Gretzky's trade from the Oilers to the Kings has made a lasting impact on the NHL.On August 9, 1988, Wayne Gretzky, the NHL’s preeminent player and the eventual all-time league scoring leader, was traded (along with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski) from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three 1st-round draft picks and a reported $15 million (U.S.).
How did the Gretzky trade impact the NHL and hockey, particularly in the United States?
NHL Then and Now
Not only did it help raise the NHL’s profile in “nontraditional” markets -- namely in the Sun Belt states (Southern and Southwestern U.S.) -- but it also helped increase youth hockey participation.
Since the trade, the NHL has added nine teams, increasing its footprint in the Sun Belt through expansion and relocation (six were expansion franchises; three relocated to warm-weather locales).
Franchise values have also greatly increased despite three labor stoppages (including a notorious one that cancelled the entire 2004-05 season).
In 1993, Gretzky helped lead the Kings to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Montreal Canadiens. That remains the last Cup won by a Canadian-based team. In that same timeframe, five Sun Belt-based teams – the Kings (2012), Anaheim Ducks (2007), Carolina Hurricanes (2006), Tampa Bay Lightning (2004) and Dallas Stars (1999) -- have hoisted the Cup.
Only the Kings were in the league at the time of the Gretzky trade.
Growing the game in new markets
The Gretzky trade did not just increase hockey’s presence around the United States at the NHL level, but increased it on the youth level as well.
In 1990, USA Hockey had just over 195,000 registered members. By 2010, that number had increased to nearly 475,000 members. States that saw major increases included warm weather states such as Arizona, California, Texas, Florida and North Carolina.
In 2013, the U.S. hockey team won the gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship with a team that featured players from 13 different states, including Texas, Florida and California.
By comparison, the 1988 U.S. hockey team that took part in the Calgary Winter Olympics featured players from nine states, but only one from a warm-weather climate (backup goalie John Blue, from California).
More Americans going higher in the draft
The greater participation numbers in the U.S. since the trade has led to more American players being selected in the early rounds of the NHL Draft.
U.S.-Born Players Selected
In 1st 2 Rounds of NHL Draft
According to USA Hockey, from 1968 to 1988 (the 1988 draft took place two months before the trade), only one draft saw 10 or more American players selected in the first two rounds (13 in 1986).
Since 1989, 13 NHL Drafts have seen 10 or more American players selected in rounds one and two, including each of the past dozen.