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Hockey great Wayne Gretzky watches some baseball in Anaheim, California, April 5, 2010. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
Hockey great Wayne Gretzky watches some baseball in Anaheim, California, April 5, 2010. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Gretzky’s agent denies hockey great involved in Seattle franchise bid Add to ...

The agent for Wayne Gretzky is denying reports that the former Edmonton Oilers great is putting together a group of investors to pursue an NHL expansion team for Seattle.

“There is nothing to it....zero,” said Darren Blake, in an e-mailed message. “He had been approached by a couple groups a while ago, but none are anywhere close, and he certainly hasn't aligned with anyone. Seems as though Seattle has a long way to go before getting a team.”

The NHL has long made it clear that it has an interest in Seattle as a possible market, provided all the logistics – a well-heeled owner and a fully-funded modern building – fall into place. Currently, the league has 16 Eastern Conference teams and 14 in the West and, eventually, they’d like to have that even out. Last fall, the Globe and Mail reported that Seattle and Las Vegas are the destinations of choice for the NHL, when it eventually gets around to expanding to 32 teams, something commissioner Gary Bettman carefully repeated is not in the cards in the near future during his annual Stanley Cup press conference last month.

However, any talks of the NHL going into Seattle were shelved when Chris Hansen, who is seeking an NBA expansion franchise, had his plans put on hold. The money behind a Seattle NBA bid was ostensibly coming from Steve Ballmer, the Microsoft billionaire, who decided instead to buy the Los Angeles Clippers.

When the topic of expansion came up, Bettman stayed on message, noting that the NHL “is not planning on expanding” … and is “not in an expansion mode or formal expansion process. We listen when people say, ‘we'd like to come visit you and tell you why we're interested and where we're interested.’”

That was a veiled reference to a meeting Bettman had in May with a number of Seattle civic officials, including the mayor, Ed Murray, to get a sense of where things stood. Seattle’s NHL hopes were always tied to the possibility that Hansen would get an NBA franchise for the market – and most recently, came close in his pursuit of the Sacramento Kings, who ultimately decided to stay in the California capital. Hansen was/is only prepared to finance a new building if he had a firm commitment for an NBA team.

However, the landscape shifted soon after Bettman’s visit to Seattle when Ballmer entered into a purchase agreement to buy the NBA’s Clippers from Donald Sterling for $2-billion. It left the Hansen bid back at the starting line – no building, far less financing and no NBA team ready to relocate to the Pacific Northwest. It is possible, and even likely, that will eventually change, but for the moment, the matter has shifted to the back burner.

Gretzky, of course, has been a far more visible presence in the NHL ever since the league made him “whole” last year after they sold the Phoenix Coyotes to a group led by Calgary oilman George Gosbee. In January, Gretzky appeared at the outdoor game at Dodger Stadium and he also dropped the puck for the opening game of the Stanley Cup final between two of his ex-teams, the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers.

The expectation is that he’s looking for an entry-point to return to the league at a senior level and was linked back in April to a possible opening with the Washington Capitals.

Last month, Bettman acknowledged that Seattle “seems to have the most number of people interested,” but added “There's no building that's on the horizon. The person who controls the rights to build a building in Seattle (Hansen) is intent upon having an NBA team before he builds a building. Based on what's happened to date and the fact that his partner (Ballmer) has now bought a different franchise, I don't know that there's any prospect of a building in Seattle.

“It's nice that there's interest, but there's really not a whole lot for us to do with it.”

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