Gretzky has one adjustment to make by himself. He was in game shape with the Kings, for whom he was playing 18 minutes a night, but he isn't in Mike Keenan game shape. Keenan takes his 10 best players and uses them until they look like stick figures. As Keenan was playing him for more than 27 minutes in 34 shifts against the Canucks, Gretzky's fair face turned as rosy as a hothouse tomato. "Gretz off the oxygen yet?" Hull asked at breakfast the next morning. In a 4-3 Blues victory at Edmonton on Sunday, Keenan kept Gretzky on the ice for more than 12 minutes during the first period and a half before Oilers captain Kelly Buchberger leveled him with a cheap-shot elbow. Gretzky suffered a concussion and was listed as day-to-day.
Leaguewide interest in obtaining Gretzky was modest, due more to his contract and age than his ability. The man can still play. Gretzky's skills aren't impervious to age, but they have eroded very slowly because they are more subtle, more complex, than simply skating and shooting. He never had the fabulous wheels or the killer shot. Gretzky's game is his mind, his ability to see hockey in enlightened ways. Now Hull and St. Louis offer fresh stimuli, something to rekindle his energy and imagination. The brain is always the last thing to go.