Do me a favor: before you read what I have to say about Gretzky’s Tears, read my post about Searching For Bobby Orr. All of the good things Stephen Brunt does with Orr he does with Gretzky, and you don’t need me wasting a few hundred words saying them again. Gretzky’s Tears is a great story told in a very entertaining way, and it’s a thoroughly researched book.
That’s going to make this a much shorter post than most would expect, but what can I say about Brunt’s writing that I haven’t already? He didn’t take the story sequentially. He assumes you are at least familiar with the Gretzky trade and what happens next, and he doesn’t hold himself to a specific timeline in the book. He knows you can look up who won what and where, his job is giving you the whole story. In short, that’s what makes the book so great.
What I like best about the book is that he thought hard about what the Gretzky trade meant. It wasn’t a retelling of one week or month, the period in which the trade happened. He looked at the trade as a cause and effect spanning a few decades, and told the story as such. Gretzky heading to Hollywood affected more than just the City of Edmonton or the Kings franchise, it changed the course of the NHL forever. It also changed the way an entire country looked at their hockey players, and that last part might be most interesting to some.
Gretzky’s Tears is much, much better than ESPN’s 30 for 30 about the same trade because the whole story is about more than just Wayne Gretzky. The supporting cast is, in a way, much more interesting than the greatest hockey player of all time. Nelson Skalbania, Peter Pocklington and Bruce McNall are the real keys to the story, and they got real face time in the book.
In fact, the most important thing to take away from the book is the story of Bruce McNall. Brunt makes a connection between the Gretzky trade and the expansion era in the NHL, something that has created many of the problems hockey is dealing with today. His conclusion is that the league’s master plan, the course it took for the next decade, was built on the phantom wealth of Bruce McNall. It’s a chilling conclusion, that a shell game gave us the Thrashers and Panthers and Lightning. In fact, the closing chapter about Phoenix is almost too perfect: Gretzky left floundering thanks to a franchise that exists because of a chain of events he started on his own.
It may sound like a tough sell, but Brunt sure does a good job of making his case. Gretzky’s Tears is a must-read for hockey fans, especially ones who are either too young to remember the trade or weren’t interested in hockey at the time. It might not change the way you think about the business of hockey, but I think it’s important to understand that there is always a set of reasons behind something. At the time it made absolutely no sense for the Oilers to trade Gretzky; certainly not to the fans in Edmonton. In the owner’s office, however, the world was a completely different place. That in itself is a fascinating thing to think about and, given recent events with the Sabres, something to ponder over the last few weeks of summer.