25 years ago, Wayne Gretzky was traded

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Twenty-five years ago today, hockey fans were shown that there is no such thing as a completely untouchable player. Even Wayne Gretzky in his prime, and fresh off his fourth Stanley Cup victory in just five years, could be dealt under the right set of circumstances.

On Aug. 9, 1988, that’s what happened. The Edmonton Oilers shipped Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a trio of first round picks (one was then traded to the New Jersey Devils, who picked Jason Miller, and the other two selections were spent on Martin Rucinsky and Nick Stajduhar), Martin Gelinas, Jimmy Carson, and $15 million.

That deal sent shock waves through Canada and simultaneously breathed new life into the Los Angeles Kings. Although Gretzky never won a Cup with the Kings while Edmonton would win one more time without The Great One, Gretzky helped demonstrate that hockey could work in non-traditional markets.

This anniversary has been used as an opportunity to reflect on the historic deal and we wanted to share some of that with you.

For example, Sportsnet has been extensively covering the anniversary all week, including a video series complete with interviews from the people that made that deal.

One of the most interesting quotes from that series came from then Oilers coach and GM Glen Sather.

He was against the trade when it happened, but Oilers owner Peter Pocklington forced his hand. Still, when asked to reflect on who won the deal, Sather said, “Well, I don’t know whether you ever win or lose in that kind of a deal, but you could say hockey won.”

That’s a sentiment that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently echoed to the Canadian Press.

“Remember thinking at the time that that demonstrated a huge step forward for hockey and its credibility,” Bettman said. “It was obviously something that, in the annals of sports, was one of those seminal events that gets a tremendous amount of attention because of its import and impact.”

Meanwhile, LA Kings Insider has been publishing interviews of people that were involved in the trade. Writer Jon Rosen talked with former Kings owner Bruce McNall, who discussed the immediate impact getting Gretzky had as far as fan interest was concerned. Rosen also got in contact with one of the Oilers players that got shipped with Gretzky, retired forward Krushelnyski.

The other side of the coin is Edmonton as its citizens were left trying to find themselves while Los Angeles celebrated. Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun took this opportunity to reflect on the trade from Edmonton and Canada’s perspective.

Towards the end of his piece, he shared an excerpt of the article he wrote 25 years ago in reaction to the trade:

Shock. Outrage. Anger. None of those emotions quite cover it, do they? The emotions we’re dealing with here are not unlike the death in a family. A death not by natural causes.

Wayne Gretzky is more than the greatest player in the history of hockey. He’s more than the most dominant team sport athlete in history. He’s that to the world. But to Edmonton, Wayne Gretzky was our mark on the map. This morning our city can only be in a state of mourning.

Finally, we’ll leave you with a clip of Wayne Gretzky addressing the media after the trade:

Agent: Numerous Stanley Cup contenders have called on Kunitz

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Chris Kunitz is in demand.

That’s the word from agent Ben Hankinson, who this week told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette his 37-year-old client is garnering major interest from a number of teams — and certain kinds of teams, to be clear.

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Hankinson, who represents Kunitz, said he’s fielded calls from as many as 10 teams with a legitimate shot at knocking off the Penguins next season, all interested in signing Kunitz.

“I don’t know where it’s going to end up,” Hankinson said. “Chris does have interest from a lot of teams. Who knows exactly where that interest is going to be once the offers start flying around, but he does have a lot of interest.”

Kunitz, who turns 38 in September, has been told by GM Jim Rutherford to explore free agency (to be fair, Rutherford told all his UFAs this). It’s going to be really interesting what that means for Kunitz, who could bring plenty to a team looking to make a postseason run.

For starters, there’s his experience. Few active NHLers have played — and won — in the playoffs as much as Kunitz. He’s got 161 games on his resume with four Stanley Cups, and was a key contributor for Pittsburgh this past spring.

In 20 games, Kunitz racked up 11 points while averaging 14:52 TOI per night. His nine assists put him tied for fourth on the team, and he famously scored the double-OT winner against Ottawa in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Given the lack of options in this year’s free agent class, Kunitz could score a pretty decent contract. That’s important, as it might be his last. The cagey veteran spoke at the Stanley Cup Final about how this could very well be his last kick at the can with Pittsburgh, and acknowledged that — given how limited opportunities are to win in the NHL — he needed to capitalize on every single one.

“We’ve been together for so long,” Kunitz said. “Our families are close, the kids are getting older and you realize that we’ve been really fortunate to have this great group of guys that have stuck together for so long. It’s rare to have guys stay for that long.

“So you just want to capitalize and make the most of it. [We’ve] all gone out for dinner together before the trade deadline, never knowing where your hockey career’s going to go. It’s something you put into your mind, but you’ve got to go out there and achieve your success every time you can.”

Report: Kovalchuk talking extension with KHL club

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Last week, Devils GM Ray Shero was of the belief that Ilya Kovalchuk was still planning to play in the NHL next season.

Today, however, a Russian media outlet is reporting that Kovalchuk is talking with his KHL club, SKA Saint Petersburg, about a possible extension.

If accurate, that would mesh with an earlier report — the one that Shero ostensibly shot down — that Kovalchuk had decided to keep playing in Russia.

The NHL’s decision to skip the 2018 Winter Olympics may be weighing on Kovalchuk. If he returns to North America, he won’t be able to represent his country in South Korea — a fact that was cemented last week when the NHL released its 2017-18 schedule.

Of course, all this could just be SKA Saint Petersburg making a last-ditch attempt to keep Kovalchuk.

“We have the desire to keep Ilya. He is our hockey player, a patriot and loves to play for the national team,” said club president Gennady Timchenko (translated, per Sportsnet). “We will talk today, and we might have some news later.”

Kovalchuk can’t sign an NHL contract until July 1.

Sens’ Stalberg drawing interest from Swiss League

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Viktor Stalberg, the veteran forward that was part of Ottawa’s recent playoff run, has reportedly landed on the radar of National League A outfit EV Zug.

Per Swiss Hockey News, club manager Reto Klay confirmed interest in Stalberg, saying he is “among the candidates” to be signed by the team this summer.

Stalberg, 31, split last season between the ‘Canes and Sens, combining to score 11 goals and 16 points in 57 games. He’s previously spent time with the Rangers, Predators, Blackhawks and Maple Leafs, recording a career-high 22 goals and 43 points with Chicago in ’11-12.

He was also part of the ‘Hawks team that captured the Stanley Cup in 2013.

Stalberg has played each of the last two seasons on one-year deals, and it’ll be interesting to see if he lands another one — or, potentially, try and secure a longer-term deal overseas.

Former Oilers tough guy Dave Semenko passes away from cancer

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Former Edmonton Oilers forward Dave Semenko has passed away after a short battle with cancer. Semenko was 59 years old.

The Oilers released a statement earlier this morning:

It is with great sadness we announce the passing of Oilers legend Dave Semenko after a short, but courageous battle with cancer. Dave will be remembered as a fierce competitor, loyal teammate, fan favorite and dear friend to so many. His legendary toughness on the ice is surpassed only by his kindness and caring for others, and his equally legendary wit and sense of humor.

Our hearts go out to Dave’s family and many friends.

Once an Oiler, Always an Oiler

Semenko played for the Oilers for parts of 10 seasons (two in the WHA, eight in the NHL). He also had short stints in Hartford and Toronto.

He finished his NHL career with 65 goals, 153 points and 1,175 penalty minutes in 575 games. Semenko also won two Stanley Cups with the Oilers in 1984 and 1985.