Gretz: NHL on thin ice

Wayne Gretzky laughs during a news conference at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Grand...

Wayne Gretzky laughs during a news conference at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Grand Forks, N.D., Sunday, Jan. 2, 2005.(CP PHOTO/Ryan Remiorz)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:20 AM ET

Wayne Gretzky has a simple message for the NHL and NHL Players' Association: Get a new collective bargaining agreement done in the next few weeks or prepare to suffer long-lasting consequences. "I am scared that we could be looking at a year and a half, or two years," Gretzky said yesterday, referring to the NHL lockout. "That is what is more alarming about this than anything. I can't see us coming to an agreement in August or September. So we are going to be back to where we were last Sept. 15 come this Sept. 15. If we don't figure out a way to make everyone who is part of this happy, we could be looking at a long, long time before hockey is played in the NHL again."

HOLDING COURT

Gretzky arrived here in Grand Forks, N.D., a couple of days ago to catch some of the world junior championship and yesterday held a news conference because, well, he's Wayne Gretzky. He discussed a number of issues but did not offer what he thought could be a solution to the lockout.

"I hope over the next couple of weeks we can come to an agreement," Gretzky said. "The commissioner (Gary Bettman) has made it clear he is not going to accept anything that is not cost certainty and that's the bottom line. We (the owners) are behind him 100%."

The players have equated cost certainty with a salary cap, which they won't accept. Despite Gretzky's warning, don't expect an agreement soon. The NHL board of governors is to meet Jan. 14 in New York, where it is expected to either announce a drop-dead date or decide upon one.

Gretzky, who has not been involved in negotiations and indicated he probably won't get involved, said his Phoenix Coyotes are losing less money this season than they would have had they been playing, and steadfastly denied the club is for sale, as has been reported. He also said whether he returns to be Canada's executive director for the Winter Olympics in 2006 has not been decided.

As for the war of words that has been continuing during th NHL labour unrest, Gretzky said he is not taking shots from the players at the owners personally.

"Players are very emotional and they want to play," Gretzky said. "I understand their frustration, and sometimes they lash out."

How about coaching the Coyotes when play resumes?

"The first task is to get the NHL back on the ice and then make a decision after that. At this point, I can honestly say I am not sure."


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