I know this Gretzky interview from the Chiclets squad is a month old, so save me the "old news" bullshit. It's one of the best interviews I can remember listening to in recent memory, and one of the best pieces of content this company has ever produced. Which is all a testament to how amazing RA, Grinnelli, Biz, and even Whitney really are at their jobs. We don't do enough dick-sucking amongst our own at this company, so consider this my "Houston" moment here taking the four of them all at once here. (IYKYK).
All that considered, one of the biggest mind-blowing things to come from that interview (there were many), was Gretzky candidly talking about when he left Edmonton after winning 4 cups with them.
First off, I mean absolutely not one iota of disrespect to the Chiclets guys here, but how the fuck is this the first time the greatest hockey player to ever skate on Earth discussed this on the record? I know Biz is Canadian, but this cannot be a good look for the Canadian media, the Canadian sports media, and Canada in general. Right?
This would be like if Michael Jordan did an interview with TSN where he was shooting the shit with some buddies who worked there and just nonchalantly mentioned "oh yah, remember when I did that baseball thing because Stern forced me to sit out a few seasons over the gambling shit? Yah well I almost came back to play for the Celtics. But my family talked me out of it because there's only one Larry Bird."
*(technically Gretzky discussed this back in 2004 at a corporate seminar where he was the guest speaker. He glossed over the Gordie Howe part, and said his wife, all-time smoke, Janet, wanted him to go to Detroit, not LA like everybody assumed, and his dad talked him out of it. He never said why or elaborated more. A golden money shot quote from the interview was when the speaker asked him about welcoming Dustin Johnson into his family, and a grandchild-
“Charles Barkley sent me a text and said, ‘what does it feel like sleeping with a grandma?’ I said, ‘pretty good.’ ”)
I spent last weekend up in Detroit with my Michigan friends from college (shout out Loui's) and when we were watching Calgary finish off Dallas we got to talking about this podcast and the Red Wings story. They are huge Wings fans and have been living in purgatory the last 10+ years watching the franchise spin its wheels (no pun intended). So anything to not discuss the current state of affairs interests them.
The repercussions had Gretzky chosen Detroit over LA would have been profound. And probably still felt today.
I know getting into "Butterfly Effect" of things unravels and goes off the tracks real fast, and you get into alternate universe territory, but you can't help but wonder "what if?" in this situation.
The story goes Gretzky’s dad figured out Edmonton was going to move him, and he broke the news to him right after the Oilers won their fourth Stanley Cup. Gretzky thought his dad was full of shit until businessman Nelson Skalbania called early the next morning to say he was going to buy a piece of the Vancouver Canucks and wanted Gretzky to play over there. He offered Wayne 25% ownership. Which is mind-boggling to think today, but shows just how great The Great One really was. (The Gretzkys knew him because Skalbania had recruited him to play for Indianapolis in the World Hockey Association back in the day.)
Gretzky only had one year left on his contract so he sharply used it for leverage, telling the Edmonton owner Peter Pocklington he would only sign with a new team if he let him choose where. A concept unheard of back in the day, but pretty customary today.
“It came down to LA, Detroit, New York and Philly,” Gretzky said on the podcast.
(Sidebar - Philly???)
“Then soon it came down to Detroit or Los Angeles. LA had Hollywood, young stars Jimmy Carson and Luc Robitaille, and a chance to help sell the game. Detroit had Steve Yzerman and Detroit was less than a three-hour drive from his hometown of Brantford, Ontario.
“We had sat down and we decided I was going to Detroit. I remember sitting there going, ‘OK, this is great, I’m going to go play in Detroit.’ I grew up a Red Wings fans with Gordie Howe and everything that goes with it,” he said. “And my Dad called me and said, ‘Listen, I’ll give you a little advice. There’s only one Gordie Howe, and Detroit’s Detroit. You don’t need to go there. Why don’t you do something different and go to LA?’
“Everybody thought it was my wife that steered the bus (to LA), but it was really my Dad who said, ‘There’s only one Gordie Howe. You need to go do something different.’ So that’s really how I ended up in LA.”
So again, can you imagine if Gretzky made the move to Detroit and ended up lining up with Steve Yzerman, and Bob Probert enforcing for him?
(Sidebar - I never got to see Gretzky play when he was an Oiler, but my uncle has told me countless stories of when he came into the league and the first few years everybody trying to take shots at him. The Oilers had to have guys skate with him just to ensure he didn't get his head taken off. (Third man in wasn't even a thing back then either in fighting which also blows my mind.) But after a couple years of the league seeing how incredible Gretzky was, and the eyeballs, and more importantly revenue, he was bringing to the sport, the league wisened up. Games (in Boston) were no longer just on Channel 38, network TV was picking them up, and people weren't only talking about the Bruins around town, the kid from Edmonton got a lot of attention. So somehow, someway, word spread throughout the league and Gretzky was determined to be off-limits. Very similar to the well-known "Jordan Rules" in basketball. So all the razzle-dazzle, french pastry stuff I saw dominate early morning Sportscenter for my entire childhood probably never would have been possible had it not been for the "Gretzky Rules".)
The domino effect of Gretzky going to Detroit gets crazy pretty quickly.
Does the Red Army still happen? Do Sergei and the boys still wind up in Motor City, opening the floodgates to the wave of Russian players coming to the NHL?
Do the Red Wings establish a dynasty like they did?
Does their dynasty end up being even greater than it was with Gretzky to build around?
Who would the Red Wings have needed to give up to make this happen back in 1988? (Assuming the $15 million in cash and three first-round picks stayed the same, the Red Wings were really looking at giving two players back.)
Would it have been 2nd line center Adam Oates? (probably)
What happens to the Brett Hull Blues, and Cam Neely Bruins without Adam Oates in the mix?
Does hockey on the west coast ever even become "a thing"?
If not, does hockey in the southwest and southwest of the United States ever even get a chance?
Without that outlook for expansion, what does the league look like today? Instead of these redneck teams in America does Canada get more added?
Did Gretzky's dad give wayyyy too much credit to Gordie Howe? What do Red Wings fans as a whole thing about this story? Do they care or are they sick to their stomachs about it?
So many questions.
If you didn't listen to this interview already, find the time today or tomorrow and do it.
His story about Vegas is also awesome but I'm not giving the entire thing away.
What are some other great sports "What Ifs?"
p.s. - The Greater One