A story making the rounds this week in the hockey world has Wayne Gretzky joining a group that may bid to buy the Toronto Maple Leafs.
As is often the case with these things, there’s more smoke than fire but the Gretzky brand has cache. Anytime the Great One is linked — especially to something as high profile as the Leafs — people pay attention.
Sportsnet reported that Gretzky was approached by Providence Equity Partners LLC to be part of a bid to buy the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan’s 80 per cent stake in the Leafs worth upwards of $1.8 billion. If they ever do sell, that’s going to keep a lot of teachers flush in their retirement.
For the record, Gretzky says he’s been approached by other companies to do the same so apparently this is nothing new to him. It’s an open question whether Gretzky still covets a relationship with the Leafs. Most hockey insiders believe he does. He certainly wanted, late in his career, to play for them but Leafs’ ownership under tightwad Steve Stavros nixed GM Cliff Fletcher’s deal that would have made Gretzky a Leaf in 1996. Leafs lose again.
But this time around it would be as a part owner. It’s indisputable the Great One had perhaps the most remarkable on-ice career of all time as a player; his track record as a manager/administrator/GM/coach … not so much. Let’s just say he’s been the Mediocre One.
Sure he has a 2002 Olympic hockey gold medal as the architect of Team Canada to add to his crowded trophy room but in 2006 with Gretz still as GM they didn’t make the medal round.
As for the Coyotes, the initial buzz of his arrival in the desert couldn’t save the franchise as he did earlier in his career as player, leading the renaissance of the LA Kings and expanding the NHL’s footprint in the US. His couple years behind the Phoenix bench didn’t exactly set the team on fire either. Granted, we are talking the team nobody wants but his coaching career wasn’t a massive success. Besides, he still has some unfinished business as a former part-owner and is owed $8 million by the team’s current owners – the NHL.
So while the Gretzky brand will garner attention whenever rumours have him returning to the NHL fold, it might, in the Leafs’ case, be the kind of attention they don’t need. In fact, were this scenario to materialize, it could easily develop into one giant side show for MLSE.
Given his past, its doubtful he’d be satisfied by just being a figurehead for the Leafs. Chances are he’d want to make use of his vast hockey experience and become more of a hands-on owner. For my money, it would be a headache the Leafs don’t need.