It was 20 years ago Saturday that the St. Louis Blues acquired the greatest rental player in history.
On this day, during the 1995-96 season, the Blues sent a package of Craig Johnson, Patrice Tardif, Roman Vopat, a first-round draft pick in 1997, and a fifth-round draft pick in 1996 to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for the league's all-time points leader, Wayne Gretzky.
The move made the Blues a Cup favorite, with a roster including forwards Brett Hull and Dale Hawerchuk, defensemen Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger, and goaltender Grant Fuhr.
Gretzky says it was common sense at the time.
"I weighed all my options and just said it makes perfect sense for me to become a St. Louis Blue," Gretzky told Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "My wife's from St. Louis. We can live in St. Louis and raise our family there. That's our home and … there were no alternatives, really. Ultimately, they pulled the trigger and I became a St. Louis Blue."
Gretzky seamlessly transitioned into his new team, recording eight goals and 21 points in 18 regular season games, before punching in 16 more points in 13 playoff games.
The club was ultimately ousted by the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference finals thanks to an iconic Steve Yzerman Game 7, double-overtime winner.
That in turn spelled the end of Gretzky's short-lived time with the Blues, as he would go on to sign with the New York Rangers that summer, where he would play out the final three seasons of his career.
"I often look back at it and think, 'Oh my gosh, if things would have turned out differently, I’d probably still be in St. Louis full-time,'" Gretzky said. "But, you know, the good Lord works in mysterious ways and sometimes that doesn’t happen. But I have nothing but fond memories."
- With h/t to NHL.com