It was 30 years ago today, Aug. 9, 1988, that the most earth-shattering trade in NHL history took place. On a sleepy summer day, at a time when off-season action is usually at its quietest, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings shook hands on a blockbuster deal that sent Wayne Gretzky to Hollywood and reshaped the landscape of the league forever.
Gretzky’s accomplishments in Los Angeles are legend, of course. Not only did he win another Hart Trophy, the last of his NHL-record nine MVPs, Gretzky added three more Art Ross Trophies to his collection, captured three Lady Byng Trophies and scored an incredible 246 goals and 918 points in 539 games. He set the NHL’s all-time goals points record while playing for Los Angeles — against Edmonton, no less — and became the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring king. He led the Kings to the Stanley Cup final with behemoth offensive performances and allowed the franchise to flourish in a non-traditional market.
And the long-standing effects of Gretzky’s presence in Los Angeles are still felt. He set the stage for Sunbelt expansion, and his time with the Kings is credited with Californian markets such as Anaheim and San Jose, not to mention other southern United States markets in Dallas, Tampa Bay and even Las Vegas, enjoying success.
But ‘The Trade’ didn’t involve Gretzky alone. So, what became of the other players in one of the most famous trades in sports history?
In modern terms, Carson was the NHL-ready piece sent to the Oilers as part of the deal. Drafted second overall in 1986, he had already established himself as an up-and-comer with a 37-goal, 79-point season that saw him finish third in 1986-87 Calder Trophy voting. He followed that up with a standout 55-goal, 107-point campaign, too, but that would be his last as a King before the shocking trade to the Oilers.
Carson’s time in Edmonton started off with a bang as he scored 49 goals and 100 points in his first season as an Oiler, finishing second in team scoring behind Jari Kurri and six points clear of the third-place Mark Messier. But his relationship with the organization was rocky at best. Four games into the 1989-90 season, Carson asked out of Edmonton and was sent to his hometown Detroit Red Wings, along with Kevin McClelland and a 1991 fifth-round pick, less than 15 months after arriving in the Gretzky deal.
Of all the pieces in the Gretzky deal, Carson arguably had the greatest impact due to his trade demand. The swap with Detroit brought Joe Murphy, Adam Graves and Petr Klima to Edmonton and the three acquisitions combined for 16 goals and 30 points during the Oilers’ run to the 1990 Stanley Cup. Jeff Sharples was also included in the trade, but didn’t play a single game in Edmonton.
As for his own career beyond the Oilers, Carson flamed out. He followed his first year in Edmonton with seasons of 21 goals, 21 goals, 34 goals and 37 goals, but never again cracked 75-point plateau. And following a run of three teams in four seasons from 1992-93 to 1993-94 — the Red Wings traded him to the Kings, who then shipped him to the Vancouver Canucks — Carson’s career trailed off with campaigns of 11 goals, nine goals and one goal, with him playing only 108 games over the course of three seasons before stints in Switzerland and the now-defunct IHL. He retired in 1997-98.
Before he had even played a game in the NHL, Gelinas, selected seventh overall by the Kings in the 1988 draft, was included as part of the Gretzky trade package. He would eventually crack the Oilers’ lineup by the 1989-90 campaign, but played a low-minute role as a 19-year-old. En route to the 1990 Stanley Cup, Gelinas chipped in two goals and five points, but his biggest contributions would come in the years that followed. His second full NHL season was his first 20-goal, 40-point year, but after failing to reach the same heights in either of the two following campaigns, Gelinas was shipped off to the Quebec Nordiques in 1993-94.
Gelinas would end up waived by the Nordiques and claimed by the Vancouver Canucks, where his career took off. He found his game as a steady, two-way, middle-six winger, and would go on to future success with the Carolina Hurricanes, Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators before retiring in 2007-08.
1989 First-Round Pick
One way to look at the deal is that the Oilers received five first-round picks for Gretzky, though two of those choices — the 1986 and 1988 selections — had already been used to pick Carson and Gelinas. The 1989 first-round choice, however, was the first that Edmonton had full control over. So, what did they do with the pick? Traded it.
The day of the draft, the Oilers sent the 18th overall draft choice, which would have been the Kings’ pick, to the Devils for defenseman Corey Foster, who had been selected 12th overall by New Jersey one year earlier. It turned out the entire deal was a big ol’ nothingburger. The Devils selected defenseman Jason Miller with the draft choice, who played all of six games in New Jersey before a stint in the AHL and a lengthy career in Germany. Meanwhile, Foster never suited up for the Oilers. His only use to Edmonton was as a trade throw-in, as he was shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers along with Jari Kurri and Dave Brown in a deal that brought Scott Mellanby, Craig Berube and Craig Fisher to the Oilers in May 1991.
1991 First-Round Pick
The Oilers’ first actual draft choice that resulted from the Gretzky trade was the 20th overall pick in 1991, which Edmonton used to take Martin Rucinsky. And though he made the team out of training camp — and while he may be one of the lone recognizable draft choices given he was a top-six player for much of his career — Rucinsky’s actual impact in Edmonton was zilch. He played two games for the Oilers before he was sent packing in a deal that brought Ron Tugnutt and Brad Zavisha to Edmonton. Yes, the trade was as bad as it sounds.
While Tugnutt had success later in his career, he played a mere 29 games with the Oilers, posting a 10-13-2 record to go along with an .877 save percentage, before he was plucked away by the Anaheim Ducks as part of the 1993 expansion draft. As for Zavisha, he skated in two games for the Oilers and retired by 1997-98 after spending time in the AHL, IHL, German League, British League and ECHL. Rucinsky, meanwhile, had a tidy 241-goal, 612-point career that spanned 961 games.
1993 First-Round Pick
The Oilers’ last shot at making one of the picks acquired in the Gretzky deal count came in 1993, and Edmonton, looking to bolster their blueline, made the decision to draft Nick Stajduhar with the 16th overall pick. Another whiff, as Stajduhar played all of two games with the Oilers. Those were the only two NHL games of his career.
Given Edmonton’s position in the draft, it was arguably the worst pick of the year. Every player drafted before Stajduhar played at least 350 games in the NHL. The next defenseman chosen, Mike Wilson, played 336 games. The only saving grace for the Oilers is that two teams, the Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks, picked players who never saw NHL action. So, there’s that.
The issue for Stajduhar was that he was never able to translate his offensive game from the junior ranks to the top-tier pro leagues. He bounced around the minor-league circuit until 2000-01, however, spending time during his final season with the CHL’s Memphis RiverKings, WCHL’s Idaho Steelheads and IHL’s Houston Aeros.
TO LOS ANGELES:
The tough-as-nails McSorley exited Edmonton alongside Gretzky, brought in as a so-called personal bodyguard for the ‘Great One.’ Los Angeles was great to McSorley, whose offensive game flourished with the Kings.
In his first season as a King, McSorley bested his previous career high of 26 points with a 10-goal, 27-point performance, and he followed that up with seasons of 36, 39, 29 and a career-high 41 points. The latter, which came in 1992-93, also included a career-best 15 goals. But the topper to the campaign was McSorley’s performance in the post-season. As Los Angeles marched to the Stanley Cup final, McSorley was his own version of red-hot, scoring four goals and 10 points to go along with 60 penalty minutes. McSorley’s influence on the Cup run would become infamous, though. In Game 2, Montreal pleaded for a stick measurement on McSorley, and with his curve exceeding the rulebook’s limit, the Kings were penalized. The Canadiens scored the game-tying goal on the ensuing power play and eventually won the contest in overtime before taking the series, and the Cup, in five games.
McSorley’s tenure in Los Angeles lasted five seasons before he was dealt to Pittsburgh in August 1993, but he was reacquired by the Kings before the campaign was through and ended up playing another 118 games with the franchise. He later moved on to the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks and returned to the Oilers before spending a final season with the Boston Bruins, where he was infamously handed a full-year suspension by the NHL for a stick-swinging incident that concussed Donald Brashear.
Krushelnyski was somewhat established with the Oilers at the time of the Gretzky trade and right in the prime of his career. In fact, he was only months removed from scoring four goals and 10 point as part of the Oilers’ 1988 Stanley Cup run when the trade came down. But having had three consecutive mediocre regular seasons in Edmonton, the move to Los Angeles reinvigorated Krushelnyski. His first campaign as a King, he scored 26 goals and 62 points, but the same regression that had dogged him with the Oilers came to roost with his new team. He slipped to just 16 goals and 41 points the season following his resurgent year in Los Angeles, and after a tough start to the 1990-91 season, the Kings shipped Krushelnyski off to the Toronto Maple Leafs a mere 15 games into the campaign.
Krushelnyski picked it up in Toronto following the trade, scoring 17 goals and 39 points in 59 games. But over the course of the next four seasons, the last of which was played in Detroit, Krushelnyski managed only 35 goals and 79 points — fewer goals and points than he scored during the whole of the 1984-85 season — across 230 games.
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