August 9 doesn’t have much significance for most of us. But for Edmonton Oilers fans, it’s a day where it’s well within your rights to stop what you’re doing, curl up in the fetal position, and blubber like a baby.
On this day 29 years ago, the Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings, shocking all of Canada, forever altering the sport of hockey and proving that any player was expandable at the right price, even the "Great One".
While the Oilers did go on to add a fifth Stanley Cup two years after the trade, and Gretzky’s move to California had a huge impact on the NHL’s expansion to the Sun Belt, the trade is defined by what didn’t happen. How many more Stanley Cups would the Oilers have won? Would the Sharks, Lightning or Ducks even exist?
All we can do is speculate, which is one of the most fun things to do when it comes to sports. We looked at some of the biggest blockbuster trades since Gretzky that had an impact on sports history, and wondered what could have been.
The Dallas Cowboys trade Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings
It’s still the largest player trade in NFL history, and one that spawned the Dallas Cowboys dynasty. It involved 18 players, at the time 12 of them draft picks yet to be selected. Obviously, one team made better use of them.
What Happened: Dallas used six of the Vikings picks to draft key players like Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith and five-time pro bowler Darren Woodson. The team dominated the 1990s, winning three Super Bowls. The Vikings are still one of the unlucky 13 NFL franchises to have never won a Super Bowl, and they haven’t appeared in one since 1977. Herschel Walker played in just 42 games for the team.
What could have happened: The Vikings use their picks wisely, win one or two Super Bowls and end their drought, while the Cowboys dynasty never happens and we don’t have to listen to Jimmy Johnson babble on FOX NFL Sunday.
Charlotte Hornets trade 13th pick Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers
Arguably the most insane part of this moment in NBA history is that 12 teams passed on Kobe Bryant, but we can discuss that another time. The Hornets took him out of high school at 13 and sent him to the Lakers in a deal that’s still questioned to this day.
What happened: Kobe Bryant played his entire career in L.A. and won five championships, including a three-peat from 2000-2002. In return for Kobe the Hornets received center Vlade Divac, who played just two years in Charlotte. In 2002, the franchise relocated to New Orleans.
What could have happened: Kobe leads the Hornets to multiple NBA Finals, they never relocate, the Bobcats never exist and a certain someone possibly never comes to the Lakers….
Los Angeles Lakers trade Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat
In 1996 not only did the Lakers trade for Kobe Bryant but they lured free agent Shaquille O’Neal, regarded by some as one of the top-three NBA centers ever, from the Orlando Magic. Shaq and Kobe won three Finals together, and it looked like the sky was the limit. In 2004, that changed.
What happened: Shaq’s salary demands, and tensions with Kobe, led to a shocking trade by the Lakers in which they sent the big man to the Miami Heat in exchange for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a future first rounder. The Heat won in the short term, capturing the 2006 NBA Finals with Shaq and Dwayne Wade leading the way. The Lakers would eventually win the long term, winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, and Lamar Odom played a key role.
What could have happened: The Lakers overpay for an aging O’Neal, he and Kobe kiss and make up and win one or two more titles, but Kobe never gets to prove he can do it on his own/with Pau Gasol.
Montreal Canadiens trade Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche
In his time with the Montreal Canadiens, Roy shined, winning two Stanley Cups and three Vezina Trophys. But even Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston have to break up at some point.
What happened: After giving up nine goals on 26 shots in a December 1995 game against the Detroit Red Wings, Roy was pulled by coach Mario Tremblay, with whom he already had an ugly relationship. Roy told the coach it would be his final game in Montreal, and he got his wish four days later, being dealt to the Colorado Avalanche in one of the most one-sided deals in NHL history. The Avs won the Cup that season with the help of Roy, and added another in 2001.
What could have happened: By some miracle, Roy and Tremblay mend fences and the Canadiens add a 25th Stanley Cup to their storied history, while the Avalanche go down as one of the best rosters to never win a cup. Speaking of dumb sports trades by Montreal teams..
Montreal Expos trade Pedro Martinez to Boston Red Sox
After acquiring the future Hall of Fame pitcher via a different dumb deal by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Expos figured they’d do one better and send away their Cy Young Winner.
What happened: The Expos most likely weren’t going to pony up the money for Pedro the following season, so they dealt him to the Boston Red Sox for pitchers Carl Pavano and Tony Armas, Jr. Pedro was signed to, at the time, the largest deal ever for a pitcher, and he delivered. He won back-to-back Cy Youngs for Boston in 1999 and 2000 and eventually helped them break the franchise's curse in the 2004 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. As for the Expos, well, they are now the Washington Nationals.
What could have happened: The Expos do something even dumber, let Pedro play out the final year of his contract in Montreal and become a free agent. George Steinbrenner instead makes him, at the time, the highest paid pitcher ever that off-season and the New York Yankees nine-peat.