Wayne Gretzky recalls the time he was almost traded to the Vancouver Canucks
By Cam Lewis6 months ago
Wayne Gretzky gave an interesting Vancouver Canucks-related anecdote on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast on Tuesday.
Before Gretzky had wrapped his head around Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington’s plan to trade him, Vancouver businessman Nelson Skalbania was trying to devise a plan to bring The Great One to Vancouver.
The story begins after the Oilers had defeated the Boston Bruins to win the 1988 Stanley Cup…
I remember sitting there and I’m having a cold beer and my dad says ‘you know they’re trying to trade you.’And I go, ‘who’s they and who’s trading who?’ Then I go, ‘oh dad, don’t believe everything you hear’ and then he goes ‘oh no, I didn’t want to tell you this.’[At my apartment the next morning] my mom was cooking scrambled eggs at about 6:00 AM and we’re sitting there and my phone rings. And I go ‘who’s calling me, it’s 6:00 AM?’ And it was Nelson Skalbania.I’m thinking he’s calling to congratulate me about winning the Stanley Cup and he goes ‘how would you like to be a Vancouver Canuck?’ I go ‘what are you talking about?’ And he goes ‘Edmonton is going to trade you, I’m going to buy part of the team, I’ll pay you a salary, and you can own 25 percent of the Vancouver Canucks.’And I go, ‘Nelson, I just finished playing hockey six hours ago, I’m too tired, I’ll call you later.’
Skalbania owned the Indianapolis Racers of the WHL and signed a 17-year-old Gretzky to a multi-million dollar personal services contract worth well before he was eligible to be drafted into the NHL. With the Racers hemorrhaging money, Skalbania sold Gretzky to Pocklington before folding the franchise just a few weeks later.
The only time Skalbania was involved in the ownership of an NHL club was when he was the head of a group that purchased the Atlanta Flames and moved them to Calgary. Skalbania would sell his interest in the Flames one year later.
1988, of course, was also the year that ownership of the Canucks was transferred from Frank Griffiths to his son Arthus Griffiths, so it would make sense for Skalbania to try to get himself involved in the organization during a period of transition.
That said, Skalbania never purchased any stake in the Canucks and Vancouver was never a serious destination for Gretzky. He said later in the interview that he narrowed it down to four destinations, all of which were in the United States…
I only had one more year left on my deal and then I was an unrestricted free agent. Basically, I said ‘you can trade me wherever you want, but I’m not going to re-sign.So whatever they’re giving up, it’s not going to be worth anything if I don’t sign. It got to a point where I knew they were going to trade me but I was able to control where I was going to move. It came down to L.A., Detroit, New York, and Philly.
It’s certainly an interesting thing to think about. I wonder if it would have gone better than that other time a Hart Trophy- and Stanley Cup-winning Oiler captain came to Vancouver.
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