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Wayne Gretzky fears lockout


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GRAND FORKS, N.D. (CP) - Wayne Gretzky is concerned that if the NHL and the players' association don't agree to a new collective bargaining agreement soon, the next season will be lost as well as this one.


"If this is not decided in the next few days, I'm scared we could be looking at a year, a year and a half, two years, not just three months like a lot of people thought in September," Gretzky said Sunday during a news conference at the world junior hockey championship. "From April to October, the players don't get paid, so I can't see us coming to an agreement in August or September.


"If we don't find a way to make everyone who is part of this sort of happy and get a deal done, we could be looking at a long, long time before hockey is played in the NHL and that's very alarming too. I hope in the next couple weeks we can come to an agreement."


Gretzky also denied recent published reports that the Phoenix Coyotes franchise is for sale. Gretzky is a minority owner and a managing partner of the club. Jerry Moyes is the majority owner and Steve Ellman also has a minority stake.


"The team is not for sale," Gretzky said. "If it was for sale I would tell you guys, but it's not. There's really no truth to the story at all."


Gretzky says he supports NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's firm labour stance. Bettman has said the league must have a salary cap.


"We want to play. We want to get back out there," Gretzky said. "But the other side of it is we back the commissioner 100 per cent, unequivocally, what he's doing and the process he's going through."


He said the Coyotes' franchise is suffering because of the lockout.


"Amazingly, whether people believe it or not, we're losing less money this year not playing if that makes sense," he said. "But, saying that, we're also losing credibility in the city as far as the game goes. We're losing some fan support because people are disappointed and you lose corporate sponsorship."


Gretzky said he doesn't plan to get actively involved in any negotiations between the NHL and the players because he's not on the negotiating committee.


He was executive director of the Canadian men's Olympic team that won a gold medal in 2002 and chuckled when asked if he would run the next Olympic team in Turin, Italy, in 2006. It's unclear if the NHL would participate in the Olympics in light of the current labour situation.


"We haven't really discussed '06 yet because of the situation we're in with the NHL." Gretzky said. "Hopefully once that gets resolved, we'll sit down and make a decision for the future."


Gretzky was in Grand Forks to watch the world junior championship. He played in the 1978 tournament in Montreal as a 16-year-old and let Canada in scoring with eight goals and nine assists in six games. Canada won the bronze medal that year.


"The two things I remember the most is playing in the Montreal Forum and meeting Guy Lafleur for the first time and getting to play for Canada," Gretzky said.


He's been watching the Canadian team since the tournament began.


"Canada has had a really solid tournament and up to this point in time has played as well as any Canadian team has played and has handled itself with a great deal of class and dignity," Gretzky said prior to Canada's 3-1 semifinal win at night over the Czech Republic.


Gretzky said a year and a half ago that Canadian forward Sidney Crosby would be the player to break all his NHL records and Crosby hasn't diminished in Gretzky eyes since then.


"He's the real deal," Gretzky said. "He's got tremendous hockey sense, moves the puck very well and obviously has great hands.


"The thing you learn at a young age that separates really good players from average players and it's what you do and where you go when you don't have the puck. He seems to get in position to be in the play at all times. What's more important, he has fun when he's playing."

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