Wednesday, November 2, 2016

1978-79 Edmonton Oilers Wayne Gretzky Jersey

Having only played eight games for the Indianapolis Racers, on this date in 1978, Wayne Gretzky was sold to the Edmonton Oilers.

Gretzky Oilers photo Gretzky Racers.jpg
Gretzky's Racers career lasted a mere eight games

At the time, the NHL had rules in place not allowing players under the age of 20 to be signed and the WHA, in an attempt to beat the NHL to some of the best upcoming young talent, started signing underage players, most of whom were 19 years old.

With the Racers losing $40,000 per game, owner Nelson Skalbania, having pulled a coup by being the one to land the then 17-year-old Gretzky, knew the Racers demise was a foregone conclusion. Skalbania's hope was to keep the Racers around long enough for a merger with the NHL to happen, knowing the Racers would not be a part of it, with the goal of being compensated financially for folding his team.

Other than the team itself, Skalbania's other main asset was Gretzky, and selling him would be the quickest way to raise some much needed cash.

Skalbania's options for moving Gretzky were the Edmonton Oilers or the Winnipeg Jets. In the end, Gretzky, goaltender Eddie Mio and forward Peter Driscoll were put on a chartered Lear jet, not knowing where they would land or which team they would join!

To add to the absurdity of the situation, Skalbania had not arranged payment for the flight. Mio produced a credit card that had only a $500 limit, which the pilot accepted and took off, heading for Minneapolis.

While the trio was up in the air, both literally and figuratively(!), Skalbania worked out a "deal" with his former partner Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, said to be a backgammon game with Gretzky as the prize should Pockington win. And win he did, and the plane was directed to land in Edmonton, changing the future of hockey. The deal that sent Gretzky, Mio and Driscoll to the Oilers was announced at $850,000, but Pocklington reportedly only paid $700,000, 

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Pocklington and Skalbania

Once on the ground in Edmonton, the pilot decided to hold out for full payment of the $7,900 until Pockington was able to be contacted and assured everyone that the Oilers would be taking care of the bill, much to the relief of Mio, who had his credit card receipt torn up.

"I should have kept [the receipt]," said Mio. "That would have made a great souvenir."

Eddie Mio Oilers photo Eddio Mio Oilers.jpg
Mio would play three seasons with the Oilers, two in the NHL

The Racers would not survive long enough for Skalbania to be bought out as he had hoped, folding just 17 games later on December 15, 1978, three and a half months short of his goal of making to the end of the season. The Oilers and Jets, along with the New England (Hartford) Whalers and Quebec Nordiques would join the NHL at the start of the next season. Of note, the two WHA teams not invited to join the NHL, the Cincinnati Stingers and Birmingham Bulls, each received $1.5 million as compensation.

Driscoll Cowboys photo Driscoll Cowboys.jpg
Driscoll made stops in Vancouver, Calgary,
Indianapolis and Edmonton in the WHA

After having the move out of Indianapolis completed, Gretzky would settle in with the Oilers and on his 18th birthday in January 26th of that season, he would sign a 10 year contract with Pocklington. He would finish third in WHA scoring with 46 goals and 64 assists for 110 points behind only Real Cloutier and Robbie Ftorek and be named the recipient of the forgotten Lou Kaplan Trophy as the WHA Rookie of the Year.

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On his 18th birthday in January of 1979, Gretzky signed
a 10 year contract with Pocklington for $3 million

Today's featured jersey is a 1978-79 Edmonton Oilers Wayne Gretzky jersey. During the frachise's first season of play in the WHA as the Alberta Oilers, all the player's jerseys initially had "ALBERTA" on the back instead of the individual player names. Before the 1972-73 season was complete, the team changed to using the players names on their home white and road orange jerseys, which are now being worn by the club as a throwback alternate style.

After two seasons the orange jerseys were replaced by their now customary blue jerseys, only now with
ill-advised and hard to read cresting with blue letters on an orange background on their home white jerseys and low contrast orange letters on a white background on their road blue jerseys as seen in today's featured jersey worn during Gretzky's rookie season in the WHA following his departure from Indianapolis. While the Oilers made the logo harder to read, the did reverse the colors of the numbers on their white jerseys from orange outlined in blue to blue outlined in orange.

The Oilers jerseys would remain unchanged from 1974-75 for the rest of their time in the WHA, but when the Oilers joined the NHL in 1979-80, they changed the colors of their crest for the better, to the original blue letters on a white background with an orange oil drop as used during their first two seasons in the WHA that they never should have gotten away from in the first place.

Edmonton Oilers 1978-79 jersey photo Edmonton Oilers 1978-79 jersey.jpg
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Today's featured jersey is a 1978-79 Edmonton Oilers Eddie Mio jersey. This is the road blue version of today's featured jersey from the man whose credit card may have changed hockey history!

Edmonton Oilers 1978-79 jersey photo Edmonton Oilers 1978-79 road jersey.jpg
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions
Our first video today is about Gretzky's time in the WHA, including his time with Indianapolis.

Here is a behind the scene's look at Gretzky from a documentary from the 1980's called "The Boys on the Bus" that is a change of pace from the usual game highlights.

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