In between the controversies about his tax records and his position as a creditor owed $9.3 million in the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy, it's just nice to hear Wayne Gretzky talk hockey again -- if only for a segment.
Gretz appeared on Fox Sports Radio with JT The Brick (audio) during the American Century Championship golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, and reminisced a bit about ending the New York Islanders dynasty (he put over Billy Smith as a money goalie) and talked about how the two things a player remembers most are his first NHL game and winning the Stanley Cup for the first time.
That led to an interesting observation from The Great One about the current hockey culture, via Fox Sports Radio:
"I think the game has changed a little bit. Sometimes we don't put as much pressure on winning championships as we used to. I can remember all the years I played, all people talked about was, 'Yeah, they're a good team ... but they haven't won yet.' When you become a champion, it's a crowning moment. It's something you don't forget -- the realization of all the hours you put in to lift the Stanley Cup."
Does he mean the players don't put pressure on themselves to win? Or is this an indictment of the whole of NHL culture? One that's more concerned with payroll and playoff revenue than with demanding a name on the Cup?
It sounds like an indictment of teams that are too content with placing in, rather than winning, the race. There's no question, for example, that the Pittsburgh Penguins were driven to win the Stanley Cup last season because they failed to win it in the previous campaign; hell, Marian Hossa(notes) made his summer plans based on his opinion that the Detroit Red Wings ever more Cup-worthy.
Pittsburgh's sole intention last season was winning the Cup. Every team's players will say the same thing ... but how many teams demand that to be the goal? How many locker rooms make that their sole focus? Coming from one of hockey's greatest champions, Gretzky's take was interesting.
Speaking of the Penguins, Gretzky evoked them when discussing how to bring a winner to the desert. And that's where things got a little goofy in his interview.
From SportsRadioInterviews.com, which hipped us to the interview, a transcript of Gretzky's Coyotes/Penguins analogy:
"It's a nice thing for all of us because obviously you look at the Phoenix situation, you hope it all gets worked out and we've gone through a tough couple months. And, people forget that a few short years ago, Pittsburgh was in the same situation; there was this talk of them maybe leaving Pittsburgh.
"And Mario, not only as management but as a player, has built up hockey so strongly in the area of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. It's a nice, positive reaction that we can see that if you do things properly, and business is run properly and you draft well and you do the right things, you can stabilize a franchise. So we're hoping to follow in those footsteps."
First off all, the comparison falls apart when you consider Mario was using places like Kansas City as a negotiating ploy; there's no way the same can be said for Jerry Moyes's desire to hand the Coyotes to Jim Balsillie and Hamilton.
More importantly: When, exactly, does the whole drafting well thing start happening for a team that hasn't seen the playoffs since 2002? Granted, they've been just good enough to miss out on the top choices; and who knew Blake Wheeler(notes) would be a Boston Bruin and Al Montoya(notes) would be a Phoenix Coyotes back in 2004?
Still, when do those Penguins footsteps start getting followed? And where will the franchise be when it happens?
One more bone to pick with Gretz, who also argued for a Winter Classic in the Los Angeles area that he said could draw 60,000 people: His take on big market teams.
"It's always important for any league to have the New Yorks and the LA's and the Chicagos do well. It would be great for the game if the LA Kings continue on this up-rise."
We could argue the basic virtues of this statement for hours -- it actually harkens back to the old "the NHL should fix the draft and get Sidney Crosby(notes) on the New York Rangers" meme -- but specifically: Is the NHL a dramatically better League if the Los Angeles Kings are a Cup contender? It matters that Chicago is good. It matters that the Rangers are strong. But the Kings?