Wayne Gretzky, no longer able to deliver a Stanley Cup all by himself, traded Hollywood for a new home and new hope in St. Louis.
The greatest hockey player of his generation was dealt from the Los Angeles Kings to the Blues on Tuesday night, ending weeks of rumor and speculation about his future."I'm emotionally drained," Gretzky said at a news conference in Los Angeles. "I'm disappointed to be leaving Los Angeles but I'm excited to play in St. Louis. . . . It's always tough when you move. Nobody likes to make changes. Sometimes it's just timing."
The trade immediately reshapes the Blues, uniting Gretzky with coach Mike Keenan, who led the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup title in 1994, and right wing Brett Hull, one of hockey's biggest offensive threats.
"We all feel we've added a dimension to our hockey team that we've needed badly," Keenan said.
To get the most prolific scorer in NHL history, the Blues gave the Kings three young players - Craig Johnson, Patrice Tardif and Roman Vopat - plus their No. 1 draft pick in 1997 draft and a fifth-round pick this year.
"This is a terrific day for the St. Louis Blues franchise," Blues president Jack Quinn said. "There were some moments that weren't pleasant, but we're all good friends, and things turned out the right way."
The 35-year-old superstar said he hasn't talked with the Blues and has not negotiated with them, but he expects to sign with the club in two to three weeks.
Gretzky can become a free agent after this season, and the Kings risked losing him without compensation if they failed to sign him. He said it could "conceivably happen" that he plays out the season with the Blues, then signs elsewhere.
"I think it's been tough on everyone," Gretzky said. "It's been very unfair for all of us. I think everyone is relieved."
Kings governor Bob Sanderman said he made a contract offer to Gretzky.
"He went away and discussed it with his family and let us know late this afternoon he preferred not to remain with the Kings," Sanderman said.
The contract would have covered the rest of Gretzky's playing days. He then would have moved into a senior front-office job.
"Finances never really were a factor," Gretzky said.
Gretzky, wearing a dark suit, was relaxed and upbeat as he announced his trade at an airport hotel. His demeanor was far different from the time he was last traded. Gretzky was reduced to sobs when dealt from Edmonton to Los Angeles in 1988.
Gretzky is now off to St. Louis and is expected in the lineup for the Blues on Thursday night in Vancouver.
"I just follow the Rams," he said. "Wherever they go, I go."
Earlier in the day, Sanderman announced there was "no conclusion" to the negotiations. That announcement dampened anticipation in St. Louis, where the team had a podium ready for a news conference.
Sanderman had said he hoped to settle the matter this week. The resolution came much sooner.
The Gretzky trade watch, which has involved a number of teams, had been a strain for all parties, and Gretzky said he expected a deal before the March 20 trade deadline.
Gretzky played his last game for the Kings on Monday night in Winnipeg, where he assisted on one goal in a 4-3 loss. Afterward, he said he planned to meet with the Kings' owners Tuesday, and there would be no trade at least until then.
The Kings are 2-17-3 since Gretzky demanded the team trade him or upgrade its lineup. On Tuesday night, he had nothing but generous comments for the organization.
"They are kind, first class," he said. "It's a parting of ways for both parties. I hope it works out for the Kings and myself. . . . I hope it works out for everyone."