Kypreos on NHL: Great divide

November 22, 2011, 10:25 PM

One current superstar is back for the NHL, but the league needs to focus some attention on a former superstar in order to make things really right.

Before anyone can contemplate the thought of Wayne Gretzky being associated with any team again, it would be wise for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his board to revisit how important it is to have Gretzky again making notable appearances on their behalf.

I loved Gretzky’s response when first asked if he’ll show up to play in the Winter Classic outdoor alumni game: "They don’t need to see a 50-year-old slow guy out there!"

Yeah right. That might be the case with 90 per cent of the guys — including me (apart from the 50-year-old part) — but not the man who holds or shares a remarkable 60 NHL records.

From a selfish point of view I’d love to see him there. I’d get another shot at a Kodak moment on the ice and wouldn’t my kids love that. But as we were reminded yet again by reports Tuesday, there is no shot of seeing Gretzky make an appearance at the outdoor game, or anywhere else — an all-star game, a Stanley Cup final for instance — unless Bettman and the 29 other owners step up and do the right thing.

When the NHL picked up former Phoenix owner Jerry Moyes’ debt in bankruptcy, they also picked a potential fight with the greatest ambassador the game has ever seen. According to the terms of his deal, the debt owed to Gretzky is as much as $9 million. Not exactly chump change, folks.

Some might say he’s being greedy and has enough money already, but in the world of big business it really doesn’t matter. What matters are a deal is a deal and paying one’s debts. In the world of professional sports, money talks and bull—- walks.

I get it that the league inherited Gretzky as a creditor and he must be patient like other creditors; but how long do you make the guy who built your league to 30 teams wait? Does the NHL really want to compare what they owe him in deferred payments to the expansion fees he lined the owners’ pockets with the past 20 years?

Are you kidding me? No contest. The man is the Babe Ruth of hockey, so why isn’t the league making this a priority? It’s been more than two years since Gretzky and the NHL have done anything significant together, and two years can easily turn to three and four and beyond.

The league needs to do the right thing by picking up the phone and starting up a dialogue that makes everyone believe this relationship can once again be as strong as ever. Just like a new CBA deal, there’s a deal to be made with compromises that satisfy both sides.

Bettman and the league need to stop making Wayne and the fans pay for the league’s continued financial challenges when it comes to dealing with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Then I can get my Polaroid taken at my outdoor alumni game.


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