So what's a cash-strapped owner to do? Well, if you're Pocklington you eye the secular saint on your hockey team's roster and shop him around to the see what kind of offers you get. In this case he got one from the Los Angeles Kings that he couldn't refuse (a slew of draft picks and, most importantly, $15 million in cash).
And so it came to be that on August 9, 1988 after weeks of back door negotiation Pocklington called a press conference and confirmed that Wayne Gretzky - The Great One, the NHL's MVP for the past 8 consecutive years, the man who had delivered 4 Stanley Cup Championships to Edmonton - was being shipped off to southern California. There were attempts made in Parliament to find a way to block "The Trade" (as it became known). Pocklington was burned in effigy. Oiler fans were outraged with some labeling Gretzky a traitor and others too broken up to speak. But it was all for naught. Gretzky was gone and nothing was going to bring him back. It was as if Elvis had moved to London. The closest parallel that could be drawn in sports was the trade that sent Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees seven decades earlier.
Hockey in Canada would never really be the same after his departure, nor would hockey in the US. Because while the Kings never won a Stanley Cup with Gretzky (they did make it to the finals once) his presence in LA created a bandwagon of biblical proportions, one that not only transformed Kings games from sedate exercises conducted in a half empty arena into star studded sellouts but that ultimately led to the league expanding into markets it had never considered viable before. The San Jose Sharks, Phoenix Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks can all be said to owe their existence either directly or indirectly to the effects of The Trade.
Here's an short piece chronicling the Gretzky effect on the LA sports scene.