EDMONTON – The best player ever to don an Edmonton Oilers uniform still has confidence in the brain trust of the team, despite the fact the 29th-place team will miss the playoffs for an eighth straight season.
Wayne Gretzky was back in the building where he saw much of the success in his Hall of Fame career on Thursday night for the game between the Oilers and the New York Islanders. He was in town for a Oilers season ticket holders breakfast on Friday morning.
Gretzky said, while he understands the frustration of the fans with his former team, he believes that the Oilers are in good hands under the guidance of general manager and former teammate Craig MacTavish.
“In this day and age, just like every other era, winning is hard,” he said. “You can’t just throw the best young players together and say, OK, now we are going to win a championship.
“When you get a guy like Craig, who I played with, watched coach and scout and now is a general manager. He has a lot of integrity and knows the game and understands what it takes to bring a team together. …
“They are in good hands. Craig cares and wants this team to be successful and I think he will. I think he is going to be a tremendous general manager, I really do.”
With ground finally being broken on Edmonton’s new downtown rink earlier in the week, Gretzky admitted he will miss Rexall Place and all of the memories he made in it.
“I love this building, I have so many great memories here,” he said. “It is a special place. Time has changed and it is going to be exciting for everyone to have that new downtown rink, but I will be one of the guys who misses this building. It’s a pretty special place.”
Asked if he plans on a return to hockey, Gretzky cut the question short before it was completed.
“No,” he laughed. “I love being able to come to a game and have no stress or pressure. I’m so happy to be able to just be a fan. I’m so stress-free right now.”
The NHL’s all-time leading scorer and no stranger to international hockey also gave his opinion on Team Canada’s gold medal win at the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“They were just phenomenal,” he said. “They really need to be commended, not only for how they played, but for how they handled themselves. They were truly head and shoulders above everybody else at the tournament and there were some good teams.
“The Canadian team was so good and had so much depth. It will be nice to be able to go without people asking if Canadian hockey is in trouble for four or five years, because obviously it is pretty solid.”