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Gretzky Is a Man Who Will Be King

August 10, 1988|JERRY CROWE | Times Staff Writer

Wayne Gretzky, eight times the National Hockey League's most valuable player and a national treasure in his native Canada, has been traded to the Kings in one of the biggest deals in sports history.

In a deal completed early Tuesday morning, the Kings acquired the NHL's all-time assist leader from the Edmonton Oilers for center Jimmy Carson; Martin Gelinas, the Kings' No. 1 draft pick last June; first-round draft choices in 1989, 1991 and 1993; the rights to defenseman Craig Redmond, and more than $10 million, an unspecified percentage of which the Kings are expected to recoup by increasing the rights fees paid by the Prime Ticket cable television network.

Also sent to the Kings were Oiler forward Mike Krushelnyski, 28, and forward-defenseman Marty McSorley, 25.

Rogie Vachon, King general manager, called it "a fantastic deal." He also said it would immediately put the Kings in contention for the Stanley Cup and would go a long way toward putting hockey on the map in Los Angeles.

Said owner Bruce McNall, responding to the suggestion that the Kings might have mortgaged their future: "I'm concerned with today. Let's not wait for the future."

At an emotional press conference in Edmonton, Oiler owner Peter Pocklington, who negotiated the deal with McNall, said that Gretzky had asked to be traded to the Kings.

Gretzky, 27, was married last month to actress Janet Jones, who lives in Sherman Oaks.

"He wants to spend more time with Janet and begin their family life under one roof, and in one city, and be able to call it home," said Pocklington, who added that it was with "mixed emotions" and "a heavy heart" that he granted Gretzky's request.

"The best comparison I can draw to this situation is this: What to do when an outstanding, loyal employee approaches you, the employer, and asks for an opportunity to move along for logical and understandable reasons?

"In an emotional sense, you know you don't want to lose him, but at the same time, you don't want to stop him from pursuing his dreams and achieving his goals.

"Wayne has given so much to our hockey club and to this city for the past decade (that) I believe he has earned the right to determine his own destiny in the National Hockey League."

Said Gretzky, fighting back tears: "I decided that for the benefit of Wayne Gretzky and my new wife and our expected child in the new year that it would be beneficial for everyone involved to let me play with the Los Angeles Kings."

Gretzky, though, said that Jones had not asked him to request a trade. "It was my own gut feeling," he said.

"I'm disappointed about having to leave Edmonton. I truly admire all the fans and respected everyone over the years, but . . . "

With that, he broke down, wiping his eyes with a handkerchief and saying at one point: "I promised Mess (Oiler teammate Mark Messier) I wouldn't do this."

Tuesday night, in an extravagant press conference at the Sheraton La Reina in Los Angeles, a more composed Gretzky, modeling the Kings' new black, silver and white uniform, said: "This morning it was very difficult for me to leave the city, to leave some of the people who have become my greatest friends.

"As is your basketball team down here, they are in their own category as far as winning, as far as sportsmanship and entertainment.

"Tonight, it's all uphill. It's very exciting. I'm sure it's something that will not only be good for Wayne Gretzky and the L.A. Kings, but also for the game of hockey.

"It's a disappointing day to have to leave Edmonton, but it's a great new challenge for me."

Gretzky, who holds or shares 41 NHL scoring records, scored a career-low 40 goals last season, when knee and eye injuries forced him to miss 16 games.

His 149 points, which left him second in the scoring race behind Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins, represented his lowest production since 1979-80, his rookie season, when he had 137.

Still, he led the NHL in assists for the ninth straight season and then led the Oilers to the Stanley Cup championship for the fourth time in five years, establishing NHL records for most assists in the playoffs, 31 in 19 games, and most in the final series, 10, and earning his second Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs.

The Oilers, who finished second in the Smythe Division behind the Calgary Flames in the regular season, breezed through the playoffs, compiling a 16-2 record and sweeping both the series against the Flames in the Smythe Division final and the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final.

Gretzky said at the time that he had never felt better and Messier said: "He played like he never has before."

Gretzky holds NHL records for most goals, 92; assists, 163; and points in a season, 215. A seven-time scoring champion, he is the all-time assist leader with 1,086. Entering his 10th NHL season, he needs 219 goals and 182 points to become the all-time leader in those categories. Gordie Howe, the all-time leader, needed 26 seasons to amass 1,850 points.

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