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Wayne Gretzky traded...
...California, here he comes
The tearful end to one of the most spectacular chapters in hockey history was authored in Edmonton yesterday, fittingly with one of the greatest trades involving one of the greatest players.
Wayne Gretzky, the king of modern-day hockey, was dealt by the Edmonton Oilers as part of a multi-player, multi-dollar deal, one that granted his wish for a new life with the Los Angeles Kings.
And, the Sun has learned, the trade also involves equity. Gretzky was to receive a 10% ownership share in the team but if league bylaws preclude that, he would receive a payment in the area of $5 million U.S., plus a share in gate receipts from the expected rise in Kings' attendance from an average last season of about 10,000. The latter is part of a new, four-year contract Gretzky is expected to sign soon.
Gretzky, owner of four Stanley Cup rings, countless league scoring records, eight consecutive most valuable player awards, and other honors with the Oilers, was - at his request - sent to the Kings along with defenceman Marty McSorley and centre Mike Krushelnyski.
Gretzky demanded that McSorley, a noted enforcer, be included in the trade. In return for the best player in hockey, the Oilers received centre Jimmy Carson, a 55-goal scorer last season, rookie left winger Martin Gelinas, the Kings' first-round draft picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993, as well as $15 million Canadian.
News of the trade set off something of an emotional earthquake. In Ottawa, NDP house leader Nelson Riis asked the government to block the trade. The impact was felt most, though, in Edmonton, and especially by Gretzky and Oilers' coach/general manager Glen Sather, both of whom wept openly during a press conference.
"For the benefit of Wayne Gretzky, my new wife and our expected child in the new year," began Wayne Gretzky, who will soon begin to renegotiate a new contract with the Kings. "I thought it was beneficial to all involved if they let me play with the Kings.
"It's disappointing having to leave Edmonton" - pause to wipe away the tears - "but there comes a time when..."
When a new bride who lives in Hollywood, money and family become the compelling interests in a 27-year-old's life. A man who is always giving, yesterday Gretzky took a little something for himself. Responding to the obvious insinuation that his bride of three weeks, actress Janet Jones, had insisted upon the move, Gretzky strongly denied it. "It's my own gut feeling," he said.
Although an incredibly difficult trade to finally agree to completing, Oilers' owner Peter Pocklington ultimately settled two pressing needs, his own urgency for money and Gretzky's wish to move on. Over the past few seasons, Pocklington has said he would trade his superstar for cash, but waited for Gretzky's blessing.
The past three years, the Kings have made overtures three separate times, New York Rangers expressed a rich interest once, and last year talks were held with the Vancouver Canucks regarding a Gretzky trade involving large amounts of cash.
"It's like losing a son, more than a hockey player," said Pocklington. "I have mixed emotions and a heavy heart." But Pocklington has also restored order to his payroll, which became severely bloated last summer when he signed Gretzky to a five-year personal services contract, paying him $1.4 million next season, and allowing him to retire in two years. The ripple effect soon followed, with Paul Coffey, Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr all asking for big money.
It's strongly believed the deal was consummated between Pocklington, with Sather only having a small say, and new Kings' sole owner Bruce McNall, who was bent on acquiring a big name. He got the biggest. Now 27, Gretzky will end his career in L.A. in four years.
He is also coming off a season which he missed 16 games through injury, finished second in the scoring race for the first time in eight years (149 points) and failed to win the Hart Trophy for the first time in nine years. He did, however, recover sufficiently in the playoffs to win the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup.
"I don't want to try and philosophize on what happened," said Sather. "We tried to do what was good for Wayne, the Oilers and the NHL. We all would like to be proud of what we do for a living...I know we'll adjust."
In Carson, at age 20, the Oilers are receiving a future superstar. In Gelinas, the Kings' first pick this past June, they have a potentially high scoring left winger. And the three draft picks ensure them of youth in the future.
The king abdicated one throne yesterday, then ascended another.