Saturday is the 20th anniversary of the day that shook -- and eventually reconfigured -- the hockey world, the day that Canadian icon Wayne Gretzky was traded by the Edmonton Oilers to the Kings.
It's hard to imagine now what a stunning development that was, the Babe Ruth of hockey -- still relatively in his prime -- being moved to what was considered a distant outpost by most in the NHL.
As things turned out, it affected not just two franchises but an entire sport.
Ducks fans, you may despise the Kings. But if Bruce McNall hadn't brought Gretzky to LA and the Kings started playing to nightly sellouts, your franchise wouldn't exist today. Neither would the San Jose Sharks. And neither would the Phoenix Coyotes, the former Winnipeg Jets -- who are, as it turns out, Coach Wayne Gretzky's current employer.
For those who have forgotten, here are a couple of reminders of just why they called him The Great One.
Here's his record-breaking 802nd career goal, for the Kings against Vancouver in March of 1994:
Here's Gretzky breaking Gordie Howe's record of 1,851 career points, in 1990, in Edmonton (with Prime Ticket's Bob Miller on the call):
And here are some recollections (quotes furnished by the NHL):
Gretzky on the trade:
"What a whirlwind it was. Although it sort of all transpired in 24 hours, I went from being the Stanley Cup champion in Edmonton to playing in Los Angeles. It probably had been behind the scenes going on for three or four months; it was just one of those things that, at the end of the day, as I've always said, I miss the friends and people that I knew in Edmonton, but it was a great opportunity for me. It opened up a lot of doors going to California."
Gretzky on why the Oilers felt they needed to make the deal:
" ... I had one more year on my contract and I would have been an unrestricted free agent. I made it clear to Peter (Pocklington, the owner) and Glen (Sather, coach/GM), mostly Peter, that I was going to finish the year out and Ih ad good reason as to why I wanted to finish the year out. I really had no intentions at that point in time of leaving and stiffing the Edmonton Oilers, but I wanted to get paid fair market value. I felt like I owed it to myself to do it, and I felt like I really owed it to my teammates. At that point in time there were guys making a million dollars plus and we were making $250,000-$300,000 and I just thought, from a business view, that I needed to take that step.
" ... What had happened was, Peter had given permission basically to talk to whoever I wanted to. And at that point in time I said, 'Look, if I'm moving, the only two places I want to go to would be Los Angeles or Detroit,' and Peter said, 'Fine,' and that's how I got involved. My favorite team as a kid was Detroit. My dad wanted me to go to Detroit but my gut was telling me there was a huge challenge in Los Angeles and I just really felt like it was the right thing to do in my heart, that's all, gut feel. And I wound up in LA."
Before the morning press conference in Edmonton -- which was to be followed by an afternoon presser in LA -- Gretzky said Sather pulled him aside and told him that if he wanted, they could block the deal.
"I spent a good hour talking to him and we had a good chat, and I just felt, from both sides' point of view, it was the right thing to do, to keep moving forward. Unfortunately, the people that suffered the most were probably the fans. It was a great opportunity and something that I went on to really enjoy being a part of. And the Oilers ended up winning and getting enough players that they went on to win another Stanley Cup. And I think that's when people started to get over the whole thing. But my 10 years in Edmonton - it's still home for me, it's still family, it's still fond memories."
On the sense of satisfaction that his move to LA changed the game:
"I was lucky. I was part of it. I knew it was part of my responsibility and I worked hard at it. I was lucky enough to have guys like Kelly Hrudey and Luc Robitaille and Marty McSorley and they understood it too and they accepted that role.
" ... I remember the first week I was in LA and I was going by these tennis courts and I stopped the car and said to a friend, 'You know, if we were in Canada, kids would be playing ball hockey or inline hockey here and it would be amazing.' And this guy said, 'Well, this is California.' A year later there was a sign on the fence that said 'no inline hockey allowed' and I was like, 'We've come a long way.' "
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One other note on Gretzky's impact: Three California-born players have been selected in each of the last two NHL drafts, including Mitch Wahl of Long Beach (48th overall to Calgary), Max Nicastro of Thousand Oaks (91st overall to Detroit) and Colin Long of Santa Ana (99th to Phoenix) this past June.