Wayne Gretzky on the P.K. Subban trade, creativity in hockey and the state of the game

In an interview with CBC, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky summed up the trade that sent P.K. Subban to Nashville this way: "To get a really good player, you have to trade a good player."

'We're emotional as fans, and we're emotional as players,' hockey legend says in reference to trade

Wayne Gretzky poses for a photo to promote his new book in Montreal Tuesday. (Michelle Siu/Canadian Press)

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky sums up the trade that rocked Montreal this summer this way: "To get a really good player, you have to trade a good player."

"The Nashville Predators got a really good player in P.K. Subban, and the Montreal Canadiens got a really good player in Shea Weber," Gretzky said in an interview.

The Great One spoke to CBC Montreal's Andie Bennett this week to promote his new book, called 99: Stories of the Game.

Here are excerpts of that conversation, which was edited for clarity, beginning with a question about the deal that sent Subban to Nashville for Weber this summer.

When you have that kind of deal, how much is involved that has little to do with hockey?

When deals like this happen, everybody is so emotional, because people are human, and there's disappointment that comes along with being traded.

It's a tough decision for an organization, and it's tough for a player when he finds out he's been traded, especially a guy as popular as P.K. Subban. 

I always say this to players and I say this to fans, to get a really good player you have to trade a good player.

The best way to sum up this trade is to say the Nashville Predators got a really good player in P.K. Subban, and the Montreal Canadiens got a really good player in Shea Weber.

One fan took out a full page newspaper ad after the trade. Is that a fair reaction for a fan to have?

Absolutely it is. The fans are what makes the organization and the teams so historical and so storied. Listen, I grew up idolizing Gordie Howe, and when he retired I was devastated. And he just retired, he didn't even get traded.

We're emotional as fans, and we're emotional as players, and what people have to understand is these kids, guys like P.K. Subban, they are great in the community, and they help people who are less fortunate.

They do things beyond what just being a hockey player and playing the game is, and so that's why fans have the right to react the way they do, because they almost treat these guys like they do their own family.

What excites you about the game today?

The talent that the players have – these players who come who are playing at a high level at 18, 19, 20 years of age.

They come and they are fast and big and strong, and they understand the game, and they have a sense of wanting to win a championship. 

I just think that the game is in better shape than it's ever been.

Is there still room for creativity in the NHL?

We've lost a little bit of that, because junior hockey and youth hockey is so structured now, kids who come into the National Hockey League come in and are playing as good defensively as anybody.

We're a little bit in a defensive mode. It's tough to get 100 points. 

The coaching is probably better, the teaching is better, the goaltending is better so it makes it difficult to score.