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Gretzky likely to return if Kings meet personnel demands

Wayne Gretzky surprised many reporters Wednesday when he said he was going to take a week or so to ponder retirement.

The NHL's scoring leader has an agreement with Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall that he be the highest-paid player in the league. Gretzky, behind Mario Lemieux and Eric Lindros, said money wasn't the reason he was considering retirement. He said McNall put "a blank check in front of me and said, "Fill it in.' "

There are other demands, according to the Los Angeles Times, that Gretzky wants met before he returns for another season.

Gretzky's main concern is a list of individuals he wants the Kings to keep. The list includes defenseman Marty McSorley (who played with Gretzky in Edmonton), forward Warren Rychel and assistant coach Cap Raeder.

Gretzky was upset this season when the Kings traded his friend Paul Coffey to the Detroit Red Wings.

One of Gretzky's teammates thinks The Great One will be back for a 15th season.

"He's too much of a competitor," said Charlie Huddy, who won four Stanley Cups with Gretzky when both played for the Edmonton Oilers. "I think he knows the kind of team we got here _ that we have a good chance of going a long way _ and I think he'll want to be part of it."

Goalies pack your bags: The NHL's version of Let's Make A Deal will be on 24 hours a day until next Sunday's trading deadline.

With the expansion draft rules allowing teams to protect only one goaltender, expect many teams to trade a goalie for less than market value to prevent losing him for nothing.

In other words, it's a buyer's market for teams in need of a goaltender, and the Lightning is looking. Pat Jablonski, Wendell Young and J.C. Bergeron played well in spurts for Tampa Bay, but as coach Terry Crisp said, "Nobody grabbed the bull by the horns and declared the No. 1 job theirs." All three had ineffective periods, which led to musical goaltenders throughout the season.

Chicago is a team that needs to move a goaltender, with Ed Belfour and Jimmy Waite on the roster. Chicago general manager Bob Pulford, who would like to move up in the entry draft, has been shopping Belfour, who was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league's best goaltender.

The Boston Bruins are interested in Belfour. If they get him, they probably would leave Andy Moog unprotected.

Protected list: Next Sunday at 5 p.m. is the deadline for teams to issue their protected lists for the June 24 expansion draft. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Florida Panthers will have four days to review the lists. Last year, the Lightning and Ottawa Senators didn't get the lists until the day before the draft and some lists weren't finalized until draft day.

Edmonton Oilers captain Craig MacTavish has been told he won't be protected because of his age, 33. The Oilers are hoping he won't be taken. But older players were taken in last year's expansion draft for character. That's why the Lightning took Rob Ramage.

No distractions: The help-wanted ads for the Anaheim Arena, home of the expansion Mighty Ducks, will read something like this:

Wanted: hot dog sellers, ushers and floor sweepers.

Do not apply if you wear eyeliner, eye shadow, a beard, a moustache, mutton-chop sideburns, tattoos, overly teased hair or asymmetrical haircuts. Also do not apply if you're not wearing underwear. (Don't ask how Mickey and Co. would know).

Anaheim Arena took a page or two or three out of the Walt Disney Corp. employee handbook.

"The key to the appearance guidelines is to limit the number of distractions," said John Nicoletti, the arena's marketing manager. "We want you to enjoy the event, not talk about the usher who had a half-shaved head."

The arena is scheduled to open Saturday. Guns N' Roses isn't christening the facility. That honor goes to Barry Manilow.

Stern advice: Gary Bettman was the No. 3 man in the NBA before taking over as the NHL's first commissioner four months ago. Before he left, he got some advice from his old boss, NBA commissioner David Stern.

"The last thing David told me is that I'll see 10,000 things I want to do right away," Bettman said. "But he told me not to try to do them all at once or I'll go crazy."

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