Edmonton traded Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley to Los Angeles for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first round picks and cash in 1988. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
I remember it like it was yesterday. Wayne Gretzky, traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Rams for Johnny Carson, three Mexican chefs, Kurt Rambis and $385 million (U.S., I believe).
It’s possible my memory is a little hazy on the details, but I do remember the impact it made on my community and the nation as a whole. Canada was devastated. We were in tears. Mike Krushelnyski was headed to Tinseltown. It was a fact beyond belief.
Americans, in fact all foreigners, have some difficulty fully comprehending the impact the Gretzky trade had on the country. Canada, as you might have heard, is defined almost exclusively by its hockey players. Sure we have beavers, a passable lacrosse program and Tommy Hunter, but Canada is a country that lives and dies with its hockey stars. Wayne Gretzky was our Vanna White (with better calves).
It all seemed like a really bad joke. In fact, it was common Canadian tradition to play the “Hey did you hear Gretzky was traded?” game throughout the year (CBC made it into a game show in 1985, which garnered the network the 27th highest ratings ever for a game show based on a really crappy Canadian premise).
No one would believe Canada’s Golden Child was now headed to southern California. Sure he had a Hollywood actress wife. Sure he had outgrown the domestic market. Sure there’s no way the small town Oilers could ever afford him. And sure the league was pleading for something to take the NHL somewhere south of Milwaukee, but it was a shock in the same sense that today, who would believe Britney and K-Fed wouldn’t last?
Like the JFK assassination and Pee Wee Herman being nabbed in a theatre, I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news: It was a Tuesday (maybe Wednesday) and I was beside the river, near our house, disposing of another body when I heard the announcement over the AM radio (encrypted – Canadians are very paranoid). Frankly I was shocked and a little miffed. What had the L.A. Kings done to deserve him (besides completing a legitimately fair and legal trade)? He was our boy. This was a national disgrace (well, one of them).
The silver lining in all of this is the impact it made, not only on hockey, but sports – and the world itself. Gretzky as a disposable part was akin to using the Shroud of Turin to wipe a spaghetti stain. Once that barrier had been crossed, anything could happen. This event was now the excuse to explain anything; the rationale for the most radical of happenings to be justified.
Jim, I’m firing you after 39 years of stellar servitude. Well, you know, if Gretzky can be traded…
Charlie, I know we’ve been together, what, 18 years, but you know, if Gretzky can be traded…
Seems like yesterday.
The preceding was purely fictional and meant for entertainment purposes only. By entertainment, we mean we hope you laughed while reading it, framing it, or burning it. Any similarities between this and actual events is strictly coincidental and frankly, dumb luck. Remember to remind your lawyer about the made-up part, OK?
Charlie Teljeur, creator of THN's hockeysockpuppettheatre, brings you Loose Change every other Thursday in the summer only on thehockeynews.com. Subscribe to The Hockey News today to have Charlie's cartoon delivered to you in each issue.
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