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They said it, then and now

Tuesday, 08.05.2008 / 7:10 PM / 20th Anniversary of the Greatest Deal

By NHL.com Staff

"Not only did I have second thoughts, but third and fourth and fifth and sixth thoughts." -- Peter Pocklington after dealing Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings
"I don't mind telling you that when Bruce McNall approached me and asked what it would take to get Wayne to L.A., I asked for the entire Kings franchise and an option on Jerry Buss' Lakers.” -- Edmonton owner Peter Pocklington

"You've got to understand the psychology of what's happened (in Edmonton). It's like a death and people need time to recover from that death. It's like any emotional shock. You've got to get over it." -- Peter Pocklington

"Not only did I have second thoughts, but third and fourth and fifth and sixth thoughts." -- Peter Pocklington

"I'm concerned with today. Let's not wait for the future . . . I've got to do something radical to sell hockey in L.A., and there's no name in hockey like Wayne Gretzky.” -- Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall

"I'll always be the answer to the trivia question: 'Who was traded for Wayne Gretzky?'" -- Jimmy Carson.

"Gretzky going to Los Angeles is the best thing that can happen to hockey. If you do well in Los Angeles, all of the United States will start to watch you. Him being (in Los Angeles) is going to promote hockey." -- Luc Robitaille

“Hey, he belongs in L.A. He’s the greatest. I’m definitely going to go get season tickets. Even if they never win a game, it will still be exciting to go now.” -- L.A. Lakers’ Magic Johnson

"It's going to have an unbelievable impact . . . here you have a franchise that's been struggling for over 21 years - since 1967. With Wayne Gretzky going there, it brings instant credibility, respect and notoriety." -- Calgary GM Cliff Fletcher

"Gretzky's the best ambassador hockey's ever had. This is a sensation happening for the NHL." -- Boston GM Harry Sinden

"I didn't know it would carry this type of magnitude." -- Wayne Gretzky (speaking of the interest generated in Los Angeles by the trade)

"I remember that first summer, I spent every day going to hockey clinics and doing interviews trying to sell the game. It didn't happen overnight, and a lot of people put in a lot of hours. The one thing I worried about was being a $15 million bust." -- Wayne Gretzky

Luc Robitaille reflects on the deal:

On when he first heard about the possibility that Wayne Gretzky might become a King: “For me, funny enough, that year was my first All-Star Game (February 9, 1988 in St. Louis) and (Kings' owner) Bruce McNall had come to me and said, 'I think I might have a shot at getting Gretzky' and I’ll never forget looking at him and thinking he was crazy. And then after the All-Star Game, he never said a word and I didn’t hear about it again for a long time. I can’t remember exactly when over the summer it was, but I had seen Bruce somewhere and he said, 'We’re still working on that Gretzky deal.’ Then the week before (the trade) I heard a lot of rumbling, people were talking to me, but I was still such a fan of Wayne and a fan of the Oilers that I just didn’t believe it would ever happen, to be honest, until the day of the trade when Bruce called me - I was in Montreal, and told me he had made the deal. For me, Wayne was the greatest player to play the game and I just didn’t see him ever leaving (Edmonton).”

On his first thoughts after hearing that Wayne Gretzky was going to be a teammate: "The first thing we knew right away was that we were going to be a contender; we were going to be really good. What people forget, too, is that when we got Wayne, we also got Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley in the trade as well as John Tonelli around the same time – we got a lot of good players.  But Wayne was involved in helping us become a good team, fast. Suddenly, we went from being a really young team to having all of these great veterans who had a lot of experience and who were winners and good people. Bruce McNall made sure that Wayne was surrounded well. I think that was the smartest thing to do. From our standpoint, our team looked good right away; every night we had Kelly Hrudey in net. We weren’t sure we were going to win the Stanley Cup but we knew we had a good team."

On what changed for hockey in Los Angeles on August 9, 1988: “That day, the way I tell people is, hockey changed. For years, people said hockey could never work in Los Angeles.  And then there was so much success quickly: we were selling the most jerseys in the NHL, everything was just buzzing about our team and everywhere we went there was an event. The next year (1989-90), Bruce started setting us up with pre-season games and we were literally doing tours. I remember in 1989 that we started training camp in Hull and playing one game in Quebec and then suddenly we were going on a tour. We played in every possible new market.  We were playing in Miami, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Cincinnati, and Cleveland.  Instead of playing just a normal pre-season, we would do all of these tours and a lot of the games were either against the Rangers or the Penguins. When I look back, that is the reason why all of those teams are there today. It was the impact of Wayne Gretzky on the sun belt; suddenly people started to believe that hockey could exist. With Wayne Gretzky, we sold out arenas. We had a pre-season game in Tampa Bay in September, 1990 with the largest crowd in hockey ever at the time (25,581) in the baseball stadium.”

On the atmosphere around the team: “I remember Wayne, literally after every game, having to meet someone - Bruce sometimes would even bring in people before the game. And Wayne was aware of the impact that he had, whether it was with producers, actors, bankers, investors.  I remember Bruce introducing him to Michael Eisner and the next thing you know there is a team in Anaheim. All of these little things that Wayne did to go out of his way to shake hands and talk to people about the game; to excite them about what our game meant to people and this was all part of the game, and this was where Bruce was very good.”








Quote of the Day

When we started our journey we made a commitment to our fans to be relevant and to see the Chicago Blackhawks become the best professional hockey organization. There are not two finer symbols of that than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago.

— Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz on signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to contract extensions