|Wayne Gretzky still believes the NHL season will start by January. (Getty Images)|
Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky is still more optimistic than everybody else when it comes to the NHL lockout ending at a somewhat reasonable time.
He also seems to be giving commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA leader Donald Fehr a bit more credit than everybody else.
Appearing on ESPN radio in New York, Gretzky continued to display optimism that the NHL season will begin before the Jan. 1 Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., and that eventually cooler heads will prevail.
And he believes that in his heart.
“Yeah, in my heart, I do," Gretzky told host Don Le Greca, via Sports Radio Interviews. "I think first of all you have two smart people in the commissioner and the commissioner's office leading the ownership group and of course Donald Fehr leading the NHLPA. I really believe in my heart that in '04, changing the landscape, going to a salary cap, was a real big issue and a real big fight.
"I think this one is more of a numbers issue. I see them getting something resolved here. I think both sides want to come to a resolution. I think right now both sides are doing the best negotiating they can do. So optimistically, I still believe that everyone will be back playing hockey and I sure hope so. It's a great game. It gets better every year, and we have great players and great athletes and good people in our game. I know the great fans across North America right now are dearly missing the sport of hockey.”
His optimism is admirable (and it's kind of sad that we're looking at a season potentially starting as late as Jan. 1 as "optimistic") but it doesn't seem to be shared by many others around the league, especially given the current state of the talks and how little progress is seemingly made when the two sides do get together.
The two sides met on Wednesday and Thursday this week with little progress, especially given that they didn't discuss core economic issues. There was also the issue that the two sides couldn't even really agree on what they talked about.
Perhaps even more disconcerting is the report that young players on NHL contracts in the Columbus and New Jersey organizations were told to look for housing that would last them through the entire American Hockey League season.
When asked how damaging all of these lockouts (this is the third since 1994 for the NHL) can be when it comes to keeping casual fans, Gretzky admitted it can be an issue.
“I don't think there's any question in my mind that any time you go into a lockout you're going to have people that start looking at other ways to entertain not only themselves, but the kids and their family," said Gretzky.
"You are always going to have people that say, ‘I have had enough of this and I am going to walk away. I don't want to deal with it anymore.' That's their prerogative and that's the risk you take when you have a lockout such as this. Ultimately, at the end of the day, hopefully the game itself is such a good game that people understand that unfortunately sometimes business is part of our sport, although we don't like to because we look at professional sports as a ‘kids game,' and what we do for our enjoyment."