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ANALYSIS : Money Wasn't Sole Reason : Kings: Gretzky weighed a variety of factors in deciding to return.


It is no coincidence that Wayne Gretzky decided to return to the Kings for at least one more season during their busiest week of the summer . . . and before the resolution of the Marty McSorley case.

Despite the perception that money was the issue, Gretzky made his decision before coming to terms on a new contract. At work were several factors:

--The feelings of burnout and disappointment after losing to Montreal in the Stanley Cup finals had started to lift.

--The Kings fulfilled two-thirds of Gretzky's "wish list" by re-signing left wing Warren Rychel and assistant coach Cap Raeder.

--The club had also made a significant offer to McSorley--a four-year, $5-million contract--before St. Louis came through last Friday with a surprising bid of $10 million over five years.

"When he made the decision, he didn't want people to perceive that he was holding a gun to their head (over McSorley)," said Gretzky's agent, Michael Barnett. "Whatever they decide, he can live with it. In the end, he decided he still wanted to play and he felt comfortable with the personnel moves that were being made."

Said King owner Bruce McNall: "In regard to the so-called wish list, Marty was on there. But (Gretzky) is realistic. He would love to have Marty back, but he also understands it from a business standpoint."

Thursday, Gretzky traveled to Toronto to watch his CFL football team, the Toronto Argonauts, but declined to speak to reporters. He told McNall of his decision late Wednesday night and asked Barnett to notify the media in Los Angeles.

Gretzky had been having weekly discussions with King Coach Barry Melrose and Raeder as well as his on-going talks with McNall. Melrose, for his part, always assumed Gretzky would be there for the start of training camp at Lake Arrowhead on Sept. 10.

McNall, initially, was alarmed when the 32-year-old Gretzky hinted at retirement in Montreal only moments after the Kings had lost to the Canadiens. But less than a month later, Gretzky spoke about starting to miss hockey when he was conducting a youth camp near Quebec City.

"We spoke about the problems he has to face that nobody else has to face," McNall said. "There are a lot of added hassles in the 12-14 years he's played. He had to decide, 'Is it worth it?' If he were to have a 100-point season, everyone would say, 'Oh, oh.' For most people, it's a career. The way he feels right now, that's where his heart is. He wants to continue to play."

McNall insisted that the monetary aspects have been blown out of proportion. Reports from Quebec have had Gretzky asking for as much as $9 million a season. His current contract has him making $3 million this season, then escalates to $4 million by its final year, the 1997-98 season. His first contract with the Kings was signed in 1988, after McNall had acquired him from the Oilers, and it was extended two years later.

Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux makes $6 million a season, and Gretzky and McNall have an unofficial agreement that Gretzky will be the NHL's highest-paid player.

"It has never been as big an issue as everyone said," McNall said. "He said to me, 'Don't worry about it. We'll deal with it later on.' "

The salary structure has drastically been altered in the NHL. Kelly Kisio, 33, will make close to $1 million next season in Calgary. And McSorley's offer already has had a trickle-down effect, helping get big raises for his current teammates Rychel and Pat Conacher.

The Kings have until 4 p.m. today to decide whether to match the Blues' offer sheet and keep McSorley, match the offer and trade him to another team or let St. Louis take McSorley with no compensation.

It seems likely that the Kings will match the Blues' offer, then trade McSorley. According to league sources, the Kings are talking to the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. Chicago Coach Darryl Sutter confirmed that the Blackhawks have been negotiating with the Kings, but said they are not close to making a deal.

The Blues said they have not had any contact with the Kings in the last week. Apparently the Blues are unwilling to trade any of their top six players--Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Craig Janney, Jeff Brown, Curtis Joseph and Nelson Emerson. To make a deal, the Kings would require someone like Brown or Emerson.

For now, though, McSorley is in hockey's no-man's land.

"I have a loyalty to St. Louis right now," he said. "If they had not stepped up and made an offer, I'd be without a contract and not knowing what to do.

"I think my contract will be talked about for a while."

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