PALM BEACH, Fla. – Amongst NHL governors, Wayne Gretzky holds a unique perspective about NHL Olympic participation.
Now an executive with the Edmonton Oilers, Gretzky played at the 1998 Nagano Games for Team Canada. He was the GM for Team Canada in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and 2006 Torino Games.
The decision to go to the 2018 Olympics, which has been a big storyline the last couple of days at the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting, isn’t Gretzky’s to make. But he seemed to display more positivity than most on the topic at this event. It was Gretzky’s first time as a member at the Board of Governors since his days with the Phoenix Coyotes.
“I think that everybody is entitled to their opinion and the one thing about our game that’s really good is (commissioner Gary Bettman) is always looking for input from ownership, general managers, coaches, players. Everybody is always trying to make the game better and he’s very open to everybody’s opinion,” Gretzky said. “My opinion is, I told you, I like the Olympic Games.”
After the Board of Governors’ Thursday meeting, there was negative sentiment about whether the league will allow its players to go in 2018. Many executives tried to point out that they didn’t see much of a tangible benefit to the NHL’s product by shutting down for two weeks in order to go to the Games.
Gretzky understands these concerns, but also fondly remembered his time as a player in Nagano and believed that event, and subsequent Games, have helped grow hockey to a degree.
“From my point of view, we play for one thing and that’s a Stanley Cup. There’s nothing more exciting than the Stanley Cup. The one spectacle that’s really remarkable is the Olympic games. I’m a big believer in the Olympic games. I happen to love everything about the Olympic Games,” Gretzky said. “I think since ’98 when we first went to Nagano, the NHL players, not only promote our sport but they do a really nice job of being around the other athletes. It helps every sport in our country. I think it’s a positive but I’m not the only guy who has say in this. I happen to love the Olympic Games, but that’s my opinion.”
Gretzky also holds the popular belief shared at this meeting that the Olympics in North America seem to hold better with the NHL’s model than games held outside of the continent. He noted that this is something that also needs to be weighed into making a decision overall on whether to go to Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I will say this. It was a lot easier when we were in Vancouver and Salt Lake City,” Gretzky said.
Gretzky relayed a story of how difficult it was to return to NHL action after Nagano and that players coming back from Pyeongchang could have similar difficulties.
“When we did ‘98 in Nagano it’s really hard when you get back from Asia after playing a condensed sort of games over a 10-day period to fly all the way there and fly all the way back and then jump into playing NHL games,” Gretzky said. “We played in the Olympics, we flew back from Nagano through Vancouver to New York. Got home on I guess a Tuesday, practiced Wednesday, flew to Toronto to play in Toronto on Thursday. It’s tough. It’s hard on your body.”
In that game, Gretzky notched three assists in a 5-2 New York Rangers win.
Even though it seemed Gretzky was leaning towards advocating NHL players to go to the Games, he was measured in his comments and understood there are many factors at play in the decision.
“I think that when you have 30 teams and 700-800 players, everybody has a different opinion,” Gretzky said. “Not everybody is on the same page.”
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