The homeless Great One, Fleury's charge, Hasek's Olympic bid
They say you can never go home again, but the truth is that most hockey players do.
It took halfway to forever and the death of
Which leads us to ask a simple question: Where is
The simple answer is Edmonton, the scene of most of his greatest accomplishments as a player and where a bigger-than-life-sized statue honoring his contributions stands outside Rexall Pace. But is Edmonton the place that Gretzky would choose to call home?
While there is no doubt that the fans there will always welcome him as the favorite son, the Oilers are the franchise that sold him off at the peak of his playing prowess for what amounted to -- in hockey terms at least -- something less than 30 pieces of silver.
There is strong evidence that The Great One is not exactly enamored with that fact. He has made himself and his family American citizens and concentrated virtually all of his lifestyle and business interests (except for a restaurant and some lucrative commercials) in the western U.S. That alone is reason to at least suspect that Gretzky won't embrace Edmonton completely in his after-hockey life. At least not in the way that
Maybe Edmonton is big enough for former-player-turned-team-president
Sure, Gretzky was great for Edmonton, but looking back, he was sent packing relatively early for an icon and never had a coaching or front office role there, let alone an ownership stake. He'll show up on request (he's usually just too kind to say no, especially to Lowe), but his appearances are few and increasingly far between.
You might be able to make a case that Los Angeles and
Though he had a good seven seasons in L.A. -- as I write this, it's 20 years to the day that King Gretzky broke
St. Louis? Come on. They've erected statues to
That perhaps is the biggest shame of what will forever be known as the Debacle in the Desert. Maybe Phoenix was destined to fail, but one can seriously argue that there's no place on the hockey map where Gretzky tried harder to make something out of nothing. He bought in as an owner, something he certainly didn't have to do. He tried hard as a coach, something that won't tarnish his legacy overall but certainly doesn't add to it. He moved his family there (at least in-season). He put down roots with a home there, has a son in university there, and, after a series of what could justifiably be called mind-numbing mistakes, seemed to be making some progress as both part-owner and full-time coach.
At least that's the way it was before the financial wheels came off.
People tend to forget that Gretzky had a ridiculously young and inexperienced Coyotes team in fifth place in the Western Conference at the All-Star break last season before their shortcomings (and some of his own) spoiled their drive for a playoff spot. People also tend to forget that there was reason for at least some hockey optimism this season before the bankruptcy battle of all sports bankruptcy battles scorched the franchise. But whatever might have been in Glendale is simply one of many cinders waiting to be completely snuffed out. The crash-and-burn battle between
You can argue that Gretzky is partly to blame. You can say that his salary was too high -- and rating him as a coach, I would agree -- but as the face that brought instant recognition wherever the Coyotes appeared, an arrangement the NHL itself was quick to endorse, I could make a case that he wasn't paid nearly enough.
You can argue that Gretzky at times hired the wrong people and I would say sure, but name an owner or GM who at some point in his tenure hasn't. The good ones learn from mistakes and are better for it. It's fair to say Gretzky was moving down that path. Heck, he didn't make nearly as many as
Yet, somehow Wayne Gretzky, arguably hockey's greatest gift on and off the ice, is a man without a place in the game and, perhaps, without even a city that he can say is truly his own. His friends say he'll re-emerge at some point, that he's been infected by the coaching bug and has too great a love for it and the game to simply walk away. But to where?
In many ways, Phoenix was the perfect fit for the second coming of Gretzky, a place where he could grow into a the role of coach and administrator rather than just having it all thrust upon him. It was a place that, over time, he could make another mark on the game, one that would define him as a successful coach and, perhaps, entwine the franchise and city with his identity. It didn't happen and now one wonders if there is a place the Great One can truly call his own.
There's something inherently wrong with that.
We've harped on the issue of transparency in the NHL before, but the recent charge by former star
In his just-released book "Playing with Fire," Fleury writes that he failed numerous tests, especially when he was with the Rangers from 1999 to 2002. He also states that he received numerous warnings but his status was, well, special. "I had 13 dirty tests in a row, but I was leading the NHL in scoring, so what were they going to do?" Fleury writes, adding that he even substituted Gatorade and his own baby's urine for some of the tests. "The NHL doctors kept warning me, 'Another dirty test and we're taking you out.' So what did I do? C'mon, I've never followed a rule in my life."
Nor did he clean himself up. That came well after his playing career was over.
In answering Fleury's allegations, Deputy Commissioner
Now, I'm not a lawyer and I don't play one on this screen, but exactly what terms prohibit the NHL from defending itself regarding a former player's published charges that its system is not only flawed, but a failure?
The NHL has been challenged in print and would seem to have every right to defend itself. This is especially worthwhile given that the NHL spent millions to fight
Daly did challenge Fleury on unspecified facts -- seemingly the assertion that he was leading the league in scoring in February 2001. In fact, Fleury was leading the Rangers, but was fourth overall at the time he entered the league's substance abuse program. It seems to us that since Fleury opened this door, the league has every right to defend itself, its programs and the character and integrity of its testing process. The NHL would be much better served producing the testing records that categorically refute Fleury's charge.
After all, it's one thing to support an admitted alcoholic and substance abuser who is in recovery, but not at the expense of the damage causeed by a charge that its testing program is dirty.
At first blush, the inclusion of 44-year-old goalie
But hold the laughter for awhile. Hasek is a stickler for success and often drives himself to succeed simply because people say there is a challenge that he can no longer meet. Just getting his name on the 60-man roster is a step in that direction, and Hasek is back playing with Pardubice, his hometown team that competes in the well-regarded Czech Extraliga division.
Hasek is an old man by NHL standards, but the Olympics are a lot like a one-off. If he can reach back for even some of the glory that defined his time in Buffalo and Detroit, he could make it into the three-man goalie rotation for the Vancouver Games. After that, well, there's a lifetime of experience and a passion to succeed that was unmatched when he was at his absolute best during a career that saw him win six Vezina trophies (best goalie) and two Harts (MVP) in the NHL.
Is Hasek quirky? Certainly, but he's also one of the best goaltenders who ever lived. You should never count him out regarding anything he sets his mind and body to achieving.