TORONTO Hall of Fame center Wayne Gretzky expressed optimism on Monday that the National Hockey League's (NHL) second lockout in eight years will be resolved in time for the showcase outdoor Winter Classic on New Year's Day.
Gretzky, who retired from the NHL in 1999 and remains the league's all-time points leader, said obstacles behind the labor dispute between owners and players should be quicker to overcome than the ones that forced the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 campaign.
"In 2004 we were changing the whole landscape, ownership wanted to have some sort of revenue sharing, and once we came to the revenue sharing, the hard part from my point of view seems to be out of the way," Gretzky told a news conference in Toronto after making a speech on retirement planning.
"Now it is a question of working out a number that both sides think is fair. And that is why I believe that I don't see this lockout being as long as the last one."
The NHL, which has already canceled its entire preseason because of the fourth work stoppage in 20 years, locked out players 16 days ago with owners and players at odds over how to divide a $3.3 billion revenue pie.
But Gretzky, a former part-owner of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes who is not involved in negotiations between the league and union representing its players, feels confident the dispute will not drag on long enough to wipe out another season.
"I believe in my heart, maybe because I'm such a big hockey fan, that they will be playing by January 1," said Gretzky.
"I think the hard part of the deal was the last negotiations of players agreeing to a salary cap. And now that there is a salary cap in place and revenue sharing, I see them ultimately getting a deal done here and I see them playing hockey this year."
The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs are scheduled to play in Michigan in the New Year's Day Winter Classic, which has quickly become one of the league's signature events.
The NHL's 2012-13 campaign is scheduled to begin October 11 but with the two sides seemingly far from reaching a new collective bargaining agreement many experts are expecting some regular season games to be canceled this week.
(Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Writing by Frank Pingue; Editing by Gene Cherry)