The Great One Still Sees Hockey in 2012
Let's be honest. Has ANYONE in the history of sport had a career like Wayne Gretzky?
As a player, he won four Stanley Cups. He holds 61 NHL records, including most goals and most points. Over the course of his career, he averaged almost two points per game. For all you non-hockey people, that's like scoring 30 a night in the NBA ... for 15 years!
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When Edmonton traded him to Los Angeles in the early '90s — and he married Hollywood starlet Janet Jones — he brought NHL popularity to new heights.
After retiring, what did he do?
Coached an NHL team. OWNED an NHL team. And, even managed Team Canada to Olympic Gold.
You get the picture. He's hockey royalty.
So, what does the prince of the puckheads think of the lockout, which is threatening to scuttle an entire season?
"I just hope they can sit down and work something out here," he said. "I've said all along that I bet well be playing hockey in January. "I still believe that."
Gretzky has to be careful. He can't come out too supportive of either side because he's basically an ambassador for the game — and he has to be diplomatic.
Even still, he remembers dealing with work stoppages in 1994 and 2004, and it's a bit of a head-scratcher to him that such wide divides between player and owner still exist.
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"I thought that in 2004 when we changed the structure and went to a salary cap, I thought that was the big hurdle," he said. "So, it seems to me that the big hurdle is behind us or sort of in the rear-view mirror."
Now, owners want revenue split evenly and even want to re-visit issues of free agency. What was once thought to be a disagreement over how much of a pay cut players will take has become a prideful and somewhat bitter battle between Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Director Donald Fehr.
Gretzky knows damage has been done to the game, but he doesn't think it's deadly damage. "I never said there wasn't going to be long term damage," he said. "What I said was were going to lose some of those fans.
"But it's such a great game and these athletes are so good. Hopefully, we can win back some of those fans that aren't happy with the current situation."
If arenas are still dark by January, we'll have to re-visit with the Great One and see if he has a Plan B.
-By CNBC's Brian Shactman