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Thursday, 21 June 2012

TBC: Gretzky's Tears

I may have been a little tardy with this review as some of the HBIC Playoff Pool prizes have begun to hit the mail, but Teebz's Book Club is checking back in with another solid book to add to your reading list. TBC is always interested in stories that center around some historical moment in hockey history, and today's book is no different as TBC is proud to review Gretzky's Tears, written by Stephen Brunt and published by Knopf Canada. The story that Mr. Brunt scribed is about what is arguably the biggest trade in NHL history, and the drama that surrounded Wayne Gretzky's trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. In what seemed like a gripping moment for Canada when Wayne Gretzky broke tears, Mr. Brunt tells an entirely different story about how the trade went down behind-the-scenes.

From the Random House website, "Stephen Brunt, a columnist at the Globe and Mail, is Canada's premier sportswriter and commentator. His most recent book, the #1 national bestselling Searching for Bobby Orr, was called "not only one of the best hockey books ever, but a book that transcends hockey" by the Edmonton Journal. He is also the author of Facing Ali: The Opposition Weighs In; The Way it Looks from Here: Contemporary Canadian Writing on Sports; Mean Business: The Rise and Fall of Shawn O'Sullivan; Second to None: The Roberto Alomar Story and Diamond Dreams: 20 Years of Blue Jays Baseball. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, and in Winterhouse Brook, Newfoundland."

I will start off this review on a slightly negative tone. The first few chapters in Gretzky's Tears are long-winded, overly wordy, and feel a little unnecessary in their immense amount of detail. That's not to say that they don't describe Wayne Gretzky's early days in hockey because they, in fact, do. It's just that Mr. Brunt's writing style in these early chapters seems to be an area where he is trying too hard to say too much. However, I will also defend his writing style because it becomes apparent later in the book that his examination of even the most minute detail is very important in putting the touches on what turned out to be a very enjoyable read.

In bringing forth the circumstances that resulted in Wayne Gretzky essentially being sold to Bruce McNall and the Los Angeles Kings, Mr. Brunt identifies Peter Pocklington's crumbling financial empire as the reason for his decision to "trade" hockey's biggest star. In fact, there was no trade ever presented until Glen Sather, GM of the Oilers at the time, sat down and hammered out his demands to make the sale of Gretzky into a hockey deal. Instead, Mr. Brunt carefully identifies the key players in the move, and systematically builds the case that Gretzky's tears that he shed at the press conference were not entirely genuine.

There weren't a lot of backroom dealings and behind-the-scenes meetings that took place to set the events in motion, but there were key meetings set up between the players in this deal that made the trade happen. But the idea of selling Gretzky wasn't even McNall's idea initially - the seed had been planted by Jerry Buss years earlier in his dealings with Peter Pocklington before McNall approached Pocklington with his idea!

What made Gretzky's Tears an excellent read was how thorough Mr. Brunt was when it came to the financial sides of the deal. His information on the crumbling financial empires of both Pocklington and McNall is front and center as you begin to grasp the reasons for the sale of Gretzky to Los Angeles and his eventual trade from the Kings to St. Louis. Mr. Brunt does an especially good job in examining the pyramid schemes and lies told to financial institutions to secure credit by Mr. McNall. If the hockey portions of the book were removed, the financial story would be an excellent read on how one man lied his way into hundreds of millions of dollars only to see his house of cards collapse around him.

"It wasn't around his hockey team that the first cracks began to show, the first signs that the grand facade Bruce McNall had been constructing for most of his adult life was beginning to crumble. Of all of the elements of his fraudulent, precariously balanced financial empire, the Los Angeles Kings were among the most straightforward and the most legit. The question of where he got the money to fund his excesses, for the private jet, for Gretzky's salary - that was another story, one kept well hidden from those who ran the team day to day. As far as they were concerned, hockey per se was a straight cash-in, cash-out proposition, one that, despite the escalating costs of operating in the NHL, continued to turn a profit. For the longest time, they didn't suspect a thing.
I'll be very honest: I liked Gretzky's Tears. While Mr. Brunt's writing style at first seemed a little wordy, he certainly turned the story of Wayne Gretzky's trade from Edmonton to Los Angeles into a story worthy of high praise. The evidence he collected and presented in a very calculated fashion shows that not only is Mr. Brunt closer to the truth about the trade itself, but about the entire set of circumstances that were set in motion following Gretzky's move to Los Angeles. Mr. Brunt hammers home the details of what caused the trade, what happened during the press conferences, and what the aftermath looked like from "inside the room" where a number of deals were struck before, during, and after the trade had happened. Because of Mr. Brunt's excellent work in this book, Gretzky's Tears certainly deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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