Wayne Gretzky only played for one Canadian team during his professional career, but he was close to joining a second one in the mid-1990s.
After a brief stint with the St. Louis Blues in the second half of the 1995-96 NHL season, Gretzky was an unrestricted free agent looking for a new place to play. The NHL’s all-time leader in goals, assists, points and a plethora of other categories says he was nearly a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks.
“At one point in time we were close to Toronto. Cliff Fletcher [the Leafs GM at the time] really dug in deep and tried to make it happen,” Gretzky told Brady and Walker on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Thursday.
Gretzky, who grew up in Brantford, Ont., explained that he and his agent at the time, Mike Barnett, “were leaning to go to Toronto and be part of the Toronto Maple Leafs,” but it turns out the team was more interested in a new arena rather than signing The Great One.
“Timing is everything, and unfortunately at that time they were trying to raise money to move out of Maple Leaf Gardens and move into a new arena, a new facility, and the ownership just felt at that time they need to concentrate and put more of their resources into building an arena than to sign me,” Gretzky explained. “And that’s business and that’s what happens, but I thought I was close to signing in Toronto. I thought it was going to happen; unfortunately it didn’t.”
In addition to speaking with the Leafs, Gretzky was also in talks with the Canucks.
“It was a difficult summer. At one point I thought I was going to be a Vancouver Canuck and it fell through the wayside,” Gretzky said. “Everything happens for a reason, and I ended up signing with the New York Rangers… and truly enjoyed it.”
He spent his final three seasons playing in New York, where he racked up 249 points in 234 games on Broadway.