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Footnotes to today's Gretzky/ESPN column

[Which you can read here.] One of the most penetrating remarks made by any of Peter Berg's interviewees—and I can't even tell who made it—was that absolutely nobody at the famous press conference wanted to be there. Watching the tape again really drives this home: the people at the head table are dazed and dyspeptic, pretty much like people who've just survived a bus accident where nobody has a scratch except for the one decapitated guy. Gretzky, as he made brutally apparent in his comments, hadn't yet fully digested the magnitude of what was happening. McNall was present strictly for the sake of form. Pocklington must have known there was no hope of making the fans understand—he was less than 24 hours away from giftwrapping an "I never liked the kid anyway" tirade and delivering it to Jim Matheson—and Glen Sather hated the whole idea of the trade (though, honestly, I suspect he's probably talking out his ass when he says he would have resigned if Gretzky had asked him to; no owner ever had a more loyal lieutenant than Slats). And even those among the reporters and photographers who felt no personal connection to Gretzky must have known they were losing a major meal ticket. Still a potently toxic diorama of misery, two decades later.

I didn't want to go into detailed technical criticisms of a VERY rough cut of the documentary, but the footage of Gretzky playing is somewhat disappointing. Which is fine; it's always a little disappointing. I feel like filmmakers should just let us follow him for a whole shift instead of depicting him scoring nifty goals. C'mon, like Gretzky scoring on a breakaway is an appropriate symbol of his gifts? Gretzky sucked on breakaways! That's right, I put it on the record! We all knew it! Attica! Attica!

I wasn't able to fit in any sort of remark about the present-day NHL's obsession with Jim Balsillie's "character", but it is certainly interesting to note that Bruce McNall eventually served time for fraud and Peter Pocklington is, at last report, on bail for fraud and confined to his home as a flight risk. The 1980s were a time when much of the National Hockey League's ownership consisted either of a) legacy families who had held onto franchises forever and b) vaguely dodgy nouveau riche wheeler-dealers. The NHL could only have dreamed of a time when a respectable magnate like Balsillie, with a fortune earned from publicly-held, SEC-scrutinized business interests, would be scrabbling at the door of their club like a freaked-out housecat. Now that time has come, and it turns out they're not all that interested.


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Comments (11)


Nice story.

Crid [CridComment @ gmail]:

OK, so who's this "Walter" guy Cosh mentions at head and toe?

Also, what's with the tweet about pandemic preparedness? Who's not facing facts? (Tweets are even more inane than blogs, and we might not have thought that possible.)

Also, are you in school? Why are you trying to sneak wifi from the Yoon-versi-tee?


Thank you for the column, and I enjoyed the footnote even more.

He was the last greatest Canadian hockey player to star on a Canadian club. It's a shame Crosby didn't lottery north of the 49th.


I always get a kick when the NHL raises the inane Balsillie "character" issue: this from a league that was proud to have Bill Wirtz as a member of the club? C'mon Gary, pull the other one!


Well, I always thought that Jim Balsillie was one goofy fucker...


I was a little kid when Gretzky left town, grade three or four, so I was oblivious to what was going on in the fan scene or in the media at the time. I just remember the scene on the elementary school playground.

To profess an admiration for Greztky had already been for some time the kind of thing that might meet with some suspicion from the other little kids (possible due to that Joey Moss "getsky!" salute that any kid in Edmonton will remember) but almost overnight it became somehow a deadly subject. Every kid in earshot would go silent, turn to regard the perpetrator and go pale with shock or flush with rage.

It's a bit amusing to look back on it now, as an adult, having never given it a thought since.

The last greatest Canadian hockey player to star on a Canadian club? The team that traded him still had Messier.

And Messier played for another Canadian club after Edmonton. Of course, he wasn't that great by the time he got to Vancouver.


Messier better, at the time? Not buying it. (You may have had your tongue in your cheek, of course).

Gretz's output (and stats) were to go into steep decline soon after the deal, but at the time of the trade he was twice the player Mess was. By the time Gretzky wasn't the best, Super Mario was.


And, of course, a Canadian-born player won a Hart for a Canadian team as recently as 2001-02...



And, of course, a Canadian-born player won a Hart for a Canadian team as recently as 2001-02...

Yes, the wrong one, but this did happen.


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