ST. LOUIS - We’ll never forget the day “The Great One” came to St. Louis.
It was Feb. 27, 1996 - exactly 20 years ago - when the Blues acquired Wayne Gretzky from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Craig Johnson, Patrice Tardif, Roman Vopat, a first-round draft pick in 1997 and a fifth-round pick in 1996.
“The Kings asked me if I’d like to play in St. Louis, and I told them I’d love to play in St. Louis,” Gretzky said at a press conference following the trade. “They wanted me, they’re excited to get me. I’m thrilled to be there.”
Gretzky joined a group of Blues forwards that included Brett Hull, Dale Hawerchuk and Shayne Corson. His defense included future Hall of Famers in Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger and a legendary goaltender in Grant Fuhr, who had won four Stanley Cups with Gretzky in Edmonton a decade earlier.
"I weighed all my options and just said it makes perfect sense for me to become a St. Louis Blue,” Gretzky told Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently. “My wife's from St. Louis. We can live in St. Louis and raise our family there. That's our home and … there were no alternatives, really. Ultimately, they pulled the trigger and I became a St. Louis Blue.”
Gretzky would play in 18 regular season games for the Blues, scoring eight goals and 13 assists (21 points). In13 postseason games, he added 16 more points (two goals, 14 assists), helping the Blues pull to within one game of the Western Conference Finals in 1996. Ultimately, the Blues were eliminated by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round that season - in a double-overtime Game 7 thriller.
With Mike Keenan serving as the Blues’ Head Coach and GM, Gretzky opted not to re-sign in St. Louis. Instead, he was off to the New York Rangers, where he spent his final three seasons and retired in 1999.
“I often look back at it and think ‘Oh my gosh, if things would have turned out differently, I’d probably still be in St. Louis full-time,’” Gretzky said. “But, you know, the good Lord works in mysterious ways and sometimes that doesn’t happen. But I have nothing but fond memories.
“You know, I’ll go into a grocery story or something in St. Louis and people are wearing Blues jerseys or Blues hats and they’ll ask me how I’m doing,” Gretzky added. “It’s a sports city, it really is. People there are the salt of the earth, that’s what makes it such a special place.”