Sunday, January 24, 2010
August 9, 1988 is a day that will live in infamy for Canadians. It marks the day that Oilers GM Peter Pocklington sold Canada’s favourite son, Wayne Gretzky. It was a trade that literally shook the nation to its core. If hockey is a religion in Canada (pretty much) then Wayne is Jesus. People sent death threats to Pocklington and he still hasn’t been forgiven 20 years later, especially by the residents of Edmonton. Poor Edmonton, the city Wayne practically founded, has spiralled into a meth and hooker binge that it has yet to recover from (or so To Serve and Protect would have me believe).
Kings Ransom is a documentary by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) investigating the development and culmination of the biggest trade in sports history. What other example can you think of a transcendental player being traded during his absolute prime (Wilt Chamberlain maybe)? It’s part of the ESPN series 30 for 30, which is a set of documentaries celebrating ESPN’s 30th year. These aren’t necessarily the 30 biggest sports stories of the past 30 years, rather, they are 30 stories that 30 prominent directors were compelled to make. This gives an interesting view on diverse and often obscure subjects such as the USFL, the death of Len Bias, and the advent of Rotisserie baseball (excessively excited to watch that one…seriously).
Berg shows an incredibly balanced and insightful look into the mechanics of the Gretzky deal. There are interviews from all major players in the trade, including Gretzky, Pocklington, King's GM Bruce McNall, Oilers coach Glen Sather, Janet Gretzky, and Walter Gretzky. I wouldn’t suggest that Pocklington is redeemed with this documentary because it’s clear that this was a trade that needed to be consummated for all parties, but his reasoning is certainly understandable. You almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
Seeing the intricate details of the deal was interesting since the modern sports world is business driven and almost all trades have a financial component. This trade just happened to have a very, very large financial component ($15 million dollars exactly).
Since the trade it’s become clear that this was the best thing for all parties involved. It was especially beneficial to the game, which Wayne acknowledges played a role in his decision. After Wayne’s move South the game has exploded from 21 teams to 30, many of which reside in the Southern U.S. Well, that hasn’t necessarily been as successful as initially hoped, but they’re trying. Actually, they’re failing terribly, but I'm sure we'll bring that topic up relentlessly. Pocklington escaped financial trouble and the Oilers even won a Stanley Cup without Gretzky in 1990 (big win for the city of Edmonton). Although, I’m sure this only momentarily subsided the bitterness and hatred surrounding the deal.
One of the most interesting aspects of the documentary is when Berg asks Gretzky about his regrets about leaving Edmonton, probing him about the additional Cups he may have won with the Oilers if he chose to stay. It seems as if Gretzky never really wanted to leave Edmonton, but he knew that he didn’t have a real choice in the matter, he needed to do what was best for the game.
TSN is randomly broadcasting the 30 for 30 documentaries, although it seems they are having trouble finding time slots to play them all. So, I don’t necessarily know when each air and whether they will receive repeat showings. These are truly interesting films made by people very passionate about the subjects. This is abundantly clear in Berg’s filmmaking. Recounting the trade made me feel sad and betrayed and I'm not even an Oilers fan. I felt betrayed as a Canadian (although, you can argue that the trade was much better for hockey as a game and thus Canada). But maybe it didn’t do much for Peter Pocklington because I still hate him.