SUN Hockey Pool

Wayne Gretzky 'not involved' with Oilers, Daryl Katz

Wayne Gretzky, who was spotted enjoying the Packers-Seahawks game with Oilers owner Daryl Katz on...

Wayne Gretzky, who was spotted enjoying the Packers-Seahawks game with Oilers owner Daryl Katz on Monday, says he's not involved with the team or the NHL in any capacity. (SHAUN BEST/Reuters file photo)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:05 AM ET

The loyal hockey fans of Edmonton had their hearts stomped on when their beloved Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988.

Now, 24 years later, imagine the rekindling fears that their collective tickers could be broken again amidst the rumours and innuendo that the Great One might be a part of a movement to remove the Oilers from the Alberta capital.

All because Gretzky was seen at the Seahawks-Green Bay Packers game on Monday, the same day Oilers owner Daryl Katz was also in Seattle allegedly kicking the tires on the city as a potential new home for an NHL team.

With all this wild speculation running amok, Gretzky took it upon himself to call Toronto radio station Sportsnet 590 The Fan Tuesday to set the record straight.

His message?

No, he is not involved with Oilers ownership.

And no, he does not believe the Oilers will leave Edmonton.

"That's the last time I go to a football game," Gretzky said, understanding that many Oilers supporters erroneously started connnecting the dots when they saw him with Katz.

"I'm not involved with the NHL, I'm really not. It's just one of those things where I was invited to go to a football game and I said why not. Any official capacity is absolutely zero. I have no stake or claim in any team in the NHL whatsoever. Went there to enjoy a football game."

Gretzky sounded cautiously confident that a deal will be worked out that will see a $450-million arena built in Edmonton, thereby keeping the Oilers right where they are.

Asked about the possibility that the Oilers might move, Gretzky replied: "Probably zero."

"I just don't see it happening," he said. "I think over time here cooler heads are going to prevail and Daryl and the city will hammer out a deal and get it done. I can't see them moving. It's one of the greatest franchises in all of professional sports. You don't move a franchise like that.

"I say to people I just can't imagine a deal not getting done. (Katz has) come to the table with big dollars and the city's come to the table with some big dollars. They seem to be ahead of the game compared to other cities that have tried to get a new deal done.

"Hopefully, ultimately, both sides are happy and they get a beautiful building built in downtown Edmonton that will keep the Oilers there another 100 years."

Maybe.

But the Katz camp certainly is in full spin mode right now, given its contentious negotiations with Edmonton city council for the proposed downtown rink. Now he seems to be using the threat of a move to Seattle as leverage.

Katz, team president Patrick LaForge and president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe were in Seattle Monday for meetings about a possible relocation to the city, the Oilers said in a statement. Interestingly, on the same day, Seattle city council approved a plan for a $490 million arena that could house NHL and NBA teams in the future.

"The Katz Group has been listening to proposals from a number of potential NHL markets for some time," the Oilers statement said. "After more than four years of trying to secure an arena deal and with less than 24 months remaining on the Oilers' lease at Rexall Place, this is only prudent and should come as no surprise."

Of course, any shift between cities would require the league's stamp of approval. And, according to Gretzky, franchise relocation is not part of the league's agenda.

"The NHL does not want franchises to move," Gretzky said. "They want to build those franchises, stabilize those franchises, and keep the fans that support those teams comfortable."

As for the lockout, Gretzky said it is difficult for ex-players to comment because they are not privy to the details of the on-going negotiations. The Great One did admit that the financial issues separating the owners and players are tangible.

"The realization is, probably 10 teams make money, 10 teams break even, and 10 teams lose money," Gretzky said, adding that the franchises that are bleeding cash are doing it at a drastic rate.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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