Former Hockey Night in Canada executive producer John Shannon offered a quick two-word reply when asked what Wayne Gretzky’s greatest challenge would be as a studio analyst for Turner Sports.
“Understanding time,” he said.
“And that might be Wayne’s greatest strength because on the ice he understood time. But the time constraints of television are if you have the greatest story to tell, you only have 45 seconds to tell it.
“That becomes the real challenge, and to learn to be exact, to be concise and to be effective. Pick your words properly but with enthusiasm.”
Gretzky’s move to the hockey broadcasting world was made official Wednesday after he signed a multiyear deal with the American-based network. He’ll provide studio analysis for premier regular-season events and the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The NHL recently reached multiyear deals with Turner Sports and ESPN for their American television coverage, which will end the league’s association with NBC starting next season. Turner has earned critical acclaim for its use of former players Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal on its NBA coverage.
Shannon, a long-time sports broadcaster, said Gretzky is a “fantastic” storyteller.
“First of all, he’s a hockey historian,” he said. “I would tell you that he has a photographic memory. He remembers everything that happens. I think he’s a perfect person to be on a panel to talk about the personality of the game. I think he’s a great choice.
“For all these years, he does the famous interviews and he does the hockey-speak. In private, he has a great wit. He has very good insight and he has good judgment in the game. One of his friends is Charles Barkley. I hope a little bit of Barkley rubs off on Wayne in order to tell stories. I really do.”
Gretzky told The Associated Press this week that he’ll be honest and forthright but not controversial, adding he’ll be “way more positive” than negative since that’s his nature.
“If you’re fair with someone, you can be critical. If you’re fair with someone, you can be positive,” Shannon said. “So that becomes a big part of when Wayne’s put in that position, what he’ll have to do.
“The other thing is if Wayne says something, even if it is critical, who’s going to argue with a guy who holds 60 NHL records? It’s not as if he hasn’t seen every situation on the ice.”
Tom Mayenknecht, a Vancouver-based marketing communications executive and sport business commentator, said Turner Sports deserves credit for landing someone of Gretzky’s “sheer status.”
“TNT has landed the most recognized and iconic hockey personality in the history of the game, certainly as far as the U.S. is concerned,” he said. “He brings starting point engagement advantages in the two largest media markets in North America, L.A. and New York, given his years playing in those markets.”
Many elite athletes have made the move into the studio or broadcast booth after retiring from competitive play.
Mike Harris, who won Olympic silver for Canada at the 1998 Nagano Games, has been a long-time curling broadcaster for the CBC and Sportsnet. He said focusing on honesty and objectivity is key for any analyst.
“People want to know what is going on at the level that I understood the game,” Harris said. “Certainly for Wayne it would be the same thing.
“And what he sees will certainly be things that nobody else can see.”
Gretzky, 60, has served in a variety of coaching and executive roles since retiring as a player in 1999.
He won the Stanley Cup four times with Edmonton and spent the past five years in a front-office position with the team. Gretzky stepped down as vice-chairman of the Oilers on Tuesday.
Turner’s seven-year agreement begins next season. Besides regular-season and playoff games, it also includes the 2023, 2025 and 2027 Stanley Cup finals on the TNT cable network.
“We want to see the Great One,” Shannon said. “When he played, it was all instinctive on the ice. I’m hoping we see instinct on the air with Wayne.”
With a report from The Associated Press