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Gretzky Gets Reassurance, Reason to Relax : Hockey: Prospective King owners tell veteran they want to keep him, not trade him. He also likes Robinson hiring.

July 29, 1995|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Heard those rumors about King center Wayne Gretzky going to St. Louis or Detroit?

You're not the only one. Gretzky says he heard them as well, and he didn't know what to believe.

At least not until last week when he was assured that the prospective new owners of the Kings, Philip F. Anschutz and Edward P. Roski Jr., indeed want Gretzky to remain an integral part of the club.

That's fine with Gretzky, who after the disappointments of the last few seasons seems reinvigorated by the hiring this week of former teammate Larry Robinson as the club's new coach.

"I didn't know where I'd wind up," Gretzky said. "It could have been St. Louis. It could have been Detroit. I met with the possible new owners [of the Kings], and now I feel solid here.

"I love it here, but I don't want to be a thorn in anyone's side. I don't have the physical or mental capability for going to another organization, but I would never stand in the way of what is best for the Kings."

When he met last week with Roski and Robert Sanderman, an executive employed by Anschutz, Gretzky received assurances that what is best for the Kings is to keep him.

Another group that includes Laker/Forum owner Jerry Buss and R.D. Hubbard and Harry Ornest of Hollywood Park are also possible buyers.

According to one source, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wants a final decision on the ownership question by next month.

Gretzky has one year left on his contract before becoming a free agent. At 34, he doesn't have many chances left to win a fifth Stanley Cup and, as he made plain Friday, that is still his priority.

"I don't want to go to another team," he repeated, "but I'll say this: I want to win another championship."

That has seemed less likely than ever in Los Angeles with the struggles both on the ice, where the team has failed to qualify for the playoffs the last two seasons, and in the front office, where former owner Bruce McNall, one of Gretzky's closest friends, is facing a prison sentence for financial misdeeds.

"I've been as frustrated as anyone else," Gretzky said. "The times have been discouraging.

"I've kept a low profile because I might have said something I regretted later."

But Gretzky did not hesitate to speak about the hiring of Robinson.

"It's great for the organization," Gretzky said. "I think he's going to do a tremendous job. . . . I expect Larry to be as tough as he has to be."

Still, as optimistic as he was Friday, Gretzky wouldn't look beyond next season.

"This is a make-or-break year for me," he said. "I'll see where I am around January or February. I'm anxious to play. I have something to prove."

As does the rest of his team.

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