Wayne Gretzky, who led the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cups while ruling professional hockey for eight years, Tuesday was formally crowned a King.
The coronation took place not on the sheet of ice in Northlands Coliseum that was the site of Gretzky's triumphs, but in the boardroom of Peter Pocklington, the Oilers' owner. Gretzky - the National Hockey League's greatest scorer and a celebrity of staggering proportions - was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings, a struggling franchise with an inappropriate nickname, in the biggest single trade in sports history."There comes a time ..." a tearful Gretzky told an Edmonton news conference, explaining that he had sought the trade to be
near his bride, actress Janet Jones. "I'm disappointed about having to leave the fans here," he added, dabbing a handkerchief to his eyes.
The King's ransom was this: Gretzky, left wing Mike Krushelnyski and wing-defenseman Marty McSorley were sent to Los Angeles in exchange for center Jimmy Carson, 1988 first-round draft pick Martin Gelinas, the Kings' first-round picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993 and a sum described by Kings' owner Bruce McNall as "in excess of $10 million."
The deal was as shocking as it was monumental. "It's like taking away all the bridges here and saying, `Edmonton, this is what you're going to look like,' " said mayor Laurence Decore.
Yet, while the blockbuster deal stunned Edmonton fans and Gretzky's teammates, more surprising was Gretzky's disclosure that shortly after leading the Oilers to their fourth championship in five years last May, he had asked Pocklington to send him to Los Angeles or the Rangers or Islanders. For one of the rare Canadian hockey players who also had widespread popularity in the United States, the request was not easy to make or grant.
Gretzky, 27, had what amounted to a lifetime contract with the Oilers that paid him $900,000 Canadian a season, although the intricacies of the contract and the real estate it included probably pushed Gretzky's value even higher. He had reached far beyond the boundaries of Alberta - and of his own sport - to become not just an athlete, but a personality. He was known simply as "99" - his uniform number.
"I felt I was still young enough and capable enough to help a new franchise win the Stanley Cup," he said. "And (I asked for the trade) for the benefit of Wayne Gretzky, my new wife and our expected child in the new year."
Pocklington indicated he was surprised by Gretzky's desire to be traded and said that he had refused more lucrative deals for Gretzky, including one from the Vancouver Canucks several months ago. But at Gretzky's request, Pocklington agreed to negotiate with McNall.