TORONTO - The Great One is optimistic about the NHL's labour situation.
Wayne Gretzky said Monday that he believes the league's current lockout will end before the showcase Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
"I believe in my heart, maybe because I'm such a big hockey fan, that they will be playing by Jan. 1," said Gretzky during a question and answer period at a panel discussion on personal finance. "I think the hard part of their deal was the last negotiations (in 2004) of players agreeing to a salary cap.
"Now that there is a salary cap in place, and revenue sharing, I see them ultimately getting a deal done here and I see them playing hockey this year."
Detroit and Toronto are currently scheduled to play outdoors at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbour to kick off the new year.
Gretzky was reluctant to analyze the ongoing labour negotiations because he's not directly involved in them.
"The only thing I will say is the commissioner's office and Donald Fehr and the players' association are very smart men, they're both very intelligent ..." said Gretzky. "It's a matter of sitting down and getting the deal done."
The Hall of Fame centre and former part owner of the Phoenix Coyotes believes that the gap between the league and its players is smaller than in 2004, when the NHL lost an entire season.
"I think that in 2004 we were changing the whole landscape," said Gretzky. "Ownership wanted to have some sort of revenue sharing and once we came to the revenue sharing, the hard part—from my point of view—seems to be out of the way.
"Now it's a question of working out the number that both sides think is fair."