Word came down from on high yesterday that despite everyone’s wild speculation, no, Wayne Gretzky would not be participating in the alumni game the day before the Winter Classic.

Oh and what a shame that is. We don’t get to see a 50-year-old guy play at half-speed against a bunch of other guys who haven’t laced up a pair of skates for an NHL game in like 15 years. How deeply regrettable.

The people most upset about this, no doubt, are the media types who spent all of last year’s Winter Classic week tittering with glee that Mario Lemieux would be playing, then treating every shift like it was Sidney Crosby’s return game. Some even went so far as to suggest that Lemieux could still be competitive in the National Hockey League after he put up two assists (see also: no goals), which was so offensive and dumb that it almost made you question if they’d ever seen an NHL game in their lives.

But given the deal that has been made out of the Gretzky saga this year, you’d think the Lindbergh baby had been kidnapped again. Will he play? Yes! Really? No! What about now? Maybe! Did Sather convince him? Could be!

Who cares?

Like, were even you going to tune into the alumni game to begin with? If for some awful reason you were, was it because you thought you might see Wayne Gretzky half-ass his way through a dozen or so shifts? Has his now finalized lack of involvement make you uninterested in the event?

If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” you need to really sit down and reassess your life choices.

If you want to watch a bunch of old guys skate around without hitting each other, you can do it any time you want down at the local rink from 11 to noon during pickup games. If you want to see guys you loved two decades ago play against each other, you can go buy a DVD of some old games.

Forget the fact that the only people who think of Wayne Gretzky as a Ranger are Ranger fans since he played just three seasons there as a 36- to 38-year-old and didn’t exactly bring much success to the franchise (but that one playoff appearance was unbelievable until they got demolished in the Conference Finals). The only reason we even know about Gretzky considering this was that the Rangers, exhibiting their infinite capacity to grab headlines no matter how shamelessly — I mean, look, they’re the kind of team that retired a bum like Adam Graves’ number, so they’re certainly not above this — making it a big deal in the first place. Gretzky didn’t start this by saying, “I might play.” In fact, he specifically said that he would not. Golfing with family for the New Year or something. Which is fine because again, who really cares?

This obviously even ignores all the enmity currently swirling between Gretzky and the league itself over the Coyotes situation and all that, which almost certainly would have been enough to convince him to stay home even if there was a gigantic push to get him in. But then it came out that Gretzky would have only considered participating if the game had been in New York City, and specifically at Yankee Stadium. And that was really annoying. You’d never see this kind of behavior out of Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe. They would have probably acted like a game wasn’t below their high standards, or at least turned down an appearance quietly instead of having it blogged about on ESPN. But then they weren’t weened on a culture of celebrity like Gretzky was.

Just because millions of hockey fans all over the world have memories of Wayne Gretzky scoring a million goals for the Oilers in 1986 buried in the recesses of their brains usually reserved for their first kiss and childhood dog doesn’t mean the sport owes him anything now. It’s difficult to understand why everyone persists in efforts to keep him relevant while not doing so for other legends of the game. Granted, he’s the reason hockey went any sort of mainstream in the 1990s, but that was also like 20 years ago. No one sits around reminiscing fondly about Zubaz.

Hockey today doesn’t need Wayne Gretzky in the same way it doesn’t need Mario Lemieux or Howe or Orr. We’ve been incredibly lucky in the last few years to get a number of excellent players that the league has done a truly great job of marketing. Look at the circus surrounding Crosby on Monday. Think of Steven Stamkos, of Ryan Miller, of Alex Ovechkin. Those are the guys we as hockey fans should be worrying about. Wayne Gretzky, who’s half a century old and apparently still packs a primadonna attitude, is not.

All the same, would it have been kind of cool to see him lace ‘em up one more time alongside Mark Messier? Maybe.

But only if they were wearing Oilers jerseys.

Comments (16)

  1. I wasn’t overly surprised by the hype that followed Crosby’s return on Monday – for non-hockey fans Gretzky is still probably the most recognizable name and that’s got to bother the NHL somewhat more than a decade after he retired!

    Gretzky was a legend, but for me he wasn’t the best – just the record holder – and I am always kinda struck by just how much weight and good will he still seems to carry. See the ‘pasting’ George Laraque got from many for suggesting 99 was not a very good coach…

  2. Nailed it. That is all.

  3. this is the worst article i’ve ever read and I didn’t need to go best who care’s at all. Clearly Ryan Lambert does not understand the real purpose of a f***king alumni game (i won’t even bother checking Hockey DB for a Ryan Lambert). And then when you say who cares about watching the greatest hockey player to ever play, play once again in a classic style game while he is still 50 and will probably shock us all, this article is completely moronic and I’m sure Lambert through out the one about how amazing and off the scale earthshaking it would be to see Gretzky play one more time as soon as the announcement came. REALLY THE MEDIA CONTINUE’S TO THROW THEMSELVES IN A DEEPER HOLE, and I wish more people were smart enought to see why.


  5. WTF?! Lambert goes on and on about who cares only to close with “been kind of cool to see him lace ‘em up one more time alongside Mark Messier”. Contradiction aside Gretzky is a hero to about a million Canadians. So there is your answer. Who cares? Likely about 999,990 more people than read your opinion.

  6. Bad article. It offends everyone who would love to see No99 on the ice.

    I would assume Mr. Lambert has never played in an old timers league because some 50+ players are phenomenal. It was great to see Mario and Theo Fleury play. Outdoor hockey is a huge part of Canadian roots and The Alumni game is a great idea.

    This article is offensive and amateur at best.


  7. I’m struggling to find a stronger word for DOUCHEBAG.

    Honestly, ever since this whole Backhand Shelf thing, TheScore has become a fraction of what it used to be (Bourne is okay). This article is tasteless and idiotic. Gretzky is a legend, whom I respect regardless, and seeing 99 play in an outdoor game with a bunch of other “old guys who haven’t laced up a pair of skates for an NHL game in like 15 years” would’ve been truly special. I wouldn’t care if they slept through the game in a 1-3-1. Sure, Crosby and today’s stars are great, but lest we forget where this game came from.

    I’m guessing you’re not Canadian, Lambert. You know, there’s a difference between valid controversy and offending the entire literate Canadian population.

    Bring back Scott Lewis.

  8. I think anyone from other countries should realize that hockey was invented in canada and not in the states just like football, basket ball and lacrosse but of course the states take it and say it’s there game just because they have an idiot, slimball, no good rat in charge of hockey that hates canada and all canadian teams they need to replace the ones in charge of hockey with people that care about the game and pay there debts to the great players that by the way all great players come from canada like Gretzky. He is and will always be the greatest player in hockey and will always be the one that changed the way hockey is today the league owes him big time and should start paying up.

    • Who ever claimed that hockey was America’s sport? I live and play in the US and sure we have a pretty good hockey program but everyone around here knows that hockey in Canada is better and has WAY more depth in it’s talent pool. The only real ‘hockey state’ that we have is Minnesota (Wisconsin is alright too). If you hear some idiot online claiming otherwise than he’s probably just trolling.

  9. This is a terrible article. I will never read another Lambert post on here again. It has been a total waste of everyone’s time. This guy obviously has no knowledge whatsoever of hockey or how to write a proper essay.

    I agree with Golgi. The only decent blogger left on The Score is Bourne. Bring back Johnathan Willis, for fuck’s sake!!

  10. To say the NHL doesnt need Gretzky is correct. Llike Gretz’ himself said many times that no one player is bigger than the league. But at the same time the league would be better for having him it in some capacity.

    And you dont think if Gretzky wasn in that Alumni game that it wouldnt be huge news, 10 times the coverage than Lemieuxs alumni efftort.

  11. This article total crap ,Gretzky is a icon .Can,t remember ever seeing or hearing him being a arrogant overbearing total ass ,like the guy who wrote this crap.He loves the game and the true hockey fans fans know that.If anything he is to humble ,look at how other super stars act in other sports around the world .THE GREAT ONE IN ALL MANNERS .TRUE ROLE MODEL FOR KIDS ON AND OFF THE ICE .ONE OF OUR MANY CANADIAN ATHLETES THAT CONDUCT THEMSELVES IN A MANNER THAT MAKES YOU PROUD TO BE CANADIAN .

  12. Who cares if he plays? If you love hockey, YOU do…I love baseball and got chills when i got to see a Yankees old timer game and I passionately hate that team..its about seeing the greats..being there with my dad and listening to him tell stories about that player.. or stories about seeing the 70s Phils when he was stationed in the Navy in Phily…

    no one cares if the guys arent truly playing..heck, Ive been to NHL all star games and they dont try hard there either…this is a chance for kids to see the games greats and maybe see them close enough to say hi, get something signed but most importantly, say they’ve seen so and so in person…

    there is A LOT of garbage on tv..I dont think spending time watching this is a waste..

  13. and just to add 1 thing from a different angle..born in 1970..I never got to see Bobby Orr play in his prime..THE greatest ever in this sport..i dont believe he can even do the alumni games due to his knees..Id watch him just go through the motions..and again,let my dad tell me stories about how Bobby would mesmerize the crowd including the opponent…

    seeing and hearing the excitement in my dad, uncle or grandpas voice makes these events worthwhile…

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