“The Great One” is headed from the front office to a cable television studio.
Turner Sports has reached a multi-year agreement with Wayne Gretzky to be a studio analyst when its coverage of the National Hockey League begins in October. He will appear during key moments in the regular season — including opening week and the Winter Classic — and then throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Turner's seven-year agreement begins next season. Besides regular-season and playoff games, it also includes the 2023, ’25 and ’27 Stanley Cup Finals on the TNT cable network.
Gretzky said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press that the opportunity to join Turner, as well as some other changes, led to this being the perfect time to move into an analyst role. Gretzky and his wife, Janet, moved to Missouri earlier this year to be closer to his mother-in-law, who turns 100 in August.
The move from California also allows them to be closer to their two grandchildren, who are in South Florida.
“We just felt like, after the passing of my dad and my youngest going to college this year, maybe this is a good time to move. We've kind of become empty nesters,” he said. “Atlanta is an hour from Florida and an hour from St. Louis. So I guess the stars were aligned. We get to spend a lot of time with our family, and I get to do what I love to do, which is talk about hockey.”
Besides Gretzky, Turner has finalized Kenny Albert and Eddie Olczyk as its top announcing team. Albert and Olczyk are NBC’s top duo and will move to Turner at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Finals.
“The exciting additions of Wayne, Kenny and Eddie will jumpstart our NHL coverage with some of the best and biggest talents in the sport,” said Tara August, senior vice president of Talent Relations and Special Projects at Turner Sports. “Their incomparable experiences within the game and unparalleled depth of knowledge will bring a distinct dimension to our game and studio coverage. We’re thrilled to welcome them to the Turner Sports family.”
Gretzky has resigned as vice chairman of the Edmonton Oilers as part of the move to Turner. He returned to the franchise he helped lead to four Stanley Cups in 2016, where his duties included working on the business side, as well as supporting development initiatives in the Rogers Place arena district.
Gretzky said Turner reached out to him a couple months ago about a potential role. He also received a recruiting pitch from former neighbor and TNT “Inside the NBA” analyst Charles Barkley.
Even though they are good friends, Gretzky said no one should expect him to have the same style or delivery as Barkley, who is a big hockey fan.
“I’ll be honest and forthright, but I’m not, by any means, controversial," Gretzky said. "And just so we’re very clear, I’m going to be way more positive than I am negative. That’s just my nature. You can still be critical without going over the edge.”
While Gretzky is admittedly more shy than Barkley, what he does bring is the ability to analyze the game from all angles. Besides a transcendent 20-year career as the NHL's all-time leading scorer, he coached the Coyotes for four seasons and has been a part of front offices in Phoenix and Edmonton.
Much like he did in bringing the game to new fans when he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, Gretzky is hoping to continue to expand the game's reach.
“I think the game is in a better position than it’s ever been before. The young players who are in the game today are outstanding athletes and they represent the game the way it should be,” he said. “And I’m 60 years old. I don’t need the stress of running a hockey team day to day. But this gives me an opportunity to talk about the game and try to take it to another level.
“I think everyone has a responsibility who was a player in the National Hockey League to try to grow the game, and if I can be part of making Turner a positive venue for people to watch, I’m all for it. In all seriousness, I wish I could still play but unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.”
Gretzky will spend the next couple of months watching the playoffs before settling into the analyst chair. He sees home ice becoming a bigger factor as arenas continue to expand capacity. There also remains the uncertainty if Canada will open the border for the Northern Division champion to travel during the semifinals and finals, or if they will have to relocate to the United States.
“It’s hard to predict right now because you sort of got to take it one game at a time," he said. "It’s never been more true because of COVID, but I think that’s where we’re at right now.”