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!
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.