Another NHL season dawns and the brightest light in hockey’s history is nowhere on the horizon.
Wayne Gretzky has had his fill of living up to our expectations of him. Who could blame him? What was once a joyful expression of his magical powers has become just another case file in a bankruptcy court.
How did this happen?
When Gretzky was an Edmonton Oiler no one played hockey with his intuition. He was a savant, the kind of ethereal being who knew how to make all the right things happen. He was a sorcerer on skates who captured our undying affection.
But Gretzky was sold to the Los Angeles Kings and became the rainmaker for an icy game in the dry sun belt of America. The expectation was that he could single-handedly cultivate a Canadian obsession in a place where few knew or cared where Canada was.
This is where the Great One’s powers began to elude him. The Kings never won the Stanley Cup and he moved on. Gretzky went to St. Louis and New York and eventually retired after a journey that included his ignominious exclusion from a shootout at the 1998 Olympics where he might have delivered Canada the gold medal.
But we expected that Gretzky could, like soccer’s Pele, be an ambassadorial figure once his playing days were done. Wayne Gretzky, we thought, could be hockey’s wise sage.
It hasn’t turned out that way yet.
Like many gifted artists, he became convinced that his abilities could be transferred from his palate, in this case the ice, to the boardrooms and eventually behind the bench.
Gretzky did help Canada to a gold medal at the 2002 Olympics but the players like Iginla, Sakic and Lemieux were the ones who really made it happen.
And then he failed miserably as the coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. We unfairly expected him to be great in that role, too — a common mistake because rarely do great players make great teachers. It’s a vastly different skill set.
So once again Wayne Gretzky is gone from centre ice. His reasons are probably numerous and complex, but one has to believe he’s dog-tired of trying to live up to our expectations of him.
– Scott Russell is the Host of CBC Sports Weekend seen Saturday afternoons. He has covered professional and amateur sports including nine Olympic games and numerous world championships.