Wayne Gretzky is still the greatest National Hockey League player in the history of the game, and the winner of four Stanley Cup championships with the Edmonton Oilers still has an interest in his former team as well as the league he helped keep relevant. After a 20 plus year career spanning three decades in the game, Gretzky became part owner and then head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.
While he has not been in a position of power in the NHL for a few years now, that is not preventing people from feeling as if Gretzky has some influence about a potential relocation of the Oilers to Seattle, where a new NHL franchise is expected to begin by 2015.
Of course, the fact that Gretzky was spotted at the Seattle Seahawks game on Monday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers did not help squash speculation, considering it was reported that new Oilers owner Daryl Katz and his ownership group were in Seattle to survey Key Arena and take a look at the atmosphere. They issued a statement regarding their possible venture.
The following statement is attributable to Bob Black, Executive Vice President, Edmonton Arena Corporation, Katz Group:
“I can confirm that Daryl Katz, Patrick LaForge, Kevin Lowe and others from the Oilers leadership group are in Seattle for meetings and to attend the Seahawks game.
We remain committed to working with City Administration to achieve a deal commensurate with what Winnipeg and Pittsburgh have done to sustain the NHL in those small markets. If we can achieve such a deal, the Oilers will remain in Edmonton and we can get on with the important work of developing the new arena and investing in the continued revitalization of Edmonton’s downtown core.
Nonetheless, and as the City of Edmonton is aware, the Katz Group has been listening to proposals from a number of potential NHL markets for some time. After more than four years of trying to secure an arena deal and with less than 24 months remaining on the Oilers’ lease at Rexall Place, this is only prudent and should come as no surprise.
We are extremely grateful to Oilers’ fans for their patience and loyalty as we work through this process towards what we sincerely hope will be a long and successful future for the Oilers in Edmonton. We have no further comment on the status of our discussions with other markets at this time.”
Nothing is imminent at this point. The Oilers are still dealing with arena issues in Edmonton, and Seattle is undoubtedly trying to lure a young team that features some very bright stars such as Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. Getting a team to relocate is always preferred for a new owner instead of starting up an expansion franchise.
But Gretzky says not so fast.
Asked for what chance he would give of the Oilers moving to Seattle, Gretzky did not hesitate with his answer.
“Probably zero,” he said, suggesting the team and the city of Edmonton really are not that far apart in their negotiations.
“I just can’t imagine a deal not getting done,” Gretzky said. “The National Hockey League does not want franchises to move. They want to build those franchises, stabilize those franchises, and keep those fans who have supported those teams comfortable.”
Even struggling through some rebuilding seasons as of late, Oilers’ fans still show up to support their team. That should still mean something.