Wayne Gretzky says he is prepared to consider a cut in salary to help the Phoenix Coyotes stay where they are.
Breaking his long silence on the quest by Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie to buy the NHL team and move it to Hamilton, Gretzky said that once the ownership situation is clarified, he would be willing to sit down with the owners "and make it where everybody's comfortable and happy. It's as simple as that."
Gretzky receives an annual stipend of $8-million (all currency U.S.) as the head coach of the Coyotes, and retains a small ownership stake in the team.
In an interview yesterday with The Globe and Mail, Gretzky was asked about cost-cutting measures suggested by the suburb of Glendale, Ariz., where the Coyotes play their home games, to keep the team from moving.
Glendale's austerity proposals include chopping Gretzky's salary to $1.6-million and elimination of his 1-per-cent slice of club revenue.
Gretzky said he came to Phoenix 10 years ago to start something.
"And I love the city. ... It's a great sports town. Whatever is going to make it work for the city of Phoenix, I'm 100 per cent behind it."
Pressed as to whether that meant he was willing to look at a pay reduction, as suggested by Glendale officials, Gretzky replied: "Yeah."
The Coyotes have compiled a sad-sack record during the Great One's four years behind the bench, failing to make the playoffs and never finishing higher than fourth in their division.
Balsillie, co-chief executive officer of Research In Motion, is embroiled in a cantankerous court battle with the NHL, which is fighting to keep the financially stressed Coyotes in Arizona.
Gretzky also expressed support for Hamilton as a future NHL city.
"In my heart of hearts, I hope one day Hamilton will have a franchise," he said. "They could definitely support a franchise. Everyone knows that. I don't think anybody could question that.
"Eventually, I'm sure Mr. Balsillie is going to acquire a franchise and live out his dream of putting a team in Hamilton. We just don't know when that's going to be."
Although the saga of the RIM man's controversial and contentious bid for the Coyotes has been big news in Canada for weeks, Gretzky has remained quiet on the matter until now.
"It's not my fight," he explained. "It's between Mr. Balsillie and [current co-owner]Jerry Moyes, and the National Hockey League and the commissioner [Gary Bettman]and their office.
"I'm not involved. I'm just like everyone else, sitting back, waiting to find out what's going to happen, and what will be the direction of our hockey club," Gretzky said.
Balsillie's $212.5-million (U.S.) bid for the Coyotes includes a payment of as much as $22-million to Gretzky.
The NHL's all-time scoring leader was in Vancouver to take part in a Samsung Olympic sponsorship event.
He said there is no one quick answer to explain why hockey has not taken off in Phoenix and the club is in economic difficulty.
"It's like anything else. It takes time, and Phoenix is a great city and a great sports town. Obviously, there's some turmoil right now, but it looks like things are going to get worked out."
Earlier, in a scrum with reporters, Gretzky said the continued uncertainty over the Coyotes' future has been tough for everyone.
"[It's been hard]for the fans, for the organization, and on the other side, Hamilton's also a great city. So it's a tough scenario for both sides right now."
Ideally, the former slick stickhandler added, both cities would have an NHL team.
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