A Great Idea
Wayne Gretzky should play for Canada in the 2002 Olympics
This version of the classic Western ends with a young boy standing with his back to the mountains of Utah wearing a SALT LAKE CITY 2002 sweatshirt and calling out into the distance, " Wayne, come baaaack? In this version the hero does come back. In this version Wayne Gretzky plays for Canada in next year's Olympic Games.
We're not just scripting an improbable plot inspired by Mario Mania and the rumors that Michael Jordan intends to drop from his skybox into the Washington Wizards' starting five. Not every sports icon turned team owner should, or can, play Lazarus. We're not suggesting that Gretzky, who is a minority owner of the Coyotes and G.M. of the Canadian Olympic team, return to the NHL fray. We merely want him for a fortnight next February, to carry the torch for hockey one last time. "We all wish that," says Ducks forward Jeff Friesen.
"It's a nice thought, but it's not going to happen," Gretzky, 40, said last Friday. "Being a player takes a dedication that I haven't had since I retired [after the 1998-99 season]. I used to work out three hours a day; now it's three hours a week. I have too much respect for the game and the players to come back at this stage."
Gretzky could show great respect by suiting up. His presence would raise hockey's Olympic profile immeasurably. Also, he wouldn't have to be in 100% game shape to assist Canada's quest for the gold. Gretzky could play six to eight minutes a night as the world's premier power-play specialist. During his final NHL season, when his performance was undermined by back pain, Gretzky led the Rangers with 53 assists, including a team-high 27 with the man advantage. Olympic clubs carry 23 players (three more than dress for NHL games), so Canada could use Gretzky's unparalleled passing skills, even if his on-ice appearances were limited, without compromising the team's depth. "It's a fantastic idea," says Caps center Adam Oates. "For a few minutes a night he could still be a great player."
Gretzky practiced with the Coyotes earlier this month, and although he said he did so just for fun, seeing him on ice got others to fantasize about a comeback, an eventuality that could scumble one of the enduring images of Gretzky's career. In that picture he is sitting dejectedly on the bench shortly after Canada's gold medal hopes died in a loss to the Czech Republic at the 1998 Olympics. "It's the worst feeling in the world—I'm devastated," Gretzky said later. "A gold medal wasn't in the cards for my career."
If he stays in his business suit, that's true because the IOC doesn't award medals to G.M.'s. Or else, Gretzky could pull on his number 99 and give himself—and Canada—a chance for a happier ending.
No Deals for Lindros, Peca
Owners Stand Their Ground
By the time Eric Lindros relented on his long-held stance that he would play only for the Maple Leafs, it was essentially too late for Philadelphia to deal him. On March 8, just five days before the trade deadline, the 28-year-old Lindros, an unsigned restricted free agent, said he would also consider playing for any of three other teams—the Blues, the Capitals or the Red Wings. But Washington and Detroit had no interest in trading for him, while St. Louis rightfully didn't want to rush into a deal as complicated as one for Lindros would have been. That's because Lindros was angling for a long-term, big-money contract at a time when his history of concussions (six in eight years) made him a risky commodity. "It's disappointing, but it's not a catastrophe," says Lindros's lawyer, Gord Kirke. "Eric's a young man who has a long career ahead of him."
Or does he? Lindros is blessed with MVP-caliber talent, but his attempts to control the particulars of his deal are the latest in a string of selfish moves that began when he refused to play for the Quebec Nordiques, the team that drafted him in 1991. Consider also that the Flyers, who hold Lindros's rights for three more seasons, have shown no eagerness to deal him. So, has Lindros played his last game in the NHL? "There is always that chance," Kirke acknowledges.