The ‘Great One’ May Retire
NEW YORK (AP) _ When Wayne Gretzky plays his final game of the season for the New York Rangers on Sunday, it’s likely fans at Madison Square Garden will give him a standing ovation.
He won’t even have to score a goal, or make one of his brilliant, highlight-reel passes to deserve it.
The fans, unsure whether Gretzky will be returning for another year, should be giving the Great One his due for what he has accomplished over an unparalleled hockey career.
With the end of the season in sight, speculation is already starting about Gretzky’s future in hockey. The 38-year-old Gretzky is in the last year of a contract and has said he would make a decision about his future sometime after the season.
``We’ll find out soon enough,″ said Rangers coach John Muckler following Monday night’s 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay. ``Everybody is speculating, but only one person knows for sure.″
The New York Post in today’s editions said that Gretzky will retire after the Rangers’ season finale.
The information came from ``unimpeachable sources in whom The Great One has confided,″ the Post said in a story to which it devoted its first three pages, including a front page headline which read ``Gretzky Gonsky.″
``He has made up his mind, but he has had his reasons for not wanting to make an announcement,″ a person who was not identified was quoted as saying. ``But it’s done. He is not coming back.″
Gretzky on Monday night insisted he had not made up his mind.
``I have 1,000 different thoughts, to be honest,″ Gretzky said.
The latest speculation was inspired by a television report which said Gretzky’s retirement was imminent.
John Davidson, a color commentator for the Rangers, said on Fox TV that after speaking with Gretzky he believed the player was 80 percent sure he would retire after Sunday’s game.
Gretzky responded to questions about the report by saying, ``There’s been times where I’ve said things to friends that get blown way out of proportion.
``The only thing I will say is that I will not be one of those guys who says `I’m 90 percent sure’ or `maybe I’m coming back.′ The decision I make will be 100 percent. No ifs ands or buts.″
He acknowledged, however, retirement was under consideration.
``It’s time to think about it. ... all of a sudden it’s become a bigger issue than I imagined. Let’s see what happens over the next five or six days.″
Fans at Madison Square Garden held up signs with slogans such as ``Wayne Don’t Go.″ Gretzky said the fan reaction made it difficult to consider retiring.
``I said it a hundred times that I’ve been here over the three years,″ Gretzky said. ``This is the greatest city to be an athlete in.″
Rangers broadcaster John Davidson raised the issue of Gretzky’s retirement on Sunday while broadcasting the Detroit-Pittsburgh game on Fox TV. ``The people very close to Wayne ... and I mean very close, feel there’s a very strong possibility Sunday (when the Rangers host Pittsburgh) will be the last time he plays,″ Davidson said in part.
As far as one old friend is concerned, the answer won’t come easily, and certainly won’t come soon.
``Knowing Wayne, he would weigh everything and talk to a lot of people before making that decision,″ said Bruce MacGregor, assistant general manager of the Edmonton Oilers. ``It’s a very hard decision. When you retire, it’s for a long time.″
Bill Tuele, another member of the Oilers’ organization who also is a longtime friend of Gretzky, wasn’t so sure he would retire after this year.
``I will say this. Wayne has not shared any final decision with anyone,″ Tuele, the Oilers’ vice president and public relations head, said in a telephone interview. ``Wayne’s dad doesn’t know.″
After a February game in Calgary, Gretzky admitted it was his last game there because he knew the Rangers weren’t visiting the Flames next season. He received an emotional response that night from the Calgary fans, and has received similar tributes in other arenas as the season drew to a close.
It hasn’t been a typical season for Gretzky, who missed 11 games at one point with a neck injury. He had played in 223 straight games since signing with the Rangers as a free agent in 1996.
The injury was the second in Gretzky’s career involving a disc. In 1992-93, he missed most of the season with a lower back injury before coming back to lead the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup finals.
There will be no playoffs for the Rangers this season, however. They missed for the second straight year.
``It’s been a frustrating year for him ... the way the club has played and the (neck injury). Those kind of injuries bother you a lot,″ MacGregor said in a telephone interview from Edmonton. ``Maybe there’s some speculation that he’s not 100 percent.
``I suspect (Gretzky’s retirement) would have to do more with this than anything else.″
The 1998-99 season has included at least one important milestone for the NHL’s leading career scorer. His ninth goal of the year gave him 1,072 as a professional, moving him past boyhood hero Gordie Howe.