EDMONTON -- Wayne Gretzky has been considering an offer to return to the Edmonton Oilers for some time.
When it was announced he was joining the Oilers Entertainment Group as a Partner and Vice Chairman on Wednesday, he said the decision eventually became easy.
"It's a good organization," the NHL's all-time leading goal, assist and points producer for the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs said after the announcement at Rogers Place, before the Oilers' season opening game in their new arena against the Calgary Flames. "Part of what enticed me to come back was they have so many good things in place. I can enjoy it, just be part of the group."
Gretzky and Oilers owner Daryl Katz said the conversation about Gretzky's return has been going on for a couple of years.
"We always felt that the Edmonton Oilers were his home," Katz said. "This is a day that's been a long time coming. The Oilers family is honored to welcome Wayne back into an official role with the organization where his legendary career began, where he will have a hand in helping both the Oilers and the city of Edmonton return to a place of prominence."
Gretzky spent his first nine seasons in the NHL with the Oilers, helping them win the Stanley Cup four times, before being traded to the Los Angeles Kings on Aug. 9, 1988. He retired on April 18, 1999, after 20 NHL seasons with the Oilers, Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.
Gretzky won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer 10 times, the Hart Trophy as League MVP nine times and the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice. He won the Lady Byng Trophy as the NHL's most gentlemanly player five times, and made 18 consecutive All-Star Game appearances.
His No. 99 was retired throughout the NHL prior to the 2000 All-Star Game. Gretzky holds or shares 61 NHL records, and he's the League's all-time leading scorer with 2,857 points. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 22, 1999.
Gretzky said his role will be determined by Katz and Oilers Entertainment Group CEO Bob Nicholson.
"My investment is going to be time," Gretzky said. "I'm really excited about being involved with the organization, not just for one year, but for years to come.
"As I said, opportunities have come and gone over the last three or four years. Timing has a lot to do with things and organizations have a lot to do with it. I just felt very comfortable with this organization, Bob (Nicholson), working together on the Olympics and (Oilers general manager) Pete Chiarelli is a wonderful man doing a tremendous job with a good coaching staff. I'm just going to be a small part of it and I'm really excited to represent the Oilers and the city in my travels now.
"It's nice to be able to say I'm back as an Oiler. My wife was really strongly encouraging me that this was the place for me to get back into hockey and I'm thrilled that this is the right place."
He said he'll be more than happy to be a sounding board for Chiarelli, if asked.
"Whatever Peter wants, I'm available for him," Gretzky said. "He's a tremendous general manager, he's got a great track record and he's done a wonderful job for the Oilers. That's not for me to interfere with. When the Oilers want me to represent the city, whatever they want me to do, I'm there for them.
"It's a machine that's heading in the right direction. From where I stand now, we'll figure that out as we go along. Hopefully I'm part of that group in the future to help win a Stanley Cup. That's ultimately the goal."
Gretzky said that he'll be spending more time in Edmonton in the future.
"I made it clear to (Katz) that this year was a little more hectic because I didn't plan in August to be doing this full-time," Gretzky said. "I'll be around a lot. As time goes on, I'll spend more and more time in Edmonton and we'll get a place here and we'll spend more time in the city. I'm not running the team day-to-day. That's up to the staff that's in place.
"I'm excited to just be around it and be able to say I'm part of the Oilers."
Gretzky said his role with the Oilers will not interfere with his duties as official ambassador to the NHL's Centennial Celebration.
"When I talked to Mr. Bettman this morning and told him that Daryl and I had struck a partnership, my obligation to the National Hockey League … I'll live up to it," Gretzky said. "I was going to do those events anyway, the outdoor game in Winnipeg, the outdoor game in St. Louis and the All-Star Game honoring the top 100 players in Los Angeles, so it really doesn't have an effect on that whatsoever."
The Oilers also unveiled their iconic Gretzky statue outside of a new Hall of Fame room at Rogers Place on Wednesday. The statue had stood outside Rexall Place since 1989.
The Hall of Fame room at Rogers Place, which will double as the media interview and press conference room, was christened Wednesday with Hockey Hall of Fame members Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson in attendance.
Gretzky said it was a good reminder of what may be passed along to today's young Oilers.
"Our legacy is, yeah, a lot of Hall of Fame guys, but more of the sense of unselfishness, that we won," Gretzky said. "And championships are most important. That's something we can pass on to this young group of guys.
"It's a wonderful day. Listen, when you can have a group of guys that are on that wall there, and more importantly, they're a good group of guys, we're having a fun day."