The New York Rangers acquired center Mark Messier, 30, from the Edmonton Oilers on Friday for former King center Bernie Nicholls and two young forwards, Louie DeBrusk and Steven Rice.
"I don't think this franchise has ever had a player like him," Neil Smith, general manager of the Rangers, said of Messier.
"To trade for a Mark Messier seemed like a fantasy when we first started talking in July. It took us a lot of slaps in the face for us to realize this could be true."
Messier, a member of five Stanley Cup-champion teams in Edmonton, hastened the trade by requesting a renegotiated contract last spring. When Glen Sather, general manager of the Oilers, rejected his demands, Messier refused to join the team after playing in the Canada Cup tournament last month.
Messier, winner of the Hart Trophy after the 1989-1990 season, is reported to have earned $1.1 million last season, and Sather is said to have offered $2 million per season.
"In the end, the Oilers offered a pretty substantial contract," Messier said at the Montreal Forum, where the Rangers will play tonight. "But I've been playing in Edmonton for 12 years, and it (a parting) was going to be sooner or later.
"Both the Oilers and myself recognized that fact, and we were able to get things done."
Messier said he would play tonight, but acknowledged that "it'll probably take a week for me to get my legs into full playing shape."
Like Messier, Sather was not emotional when he commented on the trade at a news conference at the Edmonton Coliseum. Messier joins Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson, Steve Smith and Jari Kurri as players traded by Sather since Edmonton was eliminated from the playoffs last spring.
"It's sad for me to trade Mark Messier, but it becomes more complex than that," Sather said. "We've traded a lot of players, but we've acquired a lot of young players in return. If you don't trade players when they still have some value, you can never recover."
Smith said that Nicholls, who wasn't expected to join the Oilers immediately because his wife, who is expecting twins, is having pregnancy complications, was stunned by the trade, but "he had a pro's reaction because at the same time he accepted it."