With ESPN reportedly out of the Wayne Gretzky sweepstakes, the Great One could soon be headed to Turner as a studio analyst for TNT’s NHL coverage beginning next season. The former Oilers, Kings, Rangers and Blues center had been in negotiations with ESPN/ABC, according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, but the Connecticut-based media giant balked at Gretzky’s salary demands, refusing to go higher than $2 million a year. The 60-year-old Hall-of-Famer is said to be seeking upwards of $5 million annually, a price Turner could be willing to pay.
Gretzky has kept busy since retiring as a player in 1999, buying an ownership stake in the Phoenix Coyotes (who he would later coach) while also serving as executive director of the Canadian men’s national team during their run to an Olympic gold medal at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake. This would be his first venture into the broadcasting arena.
Mark Shapiro of Los Angeles-based talent agency Endeavor disputed reports that ESPN is no longer pursuing Gretzky, dismissing it as “absolutely not true.” “That’s cute, but nobody bows out on the Great One,” Shapiro insisted. “If he goes to Turner, it’s because they gave him a much better offer than ESPN.”
NBC will relinquish its NHL broadcast rights after this season with national games moving to ESPN and TNT. Turner has already tapped Kenny Albert—son of legendary hoops announcer Marv Albert—as its lead play-by-play voice with former NHL forward Eddie Olczyk providing color commentary. Per Marchand, Gretzky’s role with TNT—if they can drum up the funds to meet his exorbitant asking price—would be similar to Charles Barkley’s on Inside the NBA.
Gretzky and Barkley are opposite personalities—the outspoken “Chuck” has gained a reputation as a loose cannon over his 20 years in television while the guarded Gretzky has never done or said anything even remotely controversial. That said, the greatest player of all-time is sure to draw eyeballs wherever he decides to set up shop.