October 12, 2016 - 1:55 PM
EDMONTON - Wayne Gretzky has returned to the Edmonton Oilers.
The Great One has been named partner and vice-chairman of Oilers Entertainment Group. The Oilers made the announcement Wednesday at an unveiling of the refurbished iconic Gretzky statue at the team's new arena, Rogers Place.
"I'm privileged and proud to be back as an Oiler," Gretzky told reporters.
He said the decision followed discussions with his family and with Oilers owner Daryl Katz.
"We felt that this was a really great opportunity for me to get back into the game and to have the chance to do what we all want to do — win a Stanley Cup."
Gretzky spent much of his Hall of Fame career in Edmonton, leading the Oilers to four Stanley Cup titles in the 1980s.
The NHL's all-time leading scorer hasn't held an official job in a league front office since he was part-owner, coach and head of hockey operations with the Phoenix Coyotes. He left the team in 2009.
He said he made a decision at that time to step back from the league but is now ready to get involved again.
"I love the game. I want to be part of the National Hockey League. Everything I have in my life is because of the NHL and I'm thrilled to be back," he said.
The details of Gretzky's role have not been finalized.
"This is all sort of happened pretty quickly," he said.
"We'll figure that out as we go along."
Katz said he'll work with Gretzky and CEO Bob Nicholson overseeing the business of the Oilers Entertainment Group, but stressed day to day management of the team won't change.
"This is (general manager) Peter Chiarelli's team and he calls the shots," said Katz.
Last month, the NHL announced Gretzky would be its "ambassador" for next year's centennial festivities, including outdoor games in Winnipeg and St. Louis.
Gretzky said he doesn't see a problem doing both.
"I was going to do those events anyway," he said.
"It really doesn't have an affect on that whatsoever."
The move comes as the Oilers open the 2016-17 season filled with optimism. In addition to a new downtown arena, they have recently named teen phenom Connor McDavid captain and revamped the roster in the off-season.
The Oilers were hockey's dominant team in the 1980s but have since fallen on hard times. They have missed the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons, tying a dubious NHL record set by the Florida Panthers.
Gretzky said management and personnel changes have him optimistic.
"It's a machine that is heading in the right direction," he said.
The statue unveiling was of a nine-foot-two inch bronze replica of Gretzky, in an Oiler jersey holding aloft the Stanley Cup. It was erected outside the Oilers old arena, Rexall Place, in 1989, a year after he was traded from the Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings.
Gretzky, his family, and Oiler greats Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey and Jari Kurri were on hand for the statue unveiling and for the opening of a new Oilers hall of fame room in the arena.
The Oilers were set to officially launch the era of Rogers Centre Wednesday night by hosting their season opener, versus traditional rival the Calgary Flames.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016