So last week was the 25th anniversary of Wayne Gretzky’s trade to the Los Angeles Kings. At the time, the deal shocked many as it came from nowhere for most.
The internet, twitter and multiple 24 hour a day sports channels were not available. Hockey fans didn’t have “rumor mills” like they do today.
Stu Hackel of Sports Illustrated posted a story on how two reporters got the scoop that Gretzky was going to get traded.
Two reporters from Edmonton, Gord Miller and Chris Cuthbert, first reported the possibility of a Gretzky trade but it gained little traction. Miller thinks they reported the story on July 15th, but Cuthbert thinks it may have been closer to August 1st or 2nd. Cuthbert does remember getting a call from someone from the Detroit-Windsor area that Gretzky trade was going to happen.
“I took a call,” Cuthbert says. “And we kind of laughed about it, then dismissed it. And then, about 15 minutes later, we started talking again about why he would be traded and tried to piece together some clues. One of the things that convinced us to pursue it was that the year before, for the first time, the coaching staff had been openly critical of Gretzky if he wasn’t playing at a Gretzky-like pace. Before, if anybody ever said anything about Gretzky, the organization would almost blackball you. They didn’t like his attitude as much, and that kind of tweaked our curiosity a bit. And I guess that was during the point where negotiations on a new deal weren’t going that well and they might have let their guard down and showed their frustration in another way.”
As they continued to investigate the rumor, they talked to the Winnipeg Jets GM John Ferguson and Vancouver Canucks assistant GM Brian Burke. Burke knew what was going down. Miller remembers the call:
“Hi Mr. Burke, it’s Gord Miller calling from CBC, you wouldn’t remember me….”
“…I remember ya’. Is there a question here?”
“Is it true the Vancouver Canucks have offered Trevor Linden, another player, a first round pick and $15 million for Wayne Gretzky?”
“He’s not going to Vancouver,” Burke said. “He’s going to L.A. It’s for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas….”
“He had everything but [Marty] McSorley and [Mike] Krushelnyski going back the other way,” Miller says.
They went with the story that evening, but it didn’t gain any traction. The Oilers threatened to sue them.
“The Oilers were denying it so vehemently and they controlled the city so tightly that it was just kind of fanciful,” says Miller. “We didn’t even know Gretzky only had a year to go on his contract and then he’d be an unrestricted free agent. It was different in L.A. I worked with Fred Roggin from KNBC in L.A. and he was hearing a lot of about it from the Buss family and everybody else.”
Out in LA, the story spread from one of Bruce McNall’s secretary, who knew about the potential trade in late July. She told her boyfriend, who told a friend, who called a radio station. This sequence also gained little traction as well.
It is amazing looking at how things have changed. If Miller and Cuthbert’s initial story was mentioned today, it would blow up twitter and forums
in about 10 seconds.