With every day of the NHL off-season that features another team GM or president hiring, it’s less and less likely hockey icon Wayne Gretzky returns to the league in a management capacity for the 2014-15 campaign. The whispers about The Great One joining the Washington Capitals as team president have all but disappeared and there’s no natural fit for Gretzky that jumps out at hockey insiders.
Maybe that changes whenever 70-year-old Glen Sather retires as Rangers president-GM. But what if Sather promotes current assistant GM Jeff Gorton to replace him? Once again, Gretzky would be on the outside looking in. But an NHL source believes No. 99 could resurface – it must be stressed, not this season – with a franchise nobody could’ve seen him joining three decades ago.
How does Wayne Gretzky, president of the Brooklyn-bound New York Islanders sound?
While nothing is close, a match between Gretzky and the Isles would make sense on a number of fronts. The union would have to take place after current team owner Charles Wang sold the franchise to a new ownership group – there’s no way Gretzky would willingly entangle himself in the Wang regime unless he was involved in a Liam Neeson-“Taken” plot that included working for Wang as part of the ransom – but it would give him the type of hockey control Brendan Shanahan now has in Toronto and Trevor Linden has in Vancouver. The new ownership group would also likely provide Gretzky with a far bigger budget than he ever worked with in Phoenix. And he would be back in the planet’s biggest media market, in a position to actively grow the game again, with a spotlight that included one of the NHL’s newest arenas.
Both from a fan and corporate perspective, the addition of Gretzky’s massive profile would be phenomenal for a team setting up roots in a new community. And it would follow the process that’s taken place with the other tenant in the Barclays Center – the NBA’s Nets: they’ve also embraced big-name star power (bringing in head coach Jason Kidd and veteran stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett) to make a splash after relocating a sad-sack franchise from New Jersey.
Who better than Gretzky to make people forget about the cavalcade of Isles errors that have been made in the past quarter-century? His time in Phoenix showed he doesn’t have the Midas Touch, but his brand alone would be a balm for a fan base that’s endured the errors of Wang & Co. for too long. And if franchise cornerstone John Tavares is frustrated with the direction of the team, Gretzky’s arrival could go a long ways toward reassuring him things will improve.
A call to Gretzky’s representative seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned, but we shouldn’t expect him to confirm any interest until the team sale process plays out. Indeed, it’s tough seeing him accepting the role before the Isles leave Long Island for Brooklyn in the fall of 2015; the idea of working in decrepit Nassau Coliseum likely isn’t an attractive one for him.
That said, if you told anyone in 1984 – the first year Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers were able to beat the Islanders in the Stanley Cup Final – that, three decades down the line, No. 99 would be running the Isles, they’d have demanded you took a breathalyzer whether or not you were driving a car. But while Gretzky to the Isles is nowhere close to a sure thing, it’s now very much within the realm of possibility.
If it does happen, nobody should be shocked. The stars are starting to align and push Gretzky in that direction.
Is the sports world ready for rap star (and former Nets owner/current Nets fan) Jay Z to be seen around the same building with (Lil’) Wayne? We may soon find out.