TORONTO -- The Great One is optimistic about the NHL's labor situation.
Wayne Gretzky thinks the league's lockout will end before the showcase Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
"I believe in my heart, maybe because I'm such a big hockey fan, that they will be playing by Jan. 1," he said Monday during a question and answer period at a panel discussion on personal finance.
Detroit and Toronto are scheduled to play outdoors at Michigan Stadium to kick off the new year.
The Hall of Fame center and former part owner of the Phoenix Coyotes feels the gap between the league and its players is smaller than in 2004, when the NHL lost an entire season.
"I think that in 2004 we were changing the whole landscape," Gretzky said. "Ownership wanted to have some sort of revenue sharing, and once we came to the revenue sharing, the hard part _ from my point of view _ seems to be out of the way.
"Now it's a question of working out the number that both sides think is fair."
Gretzky was reluctant to analyze the labor negotiations because he's not involved in them.
"The only thing I will say is the commissioner's office and Donald Fehr and the players' association are very smart men; they're both very intelligent. ... It's a matter of sitting down and getting the deal done," Gretzky said.