Wayne Gretzky may not know exactly where he will be traded by the Kings, but he has now concluded it will be done by the end of the week.
“Yeah, I think it’ll get resolved quickly, that’s my gut feeling,” he said after the Kings tied the Sabres, 2-2, on Wednesday night at Memorial Auditorium.
Scoring for the Kings was Yanic Perreault and Eric Lacroix and goaltender Kelly Hrudey rebounded after allowing nine goals against Detroit on Tuesday. And the Kings secured a rare road point without Gretzky, who was injured.
Gretzky, looking tired and drawn, spoke quietly with a couple of reporters after the horde of camera crews stampeded away down the corridor. And he said his right hip--which kept him out of the game--hurt more than it did when he first injured it in Detroit.
Away from the rink, the rumors spiraled out of control. But more signs continued to point toward Gretzky being dealt, with the New York Rangers taking the lead. King General Manager Sam McMaster, at home in Los Angeles, said there was “absolutely nothing new.”
McMaster was asked whether any team had asked for permission to talk to Gretzky’s agent Michael Barnett about a contract after this season, a reasonable step before the culmination of a major trade since Gretzky will be an unrestricted free agent.
“Not yet,” he said. “But I suspect some might [ask] soon. We’re still trying to sign him ourselves.”
After all, any team trading for Gretzky would want to be assured of his continued presence past this season, not wanting to merely rent him for two months.
There was also an indication that there had been some contact between the Rangers and Barnett on Wednesday, according to a source.
Several teams, perhaps as many as six, have expressed an interest in Gretzky. While the Rangers and the St. Louis Blues have publicly expressed interest in acquiring Gretzky, another league source expected an outside contender might jump into the process, such as Vancouver, noting that the Canucks possess a wealth of young talent to send to the Kings.
Ranger General Manager Neil Smith was quoted in the New York papers recently as saying he would not bother pursuing Gretzky unless he felt he could steal him from the Kings. For the Rangers, trading forwards Luc Robitaille and Ray Ferraro as well as minor-league defenseman Barry Richter and a No. 1 draft pick in 1996 for Gretzky, Jari Kurri and/or Marty McSorley apparently would fall under that category. Neither Robitaille nor Ferraro sounded too excited on Wednesday about leaving New York for the Kings.
“This has been beaten to death,” McSorley said of the speculation.
Said Gretzky: “‘We’re in a situation where we have to win hockey games. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of days and we’ll go from there.
“Like I’ve been saying for a long time, with complete sincerity, I probably know as much as you do. I’m just a player. Until it happens I know as much as you do.”
In a sense, Gretzky is not without power in deciding where he will eventually play. But he denied he would not report to a team if he was traded, saying: “Yeah, absolutely. I’m a hockey player. I’ll play anywhere I’m traded. I love to play and the game is my life. It’s all about playing hockey.”
Earlier in the day, Robert Sanderman, the Kings’ representative on the NHL’s Board of Governors said nothing was imminent. “To even talk about trading him for anybody would have to be for some very good players, and to date we have not had those discussions,” he said. “There have been inquiries about his availability and we have made it known that he is not available.”
Gretzky was sounding quite different, perhaps resigned to the situation. He almost gave a short speech, summing up his tenure in Los Angeles, falling just short of using past tense.
“It’s been hard,” he said. “It’s been different for me and a little bit stressful. It’s not only taken its toll on me, [but on] my friends around me. It’s difficult for the Kings and it’s a tough time for everybody. . . . I don’t regret anything I’ve said or done.
“The Kings have been my whole life the last eight years. I’ve given my heart and soul to try to sell hockey in L.A. They have a job to do, though. And I understand that. They’ve been great to me.”
He was asked whether he would walk in and simply ask the Kings to get this over with.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Gretzky said. “I just said it.”