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'Kings Ransom' documents Gretzky's trade to Los Angeles

Friday, 09.11.2009 / 7:49 PM / News

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

Wayne Gretzky’s trade from Edmonton to Los Angeles 21 years ago shocked Canada and changed the face of the NHL forever. Director Peter Berg’s documentary "Kings Ransom" recounts the deal in great detail and will premier at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday.

Berg’s hour-long film is part of ESPN’s "30 for 30," a documentary series that involves today’s top writers, directors and producers sharing their viewpoints on the biggest sports stories of the past 30 years.

For Berg, his passion for doing a documentary on the Gretzky trade was a no-brainer.

"Through the years, I went to lots of Kings games, and we played lots of golf and poker together," said Berg of his relationship with Gretzky, which began in the 1990s when Gretzky invited him to play in a softball tournament in The Great One’s hometown of Brantford, Ontario.

"Knowing Wayne is like knowing one of those rare human beings like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, who are so utterly dominant in their sport that it’s mesmerizing to be around them. The trade to the Kings was not only a huge moment in his career, but also a very contained and interesting way to look at this incredible athlete’s life."

"Kings Ransom" reveals the inner workings of the deal that went down Aug. 9, 1988, from the first mention of a possible deal to Oilers owner Peter Pocklington at the NHL Awards Show in 1985, to general manager Glen Sather’s vehement objection, to Gretzky being given the opportunity to nix the deal mere minutes before the press conference.

Gretzky talks openly about how torn he was about the trade. He laments never winning another Stanley Cup and says he believes he could’ve won "four more" if he stayed in Edmonton. But Gretzky also says that if Pocklington came to him today and asked if he’d want to make the trade, he’d tell him, "Trade me tomorrow."

"Knowing Wayne is like knowing one of those rare human beings like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, who are so utterly dominant in their sport that it’s mesmerizing to be around them. The trade to the Kings was not only a huge moment in his career, but also a very contained and interesting way to look at this incredible athlete’s life."
-- Director Peter Berg

During the courting process, Kings owner Bruce McNall talked about having Gretzky in his office. McNall put a call with Pocklington on speaker phone, which McNall said was the turning point in getting Gretzky comfortable with the idea of coming to Los Angeles.

It was then that Gretzky-to-L.A. started to become a real possibility. Not long after, one of the most shocking trades in sports history came to fruition.

"I was working in France when the deal went down," Berg said. "My best friend called me and said, ‘Gretzky’s coming to L.A.’ His voice was trembling.

"It felt like more than just a sports trade. It felt radical and wild and unsettling -- like a country’s nationalism was on the line and something big was about to happen. As a fan, it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced."

The documentary also features interviews with Gretzky’s wife, Janet Jones, his father, Walter Gretzky, and Edmonton journalists who lived through the trade. You can also catch glimpses of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the late 1980s and early 1990s, including John Candy, Kevin Costner, Timothy Hutton and Tony Danza.

"Kings Ransom" will debut on ESPN on Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m.




Once again, it shows character in this dressing room. Once again, there's no quitting in here. We all wanted this so bad and we worked so hard to get home-ice advantage and we weren't going to let this one slide.

— Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog on his team's OT Game 1 win vs. Minnesota Wild