Major sports trades usually take at least a season to evaluate properly. But it may take years to determine all of the ramifications of the blockbuster deal that catapulted National Hockey League superstar Wayne Gretzky from the Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. This is not a situation where the Kings are hitching their wagon to a falling star. Gretzky, still years from retirement at age 27, was voted the most valuable player in this year's NHL playoffs. During that stretch Wayne also set a record for assists, with 31 in 19 games.
Gretzky still has the ability to fill an opposing goalie's net with flying pucks, arenas around the league with fans, and the hearts of his thousands of admirers with unbridled excitement. Even on a struggling team like the Kings, who cannot yet surround him with the high-caliber players who were his teammates on the Oilers, Wayne will still be able to make things happen.
In a script that Hollywood probably would have rejected as too bizarre, Wayne Gretzky is now a member of the Los Angeles Kings basically because of a bow and arrow. Used to surviving hundreds of tanklike body checks on the ice, Gretzky was unable to cope with the velvet arrow shot from Cupid's bow.
On July 16, Gretzky was married to actress Janet Jones, who lives in Thousand Oaks, California. The thought of Wayne's spending most of his time in Edmonton or on the road while his wife remained in L.A. apparently got to him. The tryst that had been dubbed Canada's royal wedding now appears more like a goodbye party that was simply a bit premature.
So the Great One approached Oilers owner Peter Pocklington about the possibility of playing with another hockey team.
``I felt at that time, that after 10 years in Edmonton, I was still young enough to help a new team win a Stanley Cup,'' Gretzky said. ``Besides, I wanted to spend more time with Janet and begin our family life [they are expecting a child sometime next year] under one roof and in one city.''
Explained Pocklington about the way he handled Wayne's request: ``What do you do when an outstanding and loyal employee approaches you and asks for an opportunity to move along for logical and understandable reasons?''
``In an emotional sense,'' Peter told reporters, ``you don't want to lose him. But at the same time, you don't want to stop him from pursuing his dreams and achieving his goals.
``Gretzky has given so much to this city for the past decade [among those gifts are four Stanley Cups in the past five years], but I believe he has earned the right to determine his own destiny in the National Hockey League.''
Oilers season-ticket holders, however, are not taking the Gretzky shuffle quite so philosophically. While Canada is not yet ready to declare war on the United States for stealing the jewel from its crown, at the first sign of winter the US Border Patrol had better be on the alert for some enormous snowballs rolling south.
The other part of the Gretzky trade that won't go away is the tremendous price in cash, talented young players, and future draft choices that Los Angeles owner Bruce McNall paid to get him. History shows that several times in the past, the Kings have traded away future draft choices and then wished they had them back.
For a quick ride on Instant Glory Road, did McNall pothole his team's future by trading away Jimmy Carson, a marvelously gifted young center; Martin Gelinas, this year's No. 1 draft pick; plus first-round choices in 1989, '91, and '93?
This of course does not even take into consideration that $10 million in cash that the Kings hope to offset partly by increasing the revenue they now receive from Prime Ticket Cable TV for the rights to carry their games. In addition to Gretzky, L.A. also received Oiler forward Mike Krushelnyski, 25, and forward/-defenseman Marty McSorley, also 25.
McNall, a co-owner of the Kings until this year, when he bought the remaining 51 percent of the stock from Jerry Buss (who also owns the Lakers and the L.A. Forum), is a gung-ho type of guy.
Once he got control of the Kings, Peter asked general manager Rogie Vachon and coach Robbie Ftorek to make ``wish lists'' and submit them to him. ``I'm not sure we'll honor everything on their wish lists, but we'll try.''
Asked by reporters if the Kings hadn't indeed mortgaged their future, McNall replied: ``I'm concerned with today. I want us to win a Stanley Cup as quickly as we can. I don't want to wait for the future.''
McNall, whose net worth is estimated at more than $100 million, made his first big financial hit at age 24, when he reportedly paid $420,000 for a 2,000-year-old Greek coin that he later sold for $1 million.
Bruce also owns Gladden Entertainment Corporation, a film-producing company that has been involved in such box office winners as ``Mr. Mom,'' and ``War Games.'' He is not the type to let any AstroTurf grow under his feet.
Gretzky is joining a team that has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Kings, who allowed more goals than any other team in the NHL during last year's 30-42-8 season, could also use a top-notch net-minder.
Still, it took courage for McNall to make a deal like this - courage and a lot of money. Gretzky, whose contract under NHL rules now pays him the same in American dollars that he used to receive in Canadian currency, can automatically count on an approximate 20 percent boost in salary!