The Great One says he will not become the Great Conciliator as the National Hockey League lockout approaches meltdown.
Despite the respect he commands on both sides of the dispute, the league's career scoring leader and managing partner of the Phoenix Coyotes is staying on the sidelines. It's the same stance he took during the 1994-95 lockout when he was a player for the Los Angeles Kings.
"It's not something I can just go in and fix," Gretzky said yesterday at his Toronto restaurant during a minor hockey charity event launch. "People will ask my thoughts, but no one has said 'you should go in.'
"I understand what the players are saying because I was a player. And I understand what management and ownership is saying because I am an owner of a team. But this is a complex, complicated situation. There are a lot of issues at stake here, and not just the salary cap."
He claimed not to have been included thus far in any collective bargaining strategy, not that the players and owners have been burning the midnight oil in discussions to save the season.
Many of the game's most famous faces were at Monday's Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony and the corridors were filled with mutterings about the negotiating impasse. Among many ideas to bring the matter to a head was one that constituents give commissioner Gary Bettman and union boss Bob Goodenow until Dec. 15 to reach a deal and fire one or both if there's no progress. But both sides remain far too entrenched in their positions to break ranks.
"I don't really know all the insides," Gretzky said. "That's up to Bob and Gary to hammer out. Everyone agrees (the season is slipping away). We've got to figure out answers, but right now I don't know them."
Gretzky touched on other subjects yesterday, such as the perceived decline in the calibre of NHL play. He said the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the runner-up Calgary Flames showed that the league still can produce a thrilling final and satisfy both defensive-minded coaches and action-starved fans. He said fans should not expect today's players to be agents of change, rather he urged that amateur coaches do a better job opening up the game at the kids' level.
"You should not be teaching 10-year-old kids to play the trap or the left-wing lock," Gretzky said. "And you can't expect those NHLers who have played one style for 12 years to conform their game to (satisfy) the box office."