the presser. Another fact from NHL.com: Moments before the Edmonton press conference, Pocklington and Sather pulled Gretzky aside and offered to call off the trade. Gretzky refused.“My mistake was not going over to him and putting my arm around him and saying ‘Wayne, it’s OK, pal. If you want to call it off, let’s do it,’” Pocklington said. “That’s what I should have done.”

Wayne Gretzky’s Contributions

Gretzky’s arrival helped pave the way to success for hockey in Southern California. It rejuvenated what was a dying sport in the Western United States and fueled NHL expansion in several Sun Belt cities. After retiring from the game, he tried his hand at coaching the then Phoenix Coyotes. Unfortunately, his success was nothing close to his domination on the ice. He had a mediocre 143-161-24 record as a head coach with a .473 winning percentage from the 2005-06 to 2008-09 seasons and never made the playoffs.

There is a saying that is attached to Gretzky getting traded. Just when a fan of the game says, “Oh they’d never trade him”, another fan will chirp in, “well they traded Wayne Gretzky didn’t they?” The Kings success in California post-Gretzky helped prove the NHL could work in non-traditional hockey markets, leading to two more expansion teams in the state as well as two in Florida by 1993. The Kings played exhibition games in markets the NHL wanted to test for expansion.

He made an impact. He made a difference.

Wayne Gretzky took the game of hockey to a new level. A level which has spread the sport internationally as well as locally.

That’s why he is called the “Great One.”

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