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Prediction: 'Long, long time' until play resumes

1/2/2005

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Wayne Gretzky, hockey's greatest player and now part owner of the Phoenix Coyotes, believes if the NHL and its locked-out players don't resolve the 3 ½-month old standoff in the next couple of weeks, a year or more might pass before the league resumes play.

"If we don't figure out a way to make everyone who's part of this sort of happy, we could be looking at a long, long time before hockey's played in the NHL again," Gretzky told reporters prior to Canada's semifinal game against the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship on Sunday. "We're looking at 1½ or maybe even two years."

Despite his bleak prediction, Gretzky again reiterated that it's not his place to take an active role in helping bring the camps together.

"It's not like 700 players and 30 owners go into a room and negotiate a contract. It doesn't work like that. I'm not part of that," Gretzky said.

The players were locked out by owners when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expired at 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 15. While no meetings are scheduled between the NHL and the NHL Players Association, the NHL's board of governors is scheduled to meet in New York on Jan. 14. If there isn't an agreement in place by then, it's believed the season will be canceled, marking the first time a professional sports league canceled an entire season because of a labor dispute.

Although Gretzky said the Coyotes are losing less money by not playing than if they were under terms of the old CBA, he said not playing is hurting the team's credibility in Phoenix and is eroding both its fan base and corporate sponsorship.

"To wipe out or lose an entire season would definitely not be good for anyone," Gretzky said.

Among other topics he discussed:

  • The Great One once again refused to put to rest rumors he might take over as Coyotes coach. Gretzky did say the team wanted to hire former Ottawa Senators coach Jacques Martin, who was fired after the Senators' first-round playoff ouster by the Toronto Maple Leafs and shortly thereafter hired by the Florida Panthers. Phoenix management, including general manager and close Gretzky friend Mike Barnett, then asked Gretzky if he was interested in the job.

    He said Sunday he didn't want to deal with the issue until after the lockout was resolved, but implied that it is still a possibility.

    "I really didn't say no, to be quite honest," Gretzky said.

  • Gretzky denied a published report that the Coyotes are for sale.

    "If it was for sale I'd tell you guys," he said. "There's really no truth to the story at all."

  • Gretzky, who has previously hinted that 17-year-old Sidney Crosby might have the tools to someday break his seemingly unbeatable NHL records, continued to praise the Canadian sensation.

    "He's the real deal. He's got tremendous hockey sense," said Gretzky.

  • Gretzky played in one World Junior Championship as a 16-year-old in Montreal in 1978. He scored 17 points in six games for Canada, which won the bronze medal. Two memories remain vivid for Gretzky: playing in the Montreal Forum and meeting Guy Lafleur for the first time.

    Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.