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Questions on How Gretzky Became a Pro Player

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Old
09-06-2006, 03:48 PM
  #1
discostu
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Questions on How Gretzky Became a Pro Player

I've always wondered about the exact details of how Gretzky ending up coming into the NHL. I figured if anyone can tell me the details, it would be someone on this board. With the way that a player like Crosby can come into the league with such fan farre, it's amazing to me that someone of his calibre came into the best league in the world through a back-door.

This is what I understand of the Gretzky situation (please correct me on any false assumptions).

1) Gretzky tears up the OHL as a 16 year, putting up almost a 3 points a game, obviously catching the attention of the hockey world.

2) He goes to play for the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA, in what appears to have been a franchise on its last legs.

3) After only 8 games with the Racers, he gets traded or sold to the Oilers, still of the WHA.

4) The next season the WHA, all remaining WHA franchises are amalgamated into the NHL, getting to keep all of their players.

These are the things that I'm confused about:
-Why did Gretzky play for the Racers of all places within the WHA? I couldn't find a record of Indianapolis actually drafting Gretzky on hockeydb.com? Was he signed as a free agent? If so, why Indianapolis of all places?

-I'm assuming that Gretzky went to the WHA because the NHL only drafted players that were 18 years or older. Given that Gretzky was a known elite talent, was there any attempt to bypass the rules in order to ensure Gretzky came to the NHL. The NHL was competing with the WHA at that point. Surely there was a fear that he could have raised their profile enough to save the struggling league. This was under the years that the union was under the thumb of management,so, if it required approval from the union, I can't imagine that it would have been a problem if they wanted to make an exception.

-How did Pocklington swing the deal for Edmonton to bring Gretzky over. Obviously, the Racers were in trouble, as, they didn't finish out the season, but, you'd think that the other franchises within the WHA would have been circling that sinking ship. Was it purely just great timing on the part of the Oilers to land Gretzky?

-When the WHA was rolled into the NHL, was there any resistance to allowing the Oilers to keep Gretzky, a player that no one in the NHL had a chance to draft, and who had just turned 18?

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Old
09-06-2006, 04:52 PM
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I'm not sure how he ended up with the Racers but he was won in a backgammon game with Peter Poklington vs Nelson Skalbania (owner of the racers)

He originally signed a personal service contract so he couldn't be drafted. Peter brought him to the Oilers in the WHA and then the Oilers joined the NHL.

more here, but they don't mention the backgammon game.

http://www.oilersheritage.com/histor...n_gretzky.html

According to the draft, he would have been a minnesota north star.

ps...I was there when gretz signed that 21 year 21 million $ contract at center ice


Last edited by vbet*: 09-06-2006 at 05:00 PM.
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09-06-2006, 09:02 PM
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jamiebez
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I believe Racers owner Nelson Skalbania signed Gretzky to a "personal services" contract (essentially free agency) as opposed to drafting him.

I'm pretty sure the backgammon game was between Barry Shenkarow (Jets owner) and Skalbania. Here's Shenkarow's version from an old Jets yearbook:

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"It was before (NHL) expansion, early in 1978. Indianapolis was going to fold and Wayne Gretzky was going to become available. (Edmonton owner) Peter Pocklington had made an offer but Nelson Skalbania, who owned the Racers, called us and asked us if we wanted Gretzky. Well, we didn't know anything about hockey at the time. We didn't know if Wayne Gretzky was any good. We had no scouts, our GM at the time was Rudy Pilous and he wasn't high on Wayne, but we were in the midst of negotiations with John Ferguson to take over as GM and I said 'Fergie, should we be interested in Gretzky?'

"Well, Fergie just yelled 'Get him! Don't hesitate, just get him!' and so Michael (Gobuty) and I got on a plane and went to Indianapolis. Skalbania met us and told us what he wanted. He wanted half a million dollars cash. Well, we didn't know if we wanted to commit another half a million dollars. We didn't know if we were going to get into the NHL and we were already into this business for more than a million dollars. Our original $5,000 investment had grown to $125,000 in a year"

"So we offered Nelson a 1/8th interest in our franchise and $250,000 if he'd bring Gretzky to Winnipeg. We figured, heck, it's better to give him an eighth of something we aren't sure is worth anything than to shell out all the money. So Nelson turned to be and he said, 'No Barry, but I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll play you a game of backgammon. If I win, I get the Winnipeg Jets. If you win, you get Gretzky'

"Well, I wasn't going to do that. And it's funny. Later that day, Nelson and I played 10 games of backgammon and I won 9 of them. But I lost the first one. I'm glad I didn't take the bet."

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Old
09-06-2006, 11:01 PM
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bossy22
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1978 CBC Radio Audio clip on signing with WHA

Directly fom his own mouth. "Why play Jr hockey for $75 a week".....

http://archives.cbc.ca/IDC-1-41-1093.../gretzky/clip4

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09-06-2006, 11:09 PM
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and another 1978 Radio Clip on his trade to the Oilers

http://archives.cbc.ca/IDC-1-41-1093.../gretzky/clip5



OT: The interviewer is John Wells

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09-06-2006, 11:49 PM
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And the Colorado Rockies had the #1 pick his draft year.

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09-07-2006, 02:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by discostu View Post

-When the WHA was rolled into the NHL, was there any resistance to allowing the Oilers to keep Gretzky, a player that no one in the NHL had a chance to draft, and who had just turned 18?
Draft age in 1979 was 19, so Gretzky was underage for that draft.

When the leagues merged, there was a Reclaimation Draft, where NHL teams could reclaim players they had lost to the WHA. Each WHA team was allowed four "priority selections" that were exempt from being reclaimed. Gretzky was one of the players protected by Edmonton.

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09-07-2006, 04:15 AM
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Originally Posted by dirt View Post
Draft age in 1979 was 19, so Gretzky was underage for that draft.

When the leagues merged, there was a Reclaimation Draft, where NHL teams could reclaim players they had lost to the WHA. Each WHA team was allowed four "priority selections" that were exempt from being reclaimed. Gretzky was one of the players protected by Edmonton.
You are right
Quote:
Eligible For Draft: All amateur players born before January 1, 1961, and any younger players who spent the 1978-79 season in the WHA.
Gretz was born on Jan 26th 61

Of course the Rockies had the #1 pick in 1980 too.

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09-07-2006, 02:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dirt View Post
Draft age in 1979 was 19, so Gretzky was underage for that draft.

When the leagues merged, there was a Reclaimation Draft, where NHL teams could reclaim players they had lost to the WHA. Each WHA team was allowed four "priority selections" that were exempt from being reclaimed. Gretzky was one of the players protected by Edmonton.
First off, thanks for all the clarification guys.

Here's another question about the whole issue. Gretzky was obviously highly touted, but, was the belief that he was going to be that dominant, that early? I imagine that he shattered every expectation, but, how highly touted was he? Were people expecting him to be the league's best player very early on. If so, I'm still suprised that the owners in the NHL weren't doing anything to actively prevent him from going to the WHA in the first place. When the merger happened, I'm also suprised that other teams didn't try and prevent the Oilers from retaining his rights when they came in.

It was obviously a different era, but,when you look at what happened with Crosby last year, with a lot of behind close doors discussion of how the draft would be handled. No team wanted to just give up on a chance to land what might be a major franchise player. With as good as Gretzky was, and the fact that the WHA teams were on their last legs, I would have expected that the NHL owners would want a chance to claim him.

Or, was the impact of the WHA so high on NHL salaries, that, the owners were just concerned with resolving the issue, and putting the WHA to death, so they could go back to having a tighter control over their payrolls?

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Old
09-08-2006, 08:38 AM
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A lot of people believe that the NHL intended to break up the WHA teams (Winnipeg, in particular), because they were as good or better than many NHL teams. The wouldn't have matched up with the "big 4" of the time (Montreal, Boston, Philly and the Isles) but they would have likely been solid .500 playoff teams. There's a fairly famous quote by then-Blues GM Emile Francis that says something along the lines of "how can I let a team into the league that's better than mine?".

Compounding that was the fact that most NHL owners - in particular the old hardliners like Ballard - were still extremely mad at the WHA for raiding their players and the escalation of salaries that followed, and the fact that the WHA was on its last legs (it would have likely been a 4 or 5 team league in 1979/80)

The expansion "deal" they got was designed to break those teams up - they essentially lost their entire rosters (since they were mostly NHL-drafted players), had no farm system to begin with, and were forced to pick last in the Entry Draft that year. I always considered the 4 players the NHL let them keep just to be throwing them a bone.

Anyway, rant over.... you asked about Gretzky.

From Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1979_NHL_Expansion_Draft

Quote:
Wayne Gretzky was a special case as, although no team held his NHL rights, under existing rules he would have been removed from the Oilers and placed into the NHL Entry Draft. After deliberation, the Oilers were allowed to keep Gretzky as one of their priority selections, and were forced to choose last in each round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft as further compensation.
As to why, I'm not sure. I know a lot of old-school NHLers believed Gretzky to be too small to dominate in the NHL the way he did in the WHA, but who really knows? Maybe just shrewd negotiation by Pocklington, Skalbania and Sather with the NHL.

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Old
09-11-2006, 08:41 AM
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My lament about the Rockies being in line for Gretz should be coached by the fact that they would have found some way to screw that up anyway. Either passing him in the draft trading the pick or trading him too young.

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09-11-2006, 08:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by discostu View Post
1) Gretzky tears up the OHL as a 16 year, putting up almost a 3 points a game, obviously catching the attention of the hockey world.
He had the hockey world's attention long before then. I remember hearing about him when he was around ten or eleven.

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09-11-2006, 09:41 AM
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Originally Posted by moneyp View Post
He had the hockey world's attention long before then. I remember hearing about him when he was around ten or eleven.
Yeah, I'll try to find the audio source but he was highly touted around that age. He played a game in montreal where adults were stealing his sticks for heaven's sake.

Archives

378 goals in 68 games as a kid, you knew something was up.

Quote:
Recognition comes early for Wayne Gretzky. He begins signing autographs at age 10. He's the focus of countless newspaper articles and a TV special by age 11. And by the time of this 1974 interview with CBC's Peter Gzowski, the 13 year old is a seasoned hockey star (178 goals as a defenceman). Yet when asked if he's going to turn pro, the 5-foot-2, 93-pound whiz kid tells Gzowski: "All I can say is I hope."

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09-11-2006, 10:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Bloodsport View Post
Yeah, I'll try to find the audio source but he was highly touted around that age. He played a game in montreal where adults were stealing his sticks for heaven's sake.
Here is a great 1974 CBC radio interview of a 13-year old Wayne Gretzky and his coach by Peter Gzowski. It is a pretty telling sign of how good someone is when he is being interviewed about their hockey play at the age of 13.

http://archives.cbc.ca/400d.asp?id=1-41-1093-6054

I don't know if that is the link that you had in mind, but it has always been my favorite from the CBC Gretzky retrospective.

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09-11-2006, 10:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Hasbro View Post
My lament about the Rockies being in line for Gretz should be coached by the fact that they would have found some way to screw that up anyway. Either passing him in the draft trading the pick or trading him too young.
Or how about trading the pick to the Montreal Canadiens. Sam Pollock traded for Colorado's pick that year knowing that it was going to be Gretzky's draft year and that Colorado was a weak team. Unfortunately Edmonton was able to hold onto him and Montreal took Doug Wickenheiser instead. A fourth Habs dynasty was averted.

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09-11-2006, 10:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Hasbro View Post
My lament about the Rockies being in line for Gretz should be coached by the fact that they would have found some way to screw that up anyway. Either passing him in the draft trading the pick or trading him too young.
Or by drafting Sam Bowie instead.

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09-11-2006, 11:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Habsfunk View Post
Or how about trading the pick to the Montreal Canadiens. Sam Pollock traded for Colorado's pick that year knowing that it was going to be Gretzky's draft year and that Colorado was a weak team. Unfortunately Edmonton was able to hold onto him and Montreal took Doug Wickenheiser instead. A fourth Habs dynasty was averted.
Exactly! However you are overrating them by calling them weak.

I wasn't sure Pollock got that pick before or after Gretz's rights got settled. When Bellows was hyped up at heading into his draft year the Rockies traded that #1 and traded the number #1 that became LaFontaine.

If there were half a brain in that front office they would have held the number one and fought like hell to get Gretzky into the draft. As the Devils they halfway figured it out making a run at lemeuix.

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09-11-2006, 11:56 AM
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Or by drafting Sam Bowie instead.
for the Bowie reference.

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09-16-2006, 10:02 AM
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1) Gretzky tears up the OHL as a 16 year, putting up almost a 3 points a game, obviously catching the attention of the hockey world.




im 16 and im putting up 3 points a game with jagr on nhl2k6
makes u wonder...

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09-16-2006, 10:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tyutin 51 View Post
1) Gretzky tears up the OHL as a 16 year, putting up almost a 3 points a game, obviously catching the attention of the hockey world.




im 16 and im putting up 3 points a game with jagr on nhl2k6
makes u wonder...
It must be boring playing on beginner level

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09-16-2006, 06:43 PM
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It must be boring playing on beginner level
i was being sarcastic

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09-17-2006, 11:30 AM
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Gretzky was the source of a lot of hockey arguments before he arrived in the NHL. In particular there were a lot of "experts" who claimed that the skinny little Gretzky would never excel at the NHL level because of his weak skating and lack of strength. Supposedly the tougher NHL oppostion would shut him down.

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09-17-2006, 11:57 AM
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Originally Posted by 5Whole View Post
Gretzky was the source of a lot of hockey arguments before he arrived in the NHL. In particular there were a lot of "experts" who claimed that the skinny little Gretzky would never excel at the NHL level because of his weak skating and lack of strength. Supposedly the tougher NHL oppostion would shut him down.
And they did because he only finished second in NHL scoring in his first NHL year.

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09-17-2006, 05:02 PM
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Gretzky was conisiderd to small, to weak, to slow, even going into Junior. He probabaly had more nay sayers than believers. He was NOT even the first player drafted into Junior . I cannot recall anyone, anytime saying he wud ever be a threat to all of Howe's records.

We had a poll on this years ago on HF and it was based on a similiar poll done with NHL GM's, scouts etc.

The question was: If you could forget or ignore all there accomplishments in the NHL and Gretzky, Lemieux and Lindros were all entering the NHL the same year, who would you draft first?


Gretzky came LAST in both polls!!! (Lindros came first in both polls).

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09-17-2006, 05:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Northern Dancer View Post
Gretzky was conisiderd to small, to weak, to slow, even going into Junior. He probabaly had more nay sayers than believers. He was NOT even the first player drafted into Junior . I cannot recall anyone, anytime saying he wud ever be a threat to all of Howe's records.

We had a poll on this years ago on HF and it was based on a similiar poll done with NHL GM's, scouts etc.

The question was: If you could forget or ignore all there accomplishments in the NHL and Gretzky, Lemieux and Lindros were all entering the NHL the same year, who would you draft first?


Gretzky came LAST in both polls!!! (Lindros came first in both polls).

Well to be fair, Mario owns more of his own team than Wayne does and Eric has a nicer cottage than Wayne...

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