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Rangers to sign Gretzky today

The New York Rangers have won the Wayne Gretzky sweepstakes, and will announce today they have signed the NHL's career scoring leader.

Although the Rangers refused specific comment Saturday on their pursuit of Gretzky, Associated Press learned an announcement was imminent. The Rangers scheduled a news conference for noon at Madison Square Garden, presumably to announce the signing of the illustrious free agent to a two-year deal.

Earlier Saturday, the New York Post

reported Gretzky was on the verge of signing a two-year contract with the Rangers. The pact, worth approximately $8-million in base salary, is laden with incentive bonuses and marketing deals _ including one that will have Gretzky hosting a show on the MSG Network.

Gretzky, who became an unrestricted free agent July 1, rejected three offers from other teams of three-year deals for between $15-million and $18-million to accept the Rangers' offer, the Post said.

The most recent came Friday when negotiations with the Vancouver Canucks broke down. There had reportedly been as many as eight teams on Gretzky's wish list, but apparently his most ardent wish was to rejoin former Edmonton teammate and friend Mark Messier on the Rangers. The two were a potent combination while leading the Oilers to four Stanley Cups in the 1980s.

Gretzky will probably be taking a salary cut. Last year, he was paid a league-high base salary of $6.54-million in the third year of a $25-million contract. Although Messier has said he would take less money so Gretzky could fit into the Rangers' salary structure, MSG president Dave Checketts had insisted no player would make more than the team captain, who will be paid $6-million this season.

It's apparent Gretzky will finish his epic career in New York. At 35, he no longer is the player who scored a record 92 goals or 215 points in a season, as he did in the 1980s. But he still is one of the NHL's premier playmakers, as proven by his 79 assists last season while dividing his time between the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues.

Gretzky, traded to the Blues late last season, finished with 102 points, 12th in the league. The figure would have led the Rangers, who were topped by Messier's 99.