Wayne Gretzky sees hockey being played before 2013

Retired hockey star Wayne Gretzky believes the NHL will return before Jan. 1. (REUTERS)

Retired hockey star Wayne Gretzky believes the NHL will return before Jan. 1. (REUTERS)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:58 PM ET

When The Great One claims to be optimistic the NHL lockout will be over in time for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings to face off in front of 110,000-plus fans Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium in the Winter Classic, you want to believe him.

More importantly, you hope the two battling sides in this dispute are listening to him.

After all, he is Wayne Gretzky, arguably the most famous man to lace up a pair of skates.

Don't count on it, though.

During the 2004-05 lockout, Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, the sport's biggest names of the past three decades, made a trip to New York to attempt to "uncancel" that particular season by getting involved in the labour talks. But not even two of hockey's giants nicknamed "The Great One" and "The Magnificent One" could save that lost season.

Obviously, rich legacies on the ice mean little when it comes to the battles of dollars and sense off of it.

Gretzky's sixth sense that the rift between owners and players this time around is smaller than it was 2004-05 should be heeded, given that he has been on both sides of the debate -- a player, a coach and part of management, having at one time held an ownership interest in the Phoenix Coyotes.

"I think that in 2004 we were changing the whole landscape," Gretzky told an audience Monday during a personal finance conference. "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 -- seemed to be out of the way.

"Now it's a question of working out the number that both sides think is fair."

Gretzky is guessing -- and hoping -- that an agreeable middle ground can be found during the next three months.

"I believe in my heart, maybe because I'm such a big hockey fan, that they will be playing by Jan. 1," he said.

Interestingly, Gretzky is wary of airing his opinion in public concerning the stances of the warring parties, feeling that such comments could be inappropriate from someone who has not been part of the negotiations. He said during a radio interview last week that it was tough for former players to suggest who's wrong and who's right in this stalemate when they don't know the details of the talks.

"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," Gretzky said Monday, referring to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the union head.

"It's a matter of sitting down and getting the deal done."

We hear you, No, 99. So do the fans.

Not sure about the players and owners, though.

CROSS CHECKS

The NHL is expected soon to cancel the first couple of weeks of the season, but Philadelphia Flyers forward Daniel Briere is taking it one step further. "I believe that the regular (games) will be cancelled no matter what for (all of) October," Briere told CSN Philadelphia ... Phoenix Coyotes veteran forward Shane Doan, who is on one of the negotiating committees, said the players and owners are seeking the same goal of a more lucrative NHL. How they get there, however, is where the issues lie. "As a player, we understand there are certain things (the owners) want," Doan told the Arizona Republic. "And as a player, we think that if they want us to share the amount we've made, they need to share with each other. That's one of the biggest parts of this. If they aren't even willing to share with each other, it makes it very hard to ask the players to cover everything." Doan signed a four-year, $21,2-million deal Sept. 14, one day before the CBA expired. It was yet another example of the same owners who have been crying poor somehow still finding gobs of money to throw at free agents.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

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