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Five Questions: Gretzky talks current greats

All-time leading scorer addresses whether Ovi will eclipse goal mark

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
  
The latest edition features Wayne Gretzky:

Wayne Gretzky is enjoying life as a hockey fan. And he's a huge fan.
  
Gretzky follows the game closely, watching as often as he can from his couch in Southern California.
  
"The Great One" spoke with NHL.com recently for an interview that started with Martin Brodeur's role with Canada in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics for a different story and dovetailed into a question and answer session on a myriad of present-day topics.
  
Here are Five Questions with … Wayne Gretzky:
  
Let's start with Jaromir Jagr. Describe what you feel about Jagr and what he's doing these days.

"It's amazing, isn't it? I mean, words can't describe. Here's a guy who is not only playing and playing well at the age of 43, but he's not just taking up a spot. There's a lot of guys who played at 37, 38 or 39 that kind of took a spot. I mean, he's amongst the elite players on one of the best young teams in hockey. He's the catalyst for [the Florida Panthers] and obviously the leader both on the ice and off the ice. It's remarkable. The game has changed a lot. It's faster. It's bigger. The equipment is different. For him to be able to adapt and make all the changes from playing in the '90s to playing today is remarkable. What I find really fascinating is the fact that he went away to play in Russia for three years and came back, and it's like he's found the fountain of youth. I don't know where he was in Russia, but we should all go there.

"There's been four guys that I know of, and maybe Jean Beliveau is in that group too because he retired at 42 and won the Cup, but Gordie Howe and Mark Messier, Chris Chelios and Jaromir are guys who played at an older age but weren't just taking up a spot. They contributed at a high level. That's what Jaromir is doing. Gosh, I hope he plays another three or four years. Good for him. It's great for hockey. It's a great story. He's showing young kids what hard work and dedication can do for a person. You can play for a long time if you're dedicated and have a passion for it.

"But I'm going to have to steal his skates if he starts getting close to some of my records."

Video: PHI@WSH: Ovechkin ties the game with a 30th goal

I think you're safe there, but a guy who might approach one of your records is Alex Ovechkin. Do you think he could catch you in goals, get to 894? He has 505 in 809 games.

"You know, this is going to sound funny, and I don't mean this to sound egotistical, but the first 500 are the easy ones; it's the next 500, when you're getting a little bit older and your body is a little bit worn down, the travel and physical part of the game catches up to you. I always tease my kids, the first 500 is the easy part. You know though, he's got the one thing that you've got to have to get to 894, you've got to have a passion for scoring goals. He has that passion for scoring goals. People don't realize, even as good as you are, you've got to get to those dirty areas and that's how you're going to score goals, and he does that. For me, I knew it was time to retire because my last year I had nine goals. I had a lot of assists (53), but scoring goals as you get older becomes harder because you know how hard it is and how much it hurts to score goals, and you just let your guard down a little bit as you get older.

"If he can sustain his pace, there's no question in my mind that he has the ability and the talent and the work ethic to be able to do it. And if he does it, I'll be the first guy there to shake his hand. If there is one guy out there that can do it, there's no question it's him. Records are made to be broken. When Gordie got to 802, people probably said, 'Nobody will break that.' For me, at 894, someday somebody will come along to break it. You don't know who it's going to be or how long, but that's what sports are all about. Records are made to be broken. Nobody ever thought someone would break Babe Ruth's record, and along came Hank Aaron. Nobody thought Lou Gehrig's record would ever be beaten, and along came Cal Ripken. That's what sports are all about. That's what excites fans. Alex, no question, he brings people out of their seats and he gets fans excited. He's a guy you pay to go watch play, no question about it."

Another guy to pay to watch play is Connor McDavid. Does he compare to anybody?

"It's tough to compare players. I always say guys sort of make their own footprints on the ice, make their own path. Connor, without question, is going to make his own path. He's the perfect guy for this era. He sees the ice extremely well. He has a nose for getting pucks back when he loses them. He has an explosive acceleration to get to another gear that other guys don't have. And most importantly, you can tell he loves to play and he loves to win. We don't get players of that caliber come along so often. (Sidney) Crosby came along. Ovechkin came along. You've got guys like Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, and Connor is kind of in that realm of that conversation. He passes like Mario. He can score goals like Brett Hull did. He's the overall package. And for a kid at 18 to be as smart and strong defensively as he is already, that's pretty unique. He is without question the best young player in the game today, and I think the sky is the limit for him. He'll be on his way to the 800-goal mark. There's no question in my mind."

Video: Connor McDavid scores an amazing goal in return

Also have to ask you about the Los Angeles Kings, the team in your neighborhood in Southern California. Do you think they simply just hit a road block last year that they had to get over? Do you see any difference in them?

"I'll just talk from what I've seen and what I think, and maybe I'm way off. I think last year, [Jonathan] Quick was a little bit injured and it was a nagging part of the season for him, personally. I know our game is growing, it's getting bigger and there's way more attention, but with that comes the responsibility of playing a lot more hockey, and a lot of their good players played in two Olympics and went to the Stanley Cup Final twice. They played a lot of hockey. On top of that, I personally think the [Slava] Voynov situation hurt. They missed him as a player. He was a contributing factor to the success of the team. And I just think they were physically and mentally drained. I think they just kept thinking, even though it's subconscious, that they could just kick it into an extra gear in the last 25 or 30 games. But they were just physically and probably mentally drained and they could just never get over that hump. You never like to lose and you never like to miss the playoffs; I mean you're paid as a player to win championships every year, but missing the playoffs probably gave them an extra five or six weeks break to physically and mentally step away from the game and rejuvenate. They've done that.

"They made a couple moves and I think some additions have helped. I think (Milan) Lucic has been a real big find for them as a big physical guy who fits in nicely with their team concept. And you've got to have star quality. (Drew) Doughty brings that every night. He plays 30 minutes a game with a great deal of energy and passion. If he was on the east coast he probably would have won a Norris Trophy by now. You have to be good in goal, and Quick has been tremendous. And they have (Anze) Kopitar, who I think is one of the more underrated players in the game, in the middle. I think he's a lot like Mark Messier. He scores big goals. He plays hard in big games. He's as good as any player in the League defensively. He wins faceoffs. He's just a big horse. With those three guys playing at a high level, it just drags everybody with them. I think they're a team that is looking forward to a good playoff run and they're playing with high energy. It's exciting for everyone with that group right now."

Did you like the new All-Star Game format?

"I liked it. I thought it was good. It just shows you why all those games were 10-9 or 12-10. I used to say this to [Paul Coffey] all the time, it's that all you defensemen want to get up and score goals in an All-Star Game, and nobody wants to play defense. But it's a 3-on-3 game and we get a 1-0 game. That's pretty crazy. But I thought it was really good.

"I did an interview with Matt Barnaby a day before and I was saying, 'You watch, the guys are going to take John Scott under their wing.' They wanted him to do well. There is a great deal of pride in the NHL and they want him to be successful. I thought it was a great day for him and good for his family. I thought the whole event was positive, exciting.

"I think people are going to enjoy [the All-Star Game in]L.A. next year. Hockey is bigger than it's ever been out here now because of the Ducks and Kings doing well. I think the show next year in L.A. will be really, really special."

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