How Gretzky trade changed the hockey landscape in LA


On the 23rd anniversary of the Wayne Gretzky sale trade, it’s only natural to take a look back at the trade’s importance on the league. Stephen Brunt wrote a good book about the entire deal in “Gretzky’s Tears” and Peter Pocklington was able to get his side of the story to the public in an even better effort: “I’d Trade Him Again: On Gretzky, Politics, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Deal.” Plenty has been made of what the trade meant for Sunbelt hockey, the Edmonton Oilers, and Canadian hockey as a whole. But what gets lost in the mix is the immeasurable impact Gretzky’s trade had on the local Southern California market. Outsiders understand that it was a big trade—but people don’t quite understand how it completely shifted sports landscape of the entire region.

The obvious, immediate impact was at the box office. From his first game of Gretzky’s first season in Los Angeles, attendance at the Forum skyrocketed to levels that only Bruce McNall had dreamed of. Gretzky was the biggest name in a game that was still a regional sport in the United States. People may not have known about offsides, line-changes, or icing—but they knew about Wayne Gretzky. Instantly, he put the Kings on equal footing with Magic and the Lakers, Gibson and the Dodgers, USC football, UCLA basketball, and whoever the Raiders/Rams were trotting out onto the field. The team had a marquee name—more importantly, they had the only name in hockey that could transcend all sports and entertainment.

The old, recycled joke from comedian Alan Thicke captured the lack of interest in the pre-Gretzky era pretty well:

“What time does the Kings game start?”

“Depends, what time can you get there?”

Might not be the greatest joke from Kirk Cameron’s on-screen Dad, but it was painfully true. But everything changed when the Kings had their own superstar to grab the sports headlines away from the teams that dominated the LA sports landscape at the time: Lakers and Dodgers.

In the year before he arrived, the Kings averaged only 11,667 fans per game. In his first year, attendance shot up 27% to 14,667 fans per game. In the six consecutive playoff appearances for the Kings after Gretzky arrived, there wasn’t an empty seat for even a single game. The attendance peaked in 1991-92 when the Kings sold out every single game of their 40 game schedule. Not bad for a team that was used to playing to two-thirds capacity in the mid-1980s.

The Kings finished the 1987-88 season with a 30-42-8 record that was good for 18th in the 21 team NHL. In the year before Gretzky’s arrival, the Kings were 5th in the league in scoring—but dead last in defensive. Gretzky was expected to bring more than just a boatload of points; he was expected to bring wins.

Just important as the success in the stands, was the success on the ice. In the three seasons before Gretzky arrived in LA, the Kings had averaged 64 points per season. In the three seasons after he arrived, they averaged 89 points (including the second best record in franchise history in 1990-91). The Kings went from a near .500 team at home to one of the more difficult places to play. Did the fans show up because they won? Or did they win became more people showed up? Most likely it was a little bit of both.

Both the success at the box office and on the ice can still be seen at Staples Center today. There’s an entire generation of fans who are buying season tickets today because their parents jumped on the bandwagon when Gretzky came to town. John Hoven from the fantastic Kings blog Mayor’s Manor shows that the new fans have provided the gift that keeps on giving:

“In the years that followed the Kings found record attendance and Wayne Gretzky continued to re-write the NHL record book. However, his most significant impact on the hockey landscape is probably just now starting to be felt, some 20+ years later. Over the last few years, more and more California-born (and trained) players have been taken at the NHL Draft, including four last year and five this summer. Just another example of Gretzky giving back to the game of hockey, long after he’s retired.”

As time goes on and success continues to elude the Kings, many of the fans can still look back to the Gretzky era for their fondest memories. Gann Matsuda of Frozen Royalty is a perfect example:

“Looking back to before I started writing about the Kings and the NHL, I was a fan of The Great One and had been since his days with the Oilers. I remember back in those days that whenever the Kings and Oilers were on TV, I would make sure to get home and watch so I could marvel at his extraordinary skill—talent that we had not seen before. And after Gretzky was traded to the Kings, I rarely missed a game on television.

I was in attendance at the Great Western Forum on March 23, 1994, when Gretzky broke Gordie Howe’s career NHL goal-scoring record against the Vancouver Canucks. I remember leaping to my feet, arms raised high over my head, cheering loudly along with everyone else. What a great memory that was.

Of course, there were many others, including the amazing Stanley Cup run in 1993 where he put the team on his back and almost willed the Kings to their first championship.”

But most obviously, the biggest change to the hockey landscape in Southern California was the addition of another team. Before Gretzky arrived, hockey fans were usually transplants that had two choices: the Kings or the team from their old hometown. Often times, they chose the latter. With the buzz Gretzky created in the media, the success the Kings achieved on the ice, and McNall’s willingness to open his market (for a one-time cash grab), the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were born. Fans in Orange County and the Inland Empire suddenly had a much closer option to satisfy their hockey fix. Ticket prices had exploded as demand increased for the Kings—there were a segment of season ticket holders who jumped at the chance to cut down on their tickets prices and drive time.

It’s been a divided region ever since. Hard to believe that a region that had a hard time supporting a single team for two decades was able to add a whole new franchise only four years after his arrival.

Red Wings’ Mike Green to have neck surgery, ending his season

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Mike Green‘s neck has done him few favors this season, and now it’s done his season in.

The All-Star defenseman will undergo cervical spine surgery and will miss the remainder of the 2017-18, the Detroit Red Wings announced on Thursday, right before the puck dropped for their game against the Washington Capitals.

Red Wings fans will recall, and likely bemoan, an earlier neck injury that prevented Green from getting dealt at the trade deadline earlier this season.

Green, 32, was hurt in a Feb. 15 matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning and missed seven games, returning on March 2 against the Winnipeg Jets. On Wednesday, he aggravated the same injury in practice.

Green has eight goals and 33 points in 66 games played.

Per Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press:

The procedure is scheduled for April 5 at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and will be performed by Dr. Frank Cammisa. A minimum two months of recovery time is expected.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Green this summer. The aging d-man is headed to free agency this summer and what he will command is up in the air. That number, whatever it is, likely took a blow thanks to this latest revelation on Thursday.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings

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Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin / Nicklas Backstrom / Tom Wilson

Andre Burakovsky / Lars Eller / T.J. Oshie

Brett Connolly / Travis Boyd / Jakub Vrana

Chandler Stephenson / Jay Beagle / Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry Orlov / Matt Niskanen

Michal Kempny / John Carlson

Christian Djoos / Brooks Orpik

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[Capitals – Red Wings preview]

Detroit Red Wings

Tyler Bertuzzi / Henrik Zetterberg / Gustav Nyquist

Darren Helm / Dylan Larkin / Anthony Mantha

Justin Abdelkader / Frans Nielsen / Andreas Athanasiou

Evgeny Svechnikov / Luke Glendening / Martin Frk

Niklas Kronwall / Mike Green

Jonathan Ericsson / Trevor Daley

Danny DeKeyser / Nick Jensen

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

One reason for Dallas Stars’ struggles? Shaky drafting

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The narrative is becoming almost as much of a trope as the Capitals suffering playoff heartbreak or the Hurricanes not even getting to the postseason. Year after year, the Dallas Stars “win” the off-season, yet they frustrate as much as they titillate when the pucks drop.

For years, mediocre-to-putrid goaltending has been tabbed as the culprit. There’s no denying that there have been disappointments in that area, especially since they keep spending big bucks hoping to cure those ills.

[Once again, Stars’ hope hinge on Kari Lehtonen.]

Checking all the boxes

The thing with success in the NHL is that there is no “magic bullet.”

Sure, the Penguins lucked out in being putrid at the right times to land Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and other key players with lottery picks. Even so, they’ve also unearthed some gems later in drafts (Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel) and made shrewd trades (Phil Kessel is the gift that keeps giving). They’ve also had a keen eye when it comes to who to keep or not keep in free agency, generally speaking.

In other words, the best teams may stumble here or there, but they’re generally good-to-great in just about every area.

The Stars hit a grand slam in the Tyler Seguin trade, made a shrewd signing in Alex Radulov, and enjoyed some nice wins in other moves. You can nitpick the style elements of bringing back Ken Hitchcock, but there are pluses to adding the Hall of Famer’s beautiful hockey mind.

Beyond goaltending, the Stars’ struggles in drafting and/or developing players really seems to be holding them back.

Not feeling the draft

Now, that’s not to say that they never find nice players on draft weekend. After all, they unearthed Jamie Benn in the fifth round (129th overall) in 2007 and poached John Klingberg with a fifth-rounder, too (131st pick in 2010).

Still, first-round picks have not been friendly to this franchise. When they’ve managed to make contact, they’ve managed some base hits, but no real homers. (Sorry, Radek Faksa.)

The Athletic’s James Gordon (sub required) ranked the Stars at 28th of 30 NHL teams who’ve drafted from 2011-15, furthering the point:

Imagine how great the Stars would be — what with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov — had they managed to get another core piece or two with one of their many mid-first and second-round picks. Instead, they’ve nabbed mostly role players who don’t move the needle much.

Actually, it’s quite staggering just how far back the Stars’ struggles with first-rounders really goes. Ignoring 2017 first-rounder Miro Heiskanen (third overall) and 2016 first-rounder Riley Tufte (25th) as they’re particularly early in their development curves, take a look at the Stars’ run of first-rounders:

2015: Denis Gurianov, 12th overall, 1 NHL game
2014: Julius Honka, 14th, 53 GP
2013: Valeri Nichushkin, 10th, 166 GP; Jason Dickinson, 29th, 35 GP
2012: Radek Faksa, 13th, 196 GP
2011: Jamie Oleksiak, 14th, 179 GP
2010: Jack Campbell, 11th, 6 GP
2009: Scott Glennie, 8th, 1 GP
2008: No first
2007: No first
2006: Ivan Vishnevskiy, 27th, 5 GP
2005: Matt Niskanen, 28th, 792 GP

Yikes. Even if Gurianov and Honka come along, that group leaves … a lot to be desired. (And those struggles go back past 2014 and beyond, honestly.)

Blame scouting, development, or both, but the Stars aren’t supplementing high-end talent with the depth that often separates great from merely good.

This isn’t a call for perfection, either. Even a team with some high-profile whiffs can also get big breaks. Sure, the Boston Bruins passed on Mathew Barzal three times, but they also got steals in Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak.



If the Stars want to break through as more than a fringe playoff team, “winning the off-season” will need to start in late June instead of early July.

And, hey, what better time to do that than when they’re hosting the next draft?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Playoff Push: Big bubble battles

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On a busy Thursday in the NHL, there’s at least one big matchup in both the East and West. While there are cases where playoff teams merely need to take care of business against lottery fodder, the most fun could come in tests of might with considerable stakes.

Western Conference

The most intriguing contest could be Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche, a battle between the West’s two wild card teams.

As you can see, the Avalanche currently hold the first wild-card spot, and they’re only two points behind the Wild for the Central’s third seed. The Kings could leap over the Ducks for the Pacific third seed, as Anaheim only holds one point over Los Angeles.

The San Jose Sharks host the Vegas Golden Knights in another interesting contest, which airs on NBCSN at 10 p.m. ET as part of a doubleheader. Here’s the stream link.

San Jose faces low odds in catching Vegas for the Pacific crown, but the Sharks are hot enough that a win tonight could strengthen such a drive. If nothing else, they hope to improve their chances of holding onto the second seed.

With Auston Matthews likely to return tonight, the Maple Leafs visiting the Predators should be a lot of fun, even if the two teams seem fairly locked into their spots in respective playoff races.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Eastern Conference

Alongside Kings – Avs, Florida Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets is the other big game of the day.

With two games in hand on the Devils and three on the Flyers/Blue Jackets, Florida could really climb the ranks. They do face a road-heavy haul, however, and that includes one of the toughest tests of that run tonight, when they face the red-hot Blue Jackets. Artemi Panarin is one of the driving forces of a squad riding a nine-game winning streak, and making the Metro races congested in the process.

If Columbus wins, they would really push the idle Penguins and even the Capitals, who hope to maintain or increase their lead for the Metro title as they face the Red Wings in Detroit. You can watch those teams, and maybe see Alex Ovechkin increase his Maurice Richard Trophy lead, in an NBCSN game. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET, while you can also catch the stream here.

There are also two “take care of business” games. The Lightning could really fatten their Atlantic title edge by beating the Islanders, while the Flyers hope to increase their margin of error over the Panthers/Blue Jackets if they can win against the Rangers.

The rest of the night features games between teams who are either eliminated from the playoffs or hurtling toward that fate.

If the playoffs started today

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Los Angeles Kings
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks

Noteworthy games

Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
Florida Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7 p.m. ET
Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
Toronto Maple Leafs at Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks, 10 p.m. ET

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.