Impact of Gretzky trade felt 25 years later

Wayne Gretzky gets emotional as it is announced he was traded to the Kings. Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images

Let's start with this premise: The trade of Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings 25 years ago ranks as the most significant trade in the game's history.

We can only surmise what might have happened had owner Peter Pocklington not looked into his piggy bank and discovered it barren and kept Gretzky in Edmonton. How many more championships would the talented Oilers have won?

Would the Los Angeles Kings even exist today?

What about franchises that sprouted in unlikely locales such as Anaheim, Phoenix, Nashville and Tampa?

Would there have been Stanley Cup parades in Anaheim, Carolina, Tampa or Los Angeles if Gretzky had not landed with the Kings on Aug. 9, 1988?

Would young players hailing from Texas, Arizona and California regularly be called to the podium on draft day as they are now?

No one knows, of course, but the safe answer would be -- not bloody likely.

In Los Angeles, Gretzky's presence instantly transmogrified the Kings from patsies to contenders as they jumped from 68 to 91 points in 1988-89. They also defeated the Oilers in a seven-game playoff series before dropping the division final to eventual Cup winner Calgary.

By 1993, the high point of Gretzky's tenure in Los Angeles, the Kings were a hot ticket and there was a hitherto unknown buzz about the game in California helping to buoy new franchises in San Jose and later Anaheim.

In the spring of 1993 Gretzky and the Kings advanced to the team's first Stanley Cup final, where they were shut down by Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens in an entertaining five-game series.

Of course, discussion of the Gretzky trade always requires a wider lens than simply what transpired on the ice, and must include the impact Gretzky's presence in California had on franchises on the West Coast and in other nontraditional markets.

"You know what? I remember the first week I was in L.A. and I was going by these tennis courts and I stopped the car and said to a friend, 'You know, if we were in Canada, kids would be playing ball hockey, or inline hockey here and it would be amazing.' And this guy said, 'Well, this is California.' A year later there was a sign on the fence that said 'no inline hockey allowed' and I was like, 'We've come a long way,'" Gretzky said in an interview that appears in the NHL Network's documentary on the trade, "A Day That Changed The Game: August 9, 1988."

"You take minor hockey kids in California now or Arizona, they can compete against the top kids in Canada -- 10-11-year-old kids, they're very good. You don't have as many, but we are getting to that point. We have some great, young talent down there. We have people that love the game. The game's come a long, long way in the Southwest."

ESPN.com's Scott Burnside contributed to this story.