Kings Pay King's Ransom for Hockey Great Gretzky

Times Staff Writer

In one of the biggest deals in sports history, Wayne Gretzky, widely regarded as the best player in National Hockey League history, was traded by the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday.

Gretzky, 27, has been voted the league's most valuable player eight times and holds or shares 49 scoring records. He has led the Oilers to four Stanley Cup titles in the last five years.

The superstar center iceman and two teammates, forward Mike Krushelnyski and defenseman Marty McSorley, were sent to the Kings for center Jimmy Carson, forward Martin Gelinas (the Kings' first-round draft pick this year) and first-round picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993. Also, according to Kings owner Bruce McNall, "in excess of $10 million" was sent to the Canadian team.

The transaction sent shock waves across Canada, where Gretzky is considered a national treasure. His wedding to Los Angeles actress Janet Jones on July 16 was billed as a royal wedding.

On Tuesday, however, Jones was being blamed by some fans for taking "The Great Gretzky" from Edmonton.

Gretzky said Tuesday that his bride had not asked him to seek a trade. He told a late-afternoon press conference in Edmonton that he wanted a move "for the benefit of Wayne Gretzky, my new wife and our expected child in the new year."

Then he was overcome with emotion.

"There comes a time when . . . " he said, rubbing bleary eyes in an effort to regain his composure. Unable to continue, he stood up, stepped back from the microphones and took a seat.

Oiler fans reacted swiftly to the trade. Callers jammed the 21 telephone lines at team offices, some threatening to cancel season tickets.

Reports of the trade were the top story on Edmonton radio stations.

The Kings gave away much of their future to get Gretzky, most notably Carson, a native of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.

Last season, at 19, he set NHL records for American-born players with 55 goals and 107 points. He was the Kings' leading goal scorer and was second in points--goals and assists combined--behind Luc Robitaille, who had 111.

"The future has to arrive someday," said Cliff Fletcher, general manager of the Calgary Flames. "It arrived today in Los Angeles."

Gretzky missed 16 games with eye and knee injuries last season, but still had 40 goals and 109 assists in finishing second in league scoring to Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Gretzky then won his second Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs when the Oilers swept the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final.

Gretzky holds the NHL record for most goals, 92; assists, 163, and points, 215, in a season. He is also the all-time assist leader with 1,086.

Gordie Howe, the all-time scoring leader, took 26 seasons to amass 1,850 points. Gretzky is on a pace to surpass that in his 10th season.

Until recently, Gretzky, who is signed through the 1991-92 season, had said he wanted to play only two or three more seasons. But prior to the marriage, he suggested that he might play longer.

He was making $900,000 a year in Canadian money, but now must be paid the same amount in U.S. funds, in effect, nearly a 20% increase.

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