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POSTED ON Thursday, 01.16.2014 / 10:30 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

Yesterday, Predators General Manager David Poile made a trade with the Edmonton Oilers. Bottom line, it was a forward, Matt Hendricks, sent to Edmonton for a goaltender, Devan Dubnyk. It really was much more than that.

For the fan, there is the “Fantasy” or “Rotisserie League” aspect of the move. It becomes a matter there of getting the numbers you want and sometimes giving up the numbers your trading partner is seeking. This type of thinking has been with us since the 1960’s and has gotten to the point where your friends may have developed complicated spreadsheets to govern their moves.

Something else needs to be considered – the human element.

Matt Hendricks, who was born in Minnesota 32 years ago, grew up and went through college there. He is married to Kimberley. They have twins: Gunnar and Lennon. He was drafted by the Predators in 2000, but has played for ten professional teams since leaving St. Cloud State in 2004. Edmonton will be his fourth NHL stop, following Colorado, Washington and Nashville. That’s a lot of moving! Thankfully, the twins won’t turn three until November, so they haven’t had to switch schools, but that isn’t all that far off into the future!

Devan Dubnyk will be 28 in May, and is from Regina, Saskatchewan. After finishing his junior career with Kamloops in 2006, he made three minor league stops before joining Edmonton. He told reporters in Alberta yesterday that the trade shocked him – the first time he has experienced one. Now he is faced with the need to make a sudden move as well. On top of that, he can be an unrestricted free agent at the end this summer, perhaps meaning yet another move for him.

David Poile has spoken about his early years in the business. His dad was an NHL player and was GM of both the expansion Philadelphia Flyers and the Vancouver Canucks. David was brought up in the game, and played collegiately at Northeastern University in Boston.

He got his first break in hockey management as an assistant to Cliff Fletcher, then GM of the Atlanta Flames, who opened for business in 1972. David would tell the story of how he would conjure up potential trades and present them to Fletcher, who then would talk about the human element discussed here.

Yes, it is much easier to make a “Fantasy League” trade. There is very little in terms of a human consequence there. Consider that the next time you read about a trade!

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POSTED ON Monday, 12.09.2013 / 2:00 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

Yesterday was a special day in the history of the Nashville Predators, a team born in 1998. They made the trip from Washington D.C. to New York City via train – a special Metroliner into Penn Station, before bussing to their hotel near Central Park.

From the time the National Hockey League was founded in 1917 with four members – the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Arenas, the League moved about primarily by train.

The lone documented deviation from that happened in 1935, when the management of the New York Rangers decided the best way to handle a trip back-and-forth to Toronto would be by air. Since the Rangers lost at Maple Leaf Gardens, they decided to go back to the rails.

With a League that spread from Boston to Chicago, this was workable. Also consider that when the League began, there was more time for travel, as teams were scheduled for just 22 games. Later, it was expanded to 44 games, later 50, and then 70 game schedules were played from 1949 through 1967.

Many are the stories of traveling by train from the veterans of the game who played in that era. The post-game scrambles to get from the rink to the train station and the special cars reserved for them are a frequent topic. The home-and-home series between Boston and New York, Montreal and Chicago, and Toronto and Detroit bring back the memories of those who lived through those times.

This continued until the League’s “Great Expansion” of 1967, when it doubled in size to twelve teams. In search of a better U.S. television contract, the NHL extended itself into Los Angeles, Oakland, St. Louis, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

While those expansion teams played within their own “Western Division” at the time, it was clear that train travel could no longer be the primary form of transportation. Like the other major sports, it was time to take to the air.

While today’s charter aircraft used by NHL teams are certainly comfortable and get teams to their destinations more quickly (at least when birds aren’t sucked into a jet engine), train travel is truly relaxing.

Teams based in the Eastern Corridor have gone by train. Yesterday, the Predators were able to take advantage of the opportunity and truly enjoyed it!

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POSTED ON Friday, 11.22.2013 / 3:34 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

I was in the seventh grade 50-years ago (I know some may think that I still am). Suddenly, the door to my classroom at Immaculate Heart of Mary School opened and the Principal, Sister Robert Ellen, stood there and asked to see me in the hall.

Unfortunately, this was not all that uncommon, but this was not for disciplinary reasons. She wanted to tell me, before it was announced on the school Public Address system, that the President had been killed.

She remembered me as a fourth grader who was excited to go on the campaign trail with my father and his friends in 1960. I wanted to believe that our country could elect a Catholic as president, that a hotline between the Vatican and the White House would not be installed, nor turn out to be the governing force of our country.

I will never forget that kindness. I was home soon, and was held spellbound by all the then state-of-the-art television news coverage for the rest of that day and the following three.

While the 1960 campaign for the presidency was on, I was fortunate enough, to accompany my dad in our family’s Studebaker convertible to pick up Bobby Kennedy from the Galesburg (Illinois) Airport and transport him to Knox College where he spoke about his brother’s qualifications at Beecher Chapel. That likely would not happen today without a Secret Service screening.

Yes, 50 years have passed, but I cannot forget. We have since survived the assassinations of Martin Luther Kings Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and all the tumult that followed in 1968.

Then there were the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, as the Predators reported to their fourth training camp. However, as a nation, our innocence, or maybe better stated, our sense that "things like that don't happen here," all changed on November 22, 1963.

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POSTED ON Monday, 11.11.2013 / 12:27 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

This week, Terry Crisp is celebrating the lives of two of the most influential men in his life. Today, the focus is on his coaching mentor. For the balance of the week, he mourns the passing of his father.

Terry will miss the final two broadcasts from the team’s longest-ever road trip, as his father, Nesbeth Arthur Crisp, passed away at the age of 91 last Friday in Capreol, Ontario. Memorials will be held throughout this week.

Today in Toronto, the man who gave Terry his start as a coach – Fred Shero – will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Shero first coached Terry with the Calder Cup Champion Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League in 1970-71. Shero initially saw Terry playing for the Minneapolis Bruins in the early 1960’s, while Shero was coaching in St. Paul. Obviously, he saw something he liked.

Two years later, following their brief time together in the American League, they were reunited. On March 4, 1973 -- the NHL trade deadline – the Philadelphia Flyers acquired Crispy from the expansion New York Islanders. It was one of those cliché deals that helped both teams. The Islanders received defenseman Jean Potvin (older brother of future Hall of Famer Denis). That helped the Islanders to sign Denis and keep him away from the World Hockey Association.

Meanwhile, Shero and the Flyers got Crispy for his penalty killing and faceoff skills. That also helped Terry win his first two Stanley Cups, as they took the title in both 1974 and 1975. Shero made sure to have him on the ice to win the final faceoffs securing the 1974 Cup victory.

When Terry retired as a player in 1977, he wanted to stay in the game. Shero hired him as his assistant coach on the Flyers. While Shero left Philadelphia to become head coach of the New York Rangers in 1978, Terry remained there for another season, before moving on to be a head coach with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for six seasons in the Ontario League.

That prepared him for two seasons in the American Hockey League as a head coach in Moncton, then three seasons with the Calgary Flames. It was with Calgary where he won his third Stanley Cup ring, and the night before the final series opened with the Montreal Canadiens, he called his mentor, Fred Shero.

Terry has never forgotten him. He mentions him regularly. In Toronto, he will celebrate Shero’s posthumous induction (Shero passed away in 1990). Joining him will be members of Shero’s family (including son Ray, now General Manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins) and the Flyers’ family, including captain Bobby Clarke.

Terry’s own family will be with him in Northern Ontario, celebrating the man who instilled in him the incredible work ethic that helped him to a long playing and coaching career.

Terry has told the story of his dad taking him to the train station when he was 16, giving him a $5-dollar bill to get started on his hockey adventure in St. Marys, Ontario.

It has been an adventure that many would envy, and Crispy knows it was made possible by his dad, and it’s never easy to say good-bye to your dad.

Listen to Terry talk about Shero here.

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POSTED ON Monday, 11.04.2013 / 4:39 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

This long-awaited book by arguably hockey’s greatest defenseman/player of all time is solid. It is not as spectacular as Orr was on the ice, but then again, how could it possibly be?

This is the man who brought offense to the defense, and gave meaning to the term “possession game.” After all, rarely did Bobby Orr lose the puck, and what he would do with it was often breath taking.

The unfortunate thing was the length of his career: 657 games, roughly the equivalent of eight NHL seasons. He turned in six seasons with more than 100 points, and he took home lots of hardware.

He was the first defenseman to lead the league in scoring, and did it twice. He won the Norris Trophy as top defenseman eight times, was the Hart Trophy (MVP) three times, was playoff MVP (Conn Smythe Trophy) twice. To me, the most incredible stat you can attach to his name is the +124 he registered in 1970-71, when he also posted 102 assists!

As a hockey fan, the only time Bobby Orr ever disappointed me was in November of 1978, when he announced his retirement from the Chicago Blackhawks – just before I was to broadcast an LA Kings game in Chicago. So I never got to broadcast a game he played.

This book is not a tell-all. He does not spend a great deal of time on the man who defrauded him in his contract dealings, Alan Eagleson, writing “I didn’t want his name strung through the fabric of this book.” Orr added that Eagleson turned his trust into “something foul and regrettable.”

Orr gives all the background of his childhood in Parry Sound, Ontario (also the hometown of Predators’ broadcaster Terry Crisp) and his recruitment by Wren Blair and the Boston Bruins at an extremely young age.

His feelings for his teammates are made clear, and his thrill of being part of something special with the late-1960’s and early 1970’s Bruins are evident.

The theme that continuously appears is his passion for hockey and how he is grateful for the people who allowed him to play it the way he enjoyed it most. He took the chances that yielded spectacular results. There was nothing conservative about his game.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is “State of the Game.” Orr doesn’t like the changes that have made defensemen targets of forecheckers today, bearing down on the defensemen as they retrieve the puck and nailing them. He expresses his opinions on how youngsters should play and develop their games – and a great deal of that involves parental involvement.

Because the insights in this book are from (at the least) one of the greatest players or defensemen to ever play the game, it is worthy reading. If you have a great hockey fan on your holiday gift list, I whole-heartedly recommend it.

Purchase "Orr: My Story" here.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 10.02.2013 / 11:21 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

It was thirteen years ago that the Predators opened their season in Japan with two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. What similarity did that team have to the current edition of the Predators?

Scott Hartnell, the team’s first round draft pick that year made the team out of training camp at 18 years of age. Until this season, when Seth Jones made it as well, Hartnell was the only Nashville entry draft selection to start the season “with the big club.”

The trip to Japan was finalized during the previous season as the Predators, who won 28 games, were evidently set to be the “Washington Generals” against the Pittsburgh Penguins, or “Harlem Globetrotters.” For a glimpse at how the series of two games was promoted in Japan, check out this story from the Japan Times.

Even the ESPN Promotional announcements took on the same flavor, if not Red Klotz’s Washington Generals, the Predators were being treated like Rodney (“I don’t get any respect”) Dangerfield.

That Penguins team was without owner Mario Lemieux at the time (though he would make a successful comeback in December), but it was packed with offensive talent: Jaromir Jagr (who would lead the league in scoring with 121 points), along with Alexei Kovalev, Martin Straka and Robert Lang, each of whom had 80 or more points.

When owner Lemieux got back in his skates, he tallied 76 points in just 43 games and that Penguins team made it to the Eastern Conference Final, where they lost to the New Jersey Devils.

Contrast that to the Predators, who would rank 28th offensively and 7th defensively. Cliff Ronning led the team with 62 points. Scott Walker was tops with 25 goals. Mike Dunham and Tomas Vokoun split team duties in goals.

Had that trip been scheduled for the fall of 2001, it is highly unlikely it ever would have been made, so soon after the September 11th attacks on the United States.

The two games were the first major events held at the Saitama Super Arena, an incredibly versatile facility that can be used as either an indoor arena or outdoor stadium. Depending upon configuration, it can seat between 5,000 and 37,000 people.

As things developed, Cliff Ronning scored the first goal in the building and the Predators took the first game, 3-1. The Penguins won the second game by the same score. While ESPN carried the telecasts, Terry Crisp and I had the radio call, with the faceoffs coming shortly after midnight Nashville time (there was a 15-hour time difference, so some of us wore two watches, one on Japan time, the other on Central time.)

It was an incredible training camp and season opener for the Predators. The Predators had Japanese defenseman Yujiro Nakajimaya in their camp. “Yuji” played for the Kukodo Bunnies of the Japanese League, and would turn 30 shortly after the conclusion of the trip.

Acting as a de facto ambassador of Japanese hockey, he played in a pre-season game in Nashville.

He was small even for the Predators’ team at the time, at 5-10 and weighing around 150 pounds. He then accompanied the team back to his native Japan and was given a thunderous ovation by the fans at the Saitama Arena.

It was an incredible trip for the entire traveling party, visiting the Ginza in Tokyo and some took in Japanese baseball games as well.

The Penguins and Predators flew back to North America together, from Tokyo’s Norita Airport to Minneapolis-St. Paul before parting ways. All in all, it was 14 hours in the air again, crossing the International Dateline, and an exhausted group slowly deplaned at Nashville International Airport.

After about five days were allowed for recovery, the Predators opened with home games on back-to-back nights, beating Washington and Carolina, to start the season 3-1.

Yes, all of that with an 18-year old rookie in the line-up. 13 years later, Scott Hartnell has done alright playing 875 games!

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 09.11.2013 / 1:20 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

Twelve years ago – the memories are still so powerful.

Yes, British troops once set fire to the White House, and the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but this was entirely different. It was an attack of undetermined origin, at the time, on U.S. soil. It is something that will remain on the minds of all who lived through it.

I remember where I was when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Five years later were the double tragedies: the fatal shooting of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles. Those instances provoked mourning.

The 9/11 attacks were also accompanied by shock and disbelief. We could see the bodies flying out of the Twin Towers and the video of the second plane going into the World Trade Center was replayed so often, it took on the quality of a horror movie.

Personally, I was driving into the arena, as it all unfolded. It was training camp check-in day for the Predators, about to begin their fourth season.

Hopes were high heading into that year. The team had just completed its first 80-point season. The four-team NHL expansion was now complete, as Atlanta had played two seasons, while Columbus and Minnesota had just completed their first. Ray Bourque had won his Stanley Cup, playing for the Colorado Avalanche.

As I drove in, I was tuned into WNSR Radio in Nashville. Steve Selby and Ron Bargatze were on the air, as I was hoping to catch up on the baseball scores, updating the races. It didn’t take long before my attention to those matters would be totally distracted.

“There’s a report that an airplane has collided with the World Trade Center in New York,” Selby announced. I turned up the volume, and it seemed like moments later when Steve said: “and now an airliner has crashed into the other tower!”

That was when all of us realized that this was no accident. I quickly tried to reach some of my New York friends by cell phone, but communications were already difficult. Shortly thereafter, I pulled into the garage at the rink and went down to the player check-in area.

I will never forget looking slack-jawed at the television downstairs, when 20-year-old Martin Erat walked in, looked at me and said: “I guess this means war?” That was the first time that thought had entered my mind! A young native of the Czech Republic had a far better grasp on the situation than I did.

As the day went on, we learned of another airliner crashing into the Pentagon, and then United Flight 93, forced by passengers to crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The shock and horror of that day seemed to have no end, and it echoes to this day.

Three months later, the Predators got an up-close look at this example of “Man’s Inhumanity to Man.” The Predators had a mid-December game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. The team chartered a special bus to take us to Ground Zero. Never have I been with a group of that size which instantly when silent.

Captain Tom Fitzgerald told the story of his father on 9/11, traveling from Boston into New York, and walking to the World Trade Center for a meeting as the towers came tumbling down. He lucked out by timing. There were many who did not.

As we were escorted on our walk around the site, embers were still burning. There was a stench to the atmosphere. Dust was all around. It turned out that more bodies were discovered that December day. The bus was just as quiet heading back to the hotel as it was entering Ground Zero.

That experience gave us the sense of what many have experienced around the world in other war-torn areas. The terrorists got the attention of the whole world on 9/11, and the thought of another such attack will likely be with us forevermore.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 09.04.2013 / 3:34 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

After the first season, nothing much changes at this time of year. As a broadcaster, you run over the depth chart, make your own pre-camp decisions on what you think the composition of the team will be, and break down the schedule.

I have found it is usually best not to read anyone else’s evaluations – at least until you have made your own determinations! That’s not arrogance, but rather a way to ensure the thoughts are entirely your own.

Sixty players – 34 forwards, 19 defensemen and 7 goaltenders are expected when camp check-in time comes on September 12th. Keep in mind; a maximum of 23 can be on an active NHL roster at any time.

There is very little room up front to make the team. While the combinations certainly are not set, after the free agent signings of Viktor Stalberg, Matt Cullen, Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom, that lessened the chances for several young forwards.

On defense, Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Kevin Klein are all expected to get big minutes. Then the competition: much is expected of first-round pick Seth Jones. This camp will serve as litmus tests for Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Victor Bartley earned a shot with his play at the end of last season also.

In goal, it’s simply a question of Pekka Rinne’s health. He had off-season hip surgery, much the same as Tim Thomas had before he backstopped the Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup. I don’t think that surgery comes with a “Cup Guarantee,” but it isn’t a bad indicator, either.

Who will back up Pekka this season? Will it be former Blackhawks’ farmhand Carter Hutton, or will 22-year old Magnus Hellberg rotate into that equation as well?

So, there are some questions that need to be answered in this training camp…and it will all begin to unfold in a few days! All of which will help determine how
well the celebration of Season XV will go!

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POSTED ON Monday, 08.19.2013 / 11:48 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

At this time 15 years ago, I still didn’t know that I would be moving to Nashville in just a few weeks, that I would be on a flight on September 11th to get me here for the first day of the first training camp on the 12th.

From the time the four provisional franchises in Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus and Minnesota had been announced in 1997, I had decided I wanted to try for the position here.

Some don’t like the idea of the pain inherent to an expansion franchise, but I truly looked forward to being part of “the birthing process.”

I had already worked for an NHL franchise in a “non-traditional market,” having teamed with Hockey Hall of Famer Bob Miller on the Los Angeles Kings’ broadcasts, so I had first-hand experience with those challenges.

Why Nashville? Two reasons.

First of all, I was familiar with the city, thanks to my years of doing baseball. I had come here to attend Baseball’s Winter Meetings in 1983. Beginning in 1985, I began making three-four trips per season with the Buffalo Bisons into Greer Stadium for games with the Sounds.

In addition, my in-laws had relocated to Knoxville years before, and those visits would be a lot easier (and more frequent) from Nashville than they would from Buffalo.

Downtown Nashville in 1985 bears very little resemblance to the Nashville of today. Second Avenue was virtually barren compared to what it is now. The building of what is now known as Bridgestone Arena began before the spring tornado of 1998, but the Arena spurred so much additional development, culminating in the Music City Center, which just opened.

All of that could not have been foreseen then. Was major league hockey going to work? The city had housed the game before, to varying results.

The Eastern Hockey League’s Dixie Flyers brought the professional game to Municipal Auditorium in 1962, folding in 1971. Ten years later, the Sounds’ Larry Schmittou tried it again with the Central League South Stars; they stayed for another season, but in another league, the Atlantic Coast Hockey League. (Think about it, Nashville’s baseball team is now in the Pacific Coast League?).

From 1989 through 1998, there were the Nashville Knights of the ECHL, followed by the Nashville Knighthawks and Nashville Ice Flyers of the Central Hockey League.

So the challenges facing this new franchise would be considerable. Yet, I welcomed them and have enjoyed every minute of it for 15 years. (Certainly, I never dreamed I would be here for so long!) I will continue to share some of these memories with you as this anniversary season rolls out.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 08.07.2013 / 12:13 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

We are in the process of celebrating the anniversary of not only one of hockey’s biggest transactions, but also one that ranks among the top, if not at the top, of all sports history. As a matter of conjecture, we can argue that the Nashville Predators might not even be in existence had it not occurred.

On August 8, 1988, the Edmonton Oilers shocked the hockey world by trading Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. This was a trade that impacted far more than those two teams, but the sport itself.

Ultimately, it played the critical role in the expansion on the NHL’s footprint across North America. It spread well outside the areas thought to be the only spots where most thought the sport could thrive.

Adam Proteau of the Hockey News covers this thoroughly in his oral history of the transaction from virtually every angle.

Clearly, it was a deal that shocked the hockey world, but as with most moves, finances were at its base. New York Yankees co-owner Jacob Ruppert was able to take advantage of a difficult financial time for Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee when he purchased Babe Ruth for $200,000 cash and a loan of $300,000 in 1919. That deal clearly changed the course of baseball, as the previously second-rate Yankees dominated baseball for much of the 20th Century.

Years later, it was the money problems of Edmonton Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington that led to a similar situation. You can read about them and what led up to the ultimate trade from Pocklington’s perspective in his 2009 book, “I’d Trade Him Again.”

In 1988, the Oilers had just wrapped up their fourth Stanley Cup title in five seasons, with Wayne Gretzky leading the way. They were the dynasty that followed the New York islanders and Montreal Canadiens. Runs of dominance do fade, but the outlook for that Oilers team indicated no such fall off in the foreseeable future.

The idea that Gretzky’s marriage that summer to actress Janet Jones (unfairly called “Yoko Ono” in some circles) was the impetus for it was a convenient smokescreen for Pocklington.

There was no reason to call this anything but an accommodation of Pocklington’s difficulties with not only the Oilers, but his other businesses (and there were many) as well. He owned the best team in hockey, but was cash poor, and Gretzky could have become a free agent in 1989. So, he used his most significant asset to try to ease his situation.

This is the trade that was fashioned by Pocklington and Kings’ owner Bruce McNall to masquerade the money concerns at its base: Gretzky, along with enforcer Marty McSorley and center Mike Krushelnyski, were traded to the Los Angeles Kings. The Oilers received $15 million US cash; center Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas (whom the Kings had drafted in the first round that summer), plus the Kings’ first round picks in 1989, 1991, and 1993. Those picks brought defenseman Corey Foster (in a trade with New Jersey), forward Martin Rucinsky (who played just two games with Edmonton), and defenseman Nick Stajduhar (who also played just two games in Edmonton before finishing up with the Idaho Steelheads in 2000-2001).

The Gretzky trade was the sure sign of the Edmonton fire sale. While defenseman Paul Coffey was dealt to Pittsburgh the previous summer, after Gretzky was traded, it wasn’t long before the Oilers’ other five Hockey Hall of Fame players were moved out of Edmonton.

In 1991, center Mark Messier was sent to the Rangers and Jari Kurri joined Gretzky with the Kings. Also in 1991, goaltender Grant Fuhr and forward Glenn Anderson were traded to Toronto. Defenseman Kevin Lowe was sent to the Rangers in 1992. Pocklington finally sold the Oilers in 1998, and General Manager – Head Coach Glen Sather hung around another couple of years after that before joining the New York Rangers in 2000.

So Bruce McNall saw his chance to bring hockey’s greatest star to the city that thrives on stars, Los Angeles. The Oilers were still able to win the Cup in 1990 with what was left behind. The Kings got to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 1993, losing to the Montreal Canadiens.

McNall’s financial empire began to crumble after that, (see: McNall’s Story from 2003: “Fun White it Lasted: My Rise and Fall In the Land of Fame and Fortune”) and Wayne Gretzky was traded again, to St. Louis, in 1996, before moving yet again, and finishing his career with the New York Rangers in 1999.

Gretzky’s arrival in California showed that the game could draw consistent sell out crowds in Los Angeles. The Kings became a huge draw on the road as well. Three years later, the NHL returned to Northern California (San Jose) in 1991.

The move to the Sunbelt began in earnest in 1992, when the Lightning began play in Tampa Bay, followed immediately by the Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim the following year. Also in 1993, the Minnesota North Stars franchise was moved to Dallas.

The Panthers made it to the Stanley Cup Final in their third season. The next spring, the NHL announced it had awarded conditional franchises to Nashville, Atlanta, and Columbus and was returning one to Minnesota. In 1999, the Dallas Stars won the Cup and went to the Final again the following year.

This had another effect – spreading the game to youngsters all over the map. Admittedly, the 1980 Miracle on Ice for Team USA in the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid also played a role in this. As the demand for players has become greater, products from California, Tennessee, Texas and other Sunbelt areas are now playing junior and college hockey and being drafted by NHL teams. Did Gretzky’s trade accomplish this singularly? Perhaps not, but it was a major step. Along with the Miracle on Ice 8 years before, it expanded the base of youngsters taking up the game in the United States.

Babe Ruth transformed the Yankees into a championship team, and his power-hitting, go-for-broke, style of play had a positive impact on baseball. However, it didn’t result in the expansion of baseball, or even the move of franchises into new cities (it wasn’t until almost 20 years after the Babe’s retirement, when his last team, the Boston Braves, moved to Milwaukee).

Ruth and Gretzky were historically two of the dominant performers in their sports. Both were moved because of the financial instability of their franchises. This is not unique to sports, it just points out that sports has become every bit a business.

Just as another difficult time for a franchise almost resulted in a Stanley Cup champion defending its title in Music City. In 1995, as the movement was already underway to build what is now Bridgestone Arena, the Devils had just won their first Stanley Cup. Owner John McMullen was trying to get a better lease at the Meadowlands and had serious flirtations with Nashville. Those dealings caught the attention of the NHL, and though the Devils did not move out of New Jersey, Nashville suddenly became an attractive landing spot for an NHL team.

Even after that, there were stories of the Edmonton Oilers moving to Nashville (as Pocklington was about to sell the team).

My conclusion: hockey is a much bigger business because of the impact of Wayne Gretzky’s trade from Canada to Los Angeles. The NHL capitalized on that, and one way or another, the interest in Nashville was going to result in a team setting up here. For those reasons I say: “Thank you Wayne Gretzky!”

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