Wayne Gretzky is entering the hockey broadcasting world.
The NHL’s all-time leading scorer signed a multi-year deal to become a studio analyst with American-based Turner Sports on Wednesday. He will appear during key moments in the regular season — including opening week and the Winter Classic — and then throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The NHL reached multi-year deals with Turner Sports and ESPN for their American television coverage earlier this year, which will end the league’s association with NBC starting next season.
Gretzky resigned as vice-chairman of the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, saying he could not devote the time needed to the franchise given the pandemic and life changes.
Gretzky said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press that the opportunity to join Atlanta-based Turner, as well as some other changes, led to this being the perfect time to move into an analyst role. Gretzky and his wife, Janet, moved to Missouri earlier this year to be closer to his mother-in-law, who turns 100 in August.
The move from California also allows them to be closer to their two grandchildren, who are in South Florida.
“We just felt like, after the passing of my dad and my youngest going to college this year, maybe this is a good time to move. We’ve kind of become empty nesters,” he said. “Atlanta is an hour from Florida and an hour from St. Louis. So I guess the stars were aligned. We get to spend a lot of time with our family, and I get to do what I love to do, which is talk about hockey.”
Turner Sports has earned critical acclaim for its use of former basketball players Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal on its NBA coverage.
Gretzky said Turner reached out to him a couple months ago about a potential role. He also received a recruiting pitch from Barkley.
Even though they are good friends, Gretzky said no one should expect him to have the same style or delivery as Barkley, who is a big hockey fan.
“I’ll be honest and forthright, but I’m not, by any means, controversial,” Gretzky said. “And just so we’re very clear, I’m going to be way more positive than I am negative. That’s just my nature. You can still be critical without going over the edge.”
John Shannon, a longtime sports broadcaster and the former executive producer of “Hockey Night in Canada”, said Gretzky is an ideal fit for the position.
“I truly believe Wayne Gretzky could have as big an impact in this part of his life that he did in his playing career,” Shannon said. “When you look at Charles Barkley and what he did to basketball and to TNT, to create a following, I believe it’s within Wayne’s grasp to do the same thing.”
Shannon added he believes Gretzky will not just be there for the hardcore hockey fan, but to grow the game as well.
“He’s there to lure in the person who may know his name, but is not quite sure about hockey,” he said. “If he’s able to distil a story, they may want to watch. And if they watch and enjoy themselves, they may want to watch again tomorrow.
“That’s the magic that Wayne Gretzky has, the opportunity to use to help the game in 2021.”
Much like he did in bringing the game to new fans when he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, Gretzky is hoping to continue to expand the game’s reach.
“I think the game is in a better position than it’s ever been before. The young players who are in the game today are outstanding athletes and they represent the game the way it should be,” he said. “And I’m 60 years old. I don’t need the stress of running a hockey team day to day. But this gives me an opportunity to talk about the game and try to take it to another level.
“I think everyone has a responsibility who was a player in the National Hockey League to try to grow the game, and if I can be part of making Turner a positive venue for people to watch, I’m all for it. In all seriousness, I wish I could still play but unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.”
The 60-year-old Gretzky, a native of Brantford, Ont., has worked throughout the hockey industry since retiring as a player in 1999.
Gretzky was coach of the Phoenix Coyotes for four seasons and also was executive director of Canada’s men’s Olympic hockey team in 2002 and 2006. The ‘02 team won gold in Salt Lake City.
A four-time Stanley Cup winner as a player with Edmonton, Gretzky returned to a front-office role with the Oilers in 2016.
In his bio on the Oilers’ website, the team says Gretzky’s duties included working with the Oilers Entertainment Group team on the commercial side of the business, as well as supporting development initiatives in the district where the Rogers Place arena is located.
The team said Gretzky worked closely with owner Daryl Katz and Oilers chairman Bob Nicholson in all aspects of the organization.
Gretzky was not involved in day-to-day dealings with the media during his time in the Oilers front office.
Gretzky returned to Brantford after his dad, Walter, died in March and delivered an emotional eulogy in a nationally-televised ceremony.
Turner Sports also announced veteran play-by-play commentator Kenny Albert and former NHL player Eddie Olczyk will call games on TNT and TBS.
Shannon said he’s hoping that Gretzky avoids an analysis-heavy approach and instead helps build the conversation about the game.
“Hockey is not a game of X’s and O’s. Hockey is a game of passion, a game of skill, a physical game,” he said. “I want him to tell stories of what he has seen. I don’t want (play description). I don’t want to see the Hockey Canada textbook on the air. I want to see him tell us stories about what makes the game so great.
“And quite frankly, if you look at what TNT has done with basketball, they don’t analyze the game very much. They just sit and tell stories. That’s remarkable. That’s fantastic. That’s what should happen.”
Turner’s seven-year agreement begins next season. Besides regular-season and playoff games, it also includes the 2023, ’25 and ’27 Stanley Cup finals on the TNT cable network.
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