Looking back at Wayne Gretzky's trade to the L.A. Kings 25 years ago

Let’s take a skate down memory lane and into the Los Angeles Times’ archives in honor of Friday being the 25th anniversary of the Kings’ acquisition of Wayne Gretzky, a trade that changed the fortunes of the Kings and the NHL.

The Times’ Lisa Dillman wrote a fine story that quoted the principal players on their thoughts about the deal, with the benefit of a quarter-century’s hindsight. There really was no way to anticipate the effect Gretzky’s arrival would have on the NHL — think Sunbelt expansion — and also on youth hockey in Southern California, which is now regularly sending players to major college hockey programs, the Canadian junior ranks and to the NHL.

Rumors that Gretzky might be traded by the Edmonton Oilers had circulated for weeks before the deal, though both sides denied that a trade was imminent less than a week before it was done, as cited here.

Talks went back and forth for a while. Finally, after the Kings refused to give up Luc Robitaille in the deal, the two sides came to an agreement, though then-Kings owner Bruce McNall was reluctant to give up Jimmy Carson. And when the trade was completed, it wasn’t greeted with unanimous approval in Los Angeles, as expressed by the inimitable Mike Downey in a column.

To be fair to Downey, he came around and was as mesmerized by Gretzky’s magic as everyone else was.

Gretzky’s wife, actress Janet Jones, was vilified by many people because she supposedly pushed him into leaving Edmonton and moving to Los Angeles to further her acting career. Here’s an interesting interview with Gretzky and Jones that discusses her feelings about the trade.

Gretzky and Jones, incidentally, marked their 25th wedding anniversary July 16.

The anniversary of Gretzky’s trade to Los Angeles has, as expected, been widely marked in Canada. The comprehensive work done by the Edmonton Journal might be the best place to get the perspective of the Oilers and Canadians on the trade and its impact.

The NHL celebrated the anniversary with an array of stories on its website, www.nhl.com. A better way would have been to patch up its differences with Gretzky and get him involved with the league in a meaningful way. He has remained outside the league, apparently unhappy that he has long been owed money related to the Phoenix Coyotes' bankruptcy.

It's long past time for the league to bring him back into the fold.


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