Less than two months removed from being selected seventh by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1988 NHL Draft, Martin Gelinas was working at a hockey camp near his hometown of Shawinigan, Quebec. The 18-year-old was hoping a strong summer training regimen would help him make a Kings team that was building around youth. Then someone told him the news that seemed impossible to believe.
"You just got traded for Wayne Gretzky."
The idea seemed so crazy Gelinas simply disregarded it and went back on the ice. Within a couple of hours, reporters had swarmed the arena and wanted to ask the young forward about being involved in the biggest trade in NHL history.
About 600 miles away in Michigan, Jimmy Carson was contending with a group of reporters knocking at the front door of his parents' house, where he was spending some time after scoring 55 goals in his second season in Los Angeles.
"I didn't quite believe it and then reporters started flooding the rink," Gelinas told NHL.com. "Back then, it was a blockbuster. It was the biggest trade in sports history."
Carson and Gelinas went on to have long and productive NHL careers. Yet 25 years after "The Trade," the pair is still best remembered as the primary bounty surrendered for the Kings to land "The Great One."
The full transaction was as follows: Gretzky, Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski to the Kings for Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million in cash, and the Kings' first-round draft picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993.
The trade was particularly shocking for Carson, who in a short time had established himself as one of the top young scorers in the League. A month before the trade, Kings owner Bruce McNall alerted Carson that he could be involved in the trade, but that the Kings saw him as the future of the franchise. Soothed by this conversation, Carson bought a house in Southern California, hiring McNall's wife, who was working as an interior decorator, to dress up the place. Three weeks later, Carson was on his way to Edmonton as the primary piece going back.
"My wife was a roommate of my sister's from college. They ended up staying in that house. Two college kids in Redondo Beach in a nice outfitted home," Carson told NHL.com. "So it was always a family joke. My sister loved the trade because she got to have the house."
Carson and Gelinas were expected to play large roles on a youthful core in Los Angeles that included scoring wing Luc Robitaille, playmaking centers Bernie Nicholls and Bobby Carpenter, and talented defenseman Steve Duchesne. But with one headline-making transaction, Carson and Gelinas were starting over on a veteran-heavy championship team with few available roster spots.
Gelinas immediately felt the intense media glare of being involved in the colossal trade, not to mention the outrage of a city, and to a large extent, a country that felt it had been robbed of a national treasure. Despite his inexperience, Gelinas was given a spot on Edmonton's roster before being returned to his junior team in Hull.
Carson, on the other hand, faced more pressure. He responded with 49 goals and 100 points in his first season with the Oilers, but the intense scrutiny was a shock to the system.
"The city was in mourning, the country was in mourning. Everyone was in mourning, Wayne Gretzky had just been traded. Unfortunately, rightly or wrongly, I was kind of the symbol of the trade. It was just one of those things," Carson said. "You'd go to the [Northlands] Coliseum and you'd see [Oilers owner] Peter Pocklington hanging in effigy. And the fact that I'm American, it just kind of added to it. Not that they were anti-American or anti-me. It was just the symbolism of Gretzky being gone."
At the start of his second season in Edmonton, Carson was traded to his hometown Detroit Red Wings, where he enjoyed four fruitful seasons before being traded back to the Kings, whom he helped lead to the 1993 Stanley Cup Final.
Now working as a financial advisor in Michigan, Carson finished his NHL career with 275 goals. More than anything, he's embraced his role, involuntary as it was, in the Gretzky trade.
"I'm the kind of guy who always tries to be positive and look forward. When it's all said and done, just be happy and not wishing things had been different," Carson said. "It was very unique. I remember telling my parents, 'I can't believe it, I'm in the biggest trade in the history of sports.' No sooner had I said that, the phones started ringing and people were knocking at the door."
Gelinas never posted offensive numbers quite like Carson's, but his longevity in the League was impressive by any standard. A veteran of 18 NHL seasons, he works as an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames. He won the Stanley Cup in 1990 with the Oilers, one of four teams -- along with the Vancouver Canucks, Carolina Hurricanes and Flames -- he would play for in the Cup Final.
Much like Carson, Gelinas has grown philosophical about how his unique place in hockey history contributed to his success.
"Looking back, I'm in the coaching department now, I was lucky to be surrounded by Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe and Craig Simpson; the list went on. So many Hall of Famers," Gelinas said. "It was a big deal, and not everybody liked it. But we had to make the best out of it. Gretzky did what he had to do, I had to do what I had to do as a player and prove myself. So did Jimmy Carson. We were part of a big deal that happened. But after that you had to prove yourself year after year."