Twenty five years ago today, the Edmonton Oilers and their owner Peter Pocklington sent shockwaves around the sports world and throughout Canada when it traded the biggest superstar in hockey to the Los Angeles Kings. Unless you have been living under a rock the past week and haven’t seen an episode of Sportcentre or Sportsnet Connected, you know most of the circumstances and the effect on hockey in the US, bringing an awareness of the game to some non-traditional markets.
But, if Gretzky hadn’t been dealt to the Kings, would the Ottawa Senators franchise exist today?
The trade of the Great One increased exposure of the game and created an interest in the game in a number of markets, and although the success of the league in those markets has been largely lukewarm in most cases, the buzz it created allowed the Senators to ride the wave of expansion. Although they were the underdog to get a franchise just over 2 years after the Gretzky trade.
The increased exposure of the sport in the US led to a call for multiple rounds of expansion, the first of which saw a rag-tag group from Ottawa bid for the right to ice an NHL team.
Whether it was a matter of hedging the league’s bet to expand to the south by also adding a team at the same time in a relatively stable Canadian market, or another of many factors (the $50M franchise fee that odds-on-favorite Hamilton balked at), Ottawa managed to somehow worm their way into the exclusive club that they have been in ever since. After a shaky start, and a roller coaster ride of ups and downs along the way, they have now survived over 20 years.
But if Wayne Gretzky hadn’t been traded to the Los Angeles Kings 25 years ago today, it probably never would have even been imagined. The League showed no interest in expanding prior to the trade, and whether you appreciate the expansion in the south or any of the other pros and cons to the unthinkable trade that did actually happen, as a Senators fan (not to mention Stars, Hurricanes Ducks, Sharks, Predators, Coyotes, Panthers and Lightning fans) you should thank Bruce McNall and Peter Pocklington for paving the way in a roundabout way.