Revisiting Oilers' Unthinkable Decision to Trade Away Hockey Icon Wayne Gretzky to Kings

Back in 1988, the Oilers shockingly traded Wayne Gretzky to the Kings.
Back in 1988, the Oilers shockingly traded Wayne Gretzky to the Kings. / Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Many sports fans have been pulling their hair while watching ESPN's "The Last Dance." Why would general manager Jerry Krause tear down the Chicago Bulls dynasty after winning their sixth NBA title? The Edmonton Oilers are telling those individuals to hold their beer.

On Aug. 9, 1988, the Oilers shocked the world by trading Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all-time, to the Los Angeles Kings.

The decision came as a shock to many, considering Gretzky just led the Oilers to their fourth Stanley Cup victory in five seasons. Why would owner Peter Pocklington do such a thing?

As it turns out, Gretzky was entering the final year of his contract, and he had the clause to declare for free agency in 1989. Other rumors suggested that Pocklington was strapped for cash and couldn't afford him. So, Pocklington fielded trade calls from the likes of the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, and Kings to get something for "the Great One" instead of letting him walk for nothing in return.

Gretzky ultimately agreed to a trade to Los Angeles, on the insistence from his father. Ahead of his emotional press conference, Pocklington said he pulled Gretzky aside to ask him if he wanted to pull out of the trade, but he declined, because his focus was set on growing the game of hockey in the United States.

The move was devastating news in Canada. Oilers fans burned effigies of Pocklington, and New Democratic House Party leader Nelson Riis tried to get the Canadian government to step in and block the trade! It was that shocking.

Edmonton would end up winning the Stanley Cup in 1990, while Gretzky would never win a championship for the remainder of his career. This will forever go down as one of the more stunning trades in professional sports history, and we'll likely never see it again.