August 9, 1988. Just two months prior to this date Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers had defeated Ray Bourque and the Boston Bruins for Lord Stanley’s Cup. With it being their fourth cup in five years the team had arguably solidified itself as the juggernaut of the NHL during the eighties. But amidst the celebrating in the streets of Edmonton, rumors were running rampant about the possible departure of The Great One. Then on that fateful day that sent shock waves through all of Canada, the greatest hockey player of all time was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings for what could only be described as a ransom: two players in Jimmy Carson and Martin Gélinas, three first round draft picks, and what many Oilers fans consider to be blood money, an unprecedented $15 million USD.
Although hockey fans may be aware of the specifics of the most monumental trade in the history of professional sports, only a few may recall the ongoing drama that surrounded the deal: the ongoing disputes between Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington and head coach Glen Sather; the burning of numerous Pocklington effigies; the wide spread belief that Gretzky was a trader to his native country; even the labeling of Gretzky’s wife, Janet, as the “Yoko” of the NHL.
Director and fellow hockey fan Peter Berg does an amazing job in capturing this drama and retelling the trade that changed hockey forever with his documentary “Kings Ransom.” Airing this past Tuesday on ESPN, the documentary is part of the network’s “30 for 30” series that examines the issues and personalities in sports from ESPN’s debut in 1979 to the present.
The film opens with Gretz walking through an empty LA Forum, reliving the roller coaster of emotions he felt after being dealt from a Stanley Cup champion to one of the worst teams in the league at the time. Although Gretzky claimed that he wanted to stay in Edmonton, he now believes that it was the best thing for him and the sport: “If I had to do it all over again, I would tell Peter again, ‘Trade me.'”
Gretzky admits that he is content now, but the trade brought a strain on his relationship with Pocklington: “I was probably more mad at Peter than I was at anybody in the world,” he said. “Now that I got into the management side of things and into coaching, I understood where he came from.”
Gretzky, 48, resigned last month as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, who are in bankruptcy court and seeking a new owner.
Although it was touched upon briefly towards the end of the documentary, it would have been nice to see the film go more into the specifics of Gretzky’s impact on hockey in Southern California. Obviously, everyone knows how he all but sinlge-handedly put the Kings on the map and made it an event to go watch hockey in Socal. But you can’t also overlook how he paved the way for the creation of the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks; help spread the popularity of roller hockey with his own branch of rinks; and inspired thousands of young kids to put down their baseball bats and pick up a hockey stick.
Overall, “Kings Ransom” is not only a great short film for any die-hard Gretzky fan, but for any fan of the game of hockey.