I'm having a tough time gathering up many thoughts that haven't been said and written here and elsewhere before. As it turns out, FanHouse had our own little spasm of Gretzky-mania in and around the 19th anniversary of the deal. I looked at the trade from the 50,000 foot-level; our old buddy Greg Wyshynski recounted the reaction of the media from August 9, 1988; and J.P. and Dr. Mirtle put Gretzky's greatness into perspective on the stat sheet. Earlier this week, Kevin Schultz shared the perspective of a hockey fan who got to watch the trade from his highchair.
Over at the NHL Network this week, it's been all Gretzky, all the time, beginning with Wednesday night when it premiered A Day That Changed The Game: August 9, 1988, an hour-long documentary about the deal. The rest of the week has been peppered with plenty of other Gretzky-centric programming, including replays of some of the most significant games from his time in a Kings uniform.
Even when I turned off the television, I couldn't get away from Gretzky. It was on Tuesday evening that I arrived home to find an express mail package on my doorstep from an old college buddy who lives outside New Orleans. Inside were a pair of Todd McFarlane figurines, both Gretzkys, one in an Oilers uniform and the other in his LA duds. Apparently, they still don't know who he is in rural Louisiana, so you can snag them for a buck a piece at the local dollar discount store.
But instead of continuing to look backwards, why not look at the road not taken? Because had things shaken out just a little differently, Gretzky might have never gotten to Hollywood. Instead, imagine the Great One wearing the winged wheel in Detroit? It could have happened.
Earlier this week, the NHL published a transcript of the interview Gretzky did with the NHL network for the most recent documentary. And it was this moment that can't have me but wondering, what if ...
"What had happened was: [Oilers owner] Peter [Pocklington] had given permission basically to talk to whoever I wanted to. And at the point in time, I said, 'Look, if I'm moving, the only two places I want to go to would be Los Angeles or Detroit' and Peter said, 'Fine,' and that's how I got involved. My favorite team as a kid was Detroit. My dad wanted me to go to Detroit but my gut was telling me there was a huge challenge in Los Angeles and I just really felt like it was the right thing to do in my heart, that's all, gut feel And I wound up in LA."Over at MLive, my friend George James Malik briefly considered the possibility and concluded that making the deal may very well have cost the Wings the four Cups the team enjoyed in the last 11 seasons. It's hard to argue with his logic, and looking back, you can see why the Wings balked at the deal.
During the 1987-88 season, Detroit finished on top of the Norris Division with 93 points, a whopping 27 points ahead of second place St. Louis. Up front, the team was stocked with plenty of talent under the age of 30, led of course by Steve Yzerman, but supplemented by players like Gerard Gallant, Adam Oates, Joe Murphy, Bob Probert, Joe Kocur, Petr Klima and Adam Graves.
In the playoffs, the Wings dispatched Toronto and St. Louis before falling to the Oilers in the Conference Finals. And considering just how much young talent the team boasted, it's easy to see why management thought that standing pat and letting that talent continue to develop might very well lead to a Stanley Cup all on its own. Had the Wings gone forward with a deal, there's little doubt the Oilers would have demanded Yzerman as part of the exchange, something that I'm sure would give any and all Wings fans a moment of pause.
But what's all the more ironic about the missed opportunity is that Graves, Klima and Murphy -- three players who may very well have been part of any deal -- eventually wound up in Edmonton anyway. It was a little more than a year later that they, along with the forgotten Jeff Sharples, went North of the border with one of the pieces of the Gretzky deal, Jimmy Carson, returning in exchange along with Kevin McClelland and a fifth round draft pick.
When you toss that into the hopper with the benefit of hindsight -- the trade to Edmonton marked the high water mark of Carson's career -- all of a sudden the possible combinations don't look so crazy, and positing an earlier return to Stanley Cup glory with Gretzky in the Detroit lineup doesn't seem all that far fetched.