Robitaille: McNall told me ‘We’re going to get Gretzky’

The Wayne Gretzky trade may have taken place August 9, 1988, but Bruce McNall was signalling his intent to land The Great One six months earlier.

Los Angeles Kings president Luc Robitaille, a Hall of Fame NHL player himself, was a guest on the latest edition of 31 Thoughts: The Podcast.

At one point during the conversation, Elliotte Friedman asked Robitaille where he was when the Gretzky trade went down.

After Robitaille mentioned that he was in Montreal that summer, Friedman followed up and wanted to know if Robitaille knew the trade was coming.

“I’m going to tell you, the February before - with the All-Star Game in St. Louis - Bruce McNall, it was the first year he had control of the team,” recalled Robitaille. “And we’re coming back on his plane to L.A. and he said, ‘We’re going to get Gretzky.’

“I’m like, ‘There’s no way. We’re not getting Wayne Gretzky.’ Because that was my idol. So I’m like, ‘There’s no way.’

“But I’ll never forget - he told me that in St. Louis at the All-Star Game. Actually sorry, we were flying back and he told me I think when we were driving back to get on the plane.

“So then push to the summer, Wayne wins the Cup. He’s the best player in the world. And I think it was sometime in July I started hearing that they thought he was coming.

“And then he called me a couple of days before. He said, “I think he’s coming. It won’t be you, Luc. They want a young guy, but it won’t be you. I promise you I won’t trade you.’ And he did, he had promised Jimmy, myself, and Steve he wouldn’t trade us.

“And I think what happened, I’m not sure exactly the story, but I think Jimmy when he heard there was rumbling - I think Bruce called Jimmy too - Jimmy was a smart guy. I always thought Jimmy was like a baseball player… and he was a great talent, and I think he was like, ‘Well, if Wayne comes here and Bernie Nicholls is here, I’ll be a third-line center. So I think he hinted to Bruce that it might be good for him to go because his ice time was going to be totally diluted.

“So the trade was going to happen no matter what, but I know Glen Sather was fighting to get one of the young guys.”

Jimmy Carson was indeed part of that trade 30 years ago between the Kings and Edmonton Oilers.

The All-Star Game to which Robitaille alluded was held in St. Louis on February 9, 1988.