The worst part of Daryl Katz's promenade through the city of Seattle on Monday wasn't its heavy-handedness. It wasn't even the way it insulted the patience and intelligence of Edmonton fans.
No, the worst part was that Wayne Gretzky participated in it.
It was a disappointment because Gretzky is near-blameless in Canada, and Katz's play read like such a tone-deaf, transparent ploy that it required the attribution of blame.
Yet, somehow, The Great One has managed to escape it.
Gretzky was part of Katz's crew at Key Arena in Seattle, along with Patrick LaForge and Kevin Lowe, and his presence made it all but a certainty that the group would get spotted. I would posit that this was part of the plan. After all, when the whole point of a tour is to be recognized, having the most recognizable face in hockey is just prudent.
But according to Gretzky, who appeared on the Fan 590 in Toronto on Wednesday to set the record straight and conveniently also smoothed over some of the negative P.R. in the process, he wasn't there for any other reason than to take in the football.
"I'm not involved with the NHL, I'm really not. It's just one of those things where I was invited to go to a football game and I said why not. Any official capacity is absolutely zero. I have no stake or claim in any team in the NHL whatsoever. Went there to enjoy a football game."
See, Wayne Gretzky just looooooooves football -- adores it, can't help but attend it.
Heck, when the Phoenix Coyotes extended his coaching contract in 2006, they should have just paid him in football. The Cardinals were moving into a new building just down the street in Glendale, after all, and Gretzky loves football so much he loses all common sense the moment you promise him seats on the fifty.
Or at least he used to. He's learned his lesson now.
"That's the last time I go to a football game," Gretzky chuckled, and you could almost hear him batting his eye-lashing over the phone.
He turned on the charm and said all the right things during the interview, including the fact that, despite the threat in which he played a part (unwittingly, we're supposed to believe), he believes the chances of the Oilers moving are zero per cent.
"I just don't see (Oilers move) happening. I think over time cooler heads are going to prevail and Daryl and the city will hammer out a deal ... I can't see them moving. It's one of the greatest franchises in the history of professional sports. You don't move a great franchise like that," Gretzky said.
"The NHL does not want franchises to move. They want to build those franchises, stabilize those franchises, and keep the fans that support those teams comfortable."
And with that, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Gretzky, the pinnacle of Oilerdom, is not working to uproot one of the league's most storied teams and ship 'em to the home of the Totems, and he did not intentionally participate in the Katz Group's Hail Mary.
In fact, the only Hail Mary he was party to on Monday was the one caught cleanly by Seahawks receiver Golden Tate. (Ahem ...)
I assume this is what Gretzky thinks happened at the end of that game, because if he honestly couldn't parse Katz's ulterior motive for the trip, his vision is about on par with the NFL replacement refs.
It's not like Katz was subtle about it. It was one of the most overt attempts at gaining leverage in recent memory, especially two days after the Oilers' Twitter account sent out a tweet threatening their own relocation.
Katz Group Executive VP Bob Black's press release, sent out just after news of the group's presence in Seattle had been given time to simmer, was almost as blatant. It laid it on so thick, I was surprised it didn't include the phrase, Do you see what happens when you find a stranger in the alps? This is what happens, Larry!
Submitted for review:
"I can confirm that Daryl Katz, Patrick LaForge, Kevin Lowe and others from the Oilers leadership group are in Seattle for meetings and to attend the Seahawks game.
"We remain committed to working with City Administration to achieve a deal commensurate with what Winnipeg and Pittsburgh have done to sustain the NHL in those small markets. If we can achieve such a deal, the Oilers will remain in Edmonton and we can get on with the important work of developing the new arena and investing in the continued revitalization of Edmonton's downtown core.
Look at that wording. If we can achieve the deal we want, we'll remain. If we can't, goes the implication, well, goodbye, and good luck fixing up that crummy downtown core.
But Gretzky was an unwitting pawn, innocent as a babe and unaware of the larger scheme. He's not doing anything with the NHL in an official capacity, remember.
Okay, maybe not officially, but the guy is putting in some serious work in an unofficial capacity. He was in Seattle talking about NHL possibilities back in July. (Granted, he took in a Mariners game while he was there, so maybe he just believes in Seattle sports so, so much.) And recall that this isn't Gretzky's first time helping out the Oilers this offseason. He and Paul Coffey made a phone call back in July that was a major reason the franchise now employs Justin Schultz.
"I don't think I said one word when they called. I was in shock," Schultz told the Edmonton Journal. "For them to even take the time to call me, that's something I'll never forget."
Apparently everyone else has.
If it were any other person, none of what Gretzky said Wednesday would be good enough. It's not convincing, especially when juxtaposed with the evidence and the context. But it's Gretzky -- precious, perfect Gretzky -- so everyone took it at face value, un-furrowed and wiped their brows, and moved on.
Canada: Where Wayne Gretzky can do no wrong, you see, and if he does wrong, he must have been tricked.
Our blind trust in Gretzky is understandable, in a sense. Gretzky played in an age of heroes, a time when a player could be called "The Great One" without a hint of irony. Now we're all a bit too jaded and skeptical for that.
But we all miss that time a little, and we hate to see the heroes of that age dragged into this one, where they're just people and someone or something is constantly chipping away at their legacy.
So we fight it, either by building an insulating layer of myth around the man, or, in this case, refusing to believe it when he makes a mistake like one.
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