Don’t expect The Great One to be working from the broadcast booth much in the future.
Wayne Gretzky loves his day job — as an analyst on the “NHL On TNT” studio show alongside Rick Tocchet, Anson Carter, Paul Bissonnette and host Liam McHugh — that much.
“We have a lot of fun on the panel,” Gretzky said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “We really enjoy being together. It’s fun to have chemistry right off the bat.”
Since he retired in 1999 as the NHL’s all-time leading scorer – along with dozens of other records he still holds – Gretzky has missed playing.
He realized long ago he wanted to give his life to the game and saw the Turner gig as an opportunity to stay connected, which he appreciates – from the parity between teams to the stars’ skill level to the direction of the league.
His friendship with Charles Barkley, a panelist on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” who spoke highly of the Turner Sports team, also pushed him into the role.
“Probably, he was underrating it,” Gretzky said. “It’s an even better and nicer group than I could have imagined. It’s kind of a fun atmosphere to be in.”
NHL PLAYOFF PICKS: Which teams will meet in the Stanley Cup Final?
Everyone brings something different to the program, Gretzky said, whether it’s a quip from Bissonnette or a breakdown from Tocchet. Most importantly, they all get along.
“We can debate each other. We can argue with each other. And once we leave the studio, it’s over and done with,” said Gretzky, who welcomes the conflict. “It’s good not to always agree with each other. I think that’s part of what’s made it fun.”
Gretzky and his studio-mates will be on-site for the Western Conference Finals starting Tuesday night in Denver between the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers. He said he’s ready to travel, but not at the rates of TNT broadcast analysts Darren Pang, Keith Jones and Eddie Olcyzk.
“Their jobs are safe,” Gretzky said. “That’s not for me.”
So while one GOAT (Tom Brady) has post-retirement plans involving the booth, Gretzky appears content in the studio.
An empty-nester, Gretzky moved to Florida to be close to his three grandchildren who live there. It’s also an hour flight to Atlanta for the TNT show.
“(Broadcasters) work a lot harder than any of us on the panel,” Gretzky said. “Trust me.”
Wayne Gretzky says Paul Bissonnette ‘an incredible story’
Tocchet and Gretzky were teammates later in their careers with the Los Angeles Kings and had remained friends. That was key, Gretzky said, because it helped the other three realize he’s “one of the guys.”
That’s especially true of Bissonnette, the quintet’s edgier wild card who befriended Gretzky’s sons while playing for the Arizona Coyotes. He entered media once his playing days ended, hosts a hockey podcast for Barstool Sports and now sits next to Gretzky once a week (and more often during the playoffs).
Gretzky called Bissonnette “an incredible story” whose career essentially began once he retired from the game thanks to hard work and a passion for hockey.
“Obviously, he’s off-the-cuff,” Gretzky said of Bissonnette. “But he’s a smarter hockey person than I think people thought going into this year. He knows the game. He respects the game, and I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.