Saturday, August 9, 2008

Oiler Salary Dump Brought the Czar to Atlanta

The entire hockey world is taking this opportunity to reflect on the Gretzky trade made 20 years ago today, and we at the Chronicle will, for once, conform. Because there is really no hyperbole when it is said that there would be no Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, or probably even any more LA Kings if it weren’t for the trade. Had Gretzky stayed on a Canadian team, or worse, if he’d gone to Detroit (as almost happened), it would have only been news in the frozen north, and no one would ever hoist the Stanley Cup, then step outside into 90 degree Southern heat.

Today, everyone is looking back in wonderment at the far flung effects of the trade. However, as much we Southern fans appreciate it every day, I can’t help but notice a bit of hypocrisy from our northern friends. Day in and day out we read the products of the Canadian media, and those they have co-opted even closer to home (need I remind anyone of Scott Burnside’s recent transgressions?) which more or less openly lament that the great CANADIAN sport of hockey is being sullied by having to include the hated “non-traditional hockey markets.” The sportswriters in Toronto and Ottawa would obviously prefer that there were only eight teams in the NHL, with Detroit and New York remaining only so that they could have a couple of token American targets for their spite.

But today is different. Today the bitter writers of newspapers with Sun in their name pretend that they are happy about the post-trade expansion of the NHL and hockey in general, and reminisce about the initial shock of learning that the Great One would be leaving his beloved Oilers to reign in Los Angeles.

The Oilers survived the loss of their captain and went on to win one more Stanley Cup in 1990 under the leadership of Mark Messier. The Kings turned their team around and made it to the Cup finals in 1993 before Gretzky moved on to St. Louis and eventually the Rangers. The other players involved in the trade all had respectable, if not highly memorable careers. No, it wasn’t what happened on the ice that makes this the most influential trade in the history of sports, it was the fact that it spread the ice throughout the United States. It is the fact that the Atlanta Thrashers were able to draft Vinny Saponari, a native of Powder Springs, GA in 2008. Wayne Gretzky IS hockey, and the trade quite literally secured the future of hockey south of Denver.

Because it is responsible for us being able to go to Philips Arena and cheer on the Czar and his army, the Gretzky trade also remains the only salary-dump Oiler trade in history that Big Shooter doesn’t mind.

Now we at the Chronicle are going to sit back and watch some Gretzky Week on the NHL Network and hope that all this reflection on the 20 year old trade will inspire our own DW to go out and get us that final piece that will vault us back into the playoffs. But don’t get too carried away, ok Don? Kovy needs to stay right where he is. The NHL doesn’t need to expand into Brazil.