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Gretzky: the Great Executive

By DAMIAN CIRSTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


Wayne Gretzky likes to think of himself as one of the guys.

Yeah, right. Still, the Great One did his best to blend in during his first meeting with his new team at the pregame meal before Friday's 2-0 victory over the Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C.

"One thing I told them is I respect each and every player I've ever played with, and I have no thought of changing that in the position I am now," said Gretzky, who along with co-owner Steve Ellman closed the sale Thursday.

"When I look back on my career, I remember the people who were the most honest with me and to other players on the team. You might not have liked it at the time, but you respected what they said to you. The worst thing you can do is lie to individuals. Not only are you dealing with players, you're dealing with families, wives and communities."

How did the Coyotes react to sharing their chow with a living legend?

"I thought he kind of looked like he was nervous," center Joe Juneau said.

"Yeah," defenseman Joel Bouchard said. "He introduced himself to us and shook everybody's hand. We all knew who he was, but he probably doesn't know who we are."

It might have been exhaustion. After the deal was closed, Gretzky flew from California to Phoenix to Raleigh and didn't check into the team hotel until 6:15 a.m. Friday. He met with the team at 1 p.m.

"It was great to be around players again," Gretzky said. "It's my life. I love hockey. As a player, I never thought myself different from other guys, and now, in the position I'm in as part of the organization, I don't feel any different."

GOALIE-GO-ROUND: The first thing Gretzky, Ellman and director of hockey operations Cliff Fletcher need to do is figure out who will be their No. 1 goalie: Sean Burke, who has held the job in fine fashion this season, or Nikolai Khabibulin, who is holding out for a second straight season.

"The goaltending situation is something we don't want to develop into an issue," said Fletcher, a former Lightning consultant. "Steve and Wayne and I haven't sat down and had any meetings yet."

Khabibulin is seeking $4-million a season. Burke has been superb, and won the best goaltender award at the NHL SuperSkills competition. But he is 34.

ERIC-GO-ROUND: The Eric Lindros-Flyers-Maple Leafs impasse continues. The Flyers want front-liners to make a trade (Shayne Corson and Tomas Kaberle come to mind), but the Leafs are offering Sergei Berezin and Yanic Perreault.

The result: Lindros, an unsigned, restricted free agent, might end up sitting out the season, and next, according to Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke.

"I don't know how sitting out a year is a indication he wants to play," Clarke said. "If we're not going to trade him to Toronto this year, we might not trade him next year, either."

"I'm not worried," Lindros said. "I'll just keep skating and working out every day. I won't lose any sleep over this."

Asked if he would return to the Flyers, he said, "No, that won't happen. If Bob wants to see his team in the best position for the playoffs, he still has one asset to trade, and that's me. There's still plenty of time left. I think we can work it out."

ROUND-AND-ROUND: Blues goaltender Roman Turek, who was supposed to be part of a deal for L.A.'s Rob Blake, looks like he will stay in St. Louis. Coach Joel Quenneville said Turek is scheduled to work the bulk of the remaining games. . . . Felix Potvin, discarded when the Canucks traded for Tampa Bay's Dan Cloutier, has been traded to the Kings. "I'm still young," the 29-year-old said. "I think a change of scenery will be very good for me." . . . The Sabres said they have shelved plans to trade goaltender Dominik Hasek, which means they are on the hook for $9-million next season.

CLOUTIER UPDATE: Cloutier lost his first Canucks start Wednesday, 4-3 in overtime to the Capitals. Of his time with Tampa Bay, he said, "Looking back, I think I shouldn't have worried about the wins and losses and my record. I should have just worried about getting better."

ODDS AND ENDS: Sharks leading scorer Vincent Damphousse (shoulder surgery) said he could be back for the first round of the playoffs, though the second round is realistic. . . . Canucks wing Trent Klatt's feet have swelled so much with eczema he cannot put on his skates. . . . Don't be surprised if Marty McSorley ends up with the Senators after his one-year suspension ends Wednesday. McSorley is with Ottawa's affiliate in Grand Rapids. . . . Florida's Pavel Bure has 13 goals and 19 points in his past seven games. . . . The Red Wings expect defenseman Chris Chelios (knee surgery) to rejoin the team next Sunday. . . . Carolina defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh might be headed for the Flyers.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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