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Lombardi invites Gretzky back to the Kings...but don't buy new 99 jerseys yet

September 29, 2009 |  5:36 pm

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It started as a joke during a conversation with a Toronto radio station, though Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi should know that Toronto media take hockey very seriously.

He had a big move to announce, he said on Toronto's Radio 590, "one more major signing I think will be huge for putting us over the hurdle." The hosts suspected a forward, and they were right, in a sense. Lombardi told him he envisioned bringing in someone to be the Kings'  minister of culture and identity....and that the person he had in mind for that role is Wayne Gretzky.

In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon Lombardi said he had spoken "very informally" to Gretzky to invite the NHL's all-time scoring leader to re-establish a relationship with his former team. Gretzky last week resigned as coach and director of hockey operations of the Phoenix Coyotes. He was a minority owner of the club, which is embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings and is awaiting a judge's decision on who will be allowed to purchase the franchise.

Lombardi has in mind an advisory role, not a coaching or ambassadorial job.

"This is the one guy that took this team almost to the end," Lombardi said of Gretzky's role in the Kings' 1993 Stanley Cup finals appearance, the lone finals appearance in their history. "It always struck me that this guy is identified with a franchise in Phoenix, and he should be with the Kings.

"I told him, 'Hey, you're always welcome around here.' To me, it's a no-brainer."

Lombardi said he told Gretzky to take his time to think about it and they'd talk "down the road," but they didn't set a time frame for another conversation.

"With the kids we have, and you've heard me say this before, they have to learn not only how to play in the league but how to win in this league," Lombardi said. "To me, this guy is a winner and I'd love to have him around our kids.

"When I was in San Jose, John Ferguson was there, and that's like Bobby Clarke with the Flyers. Those guys have certain insight that the eye can't see. Guys who have been there and have gotten [Cup] rings are special. Having John Ferguson and his five rings was invaluable to me. I'm looking at this for selfish reasons, as a resource."

Lombardi also said Gretzky had called him two days after he was hired, in April 2006, to share some thoughts. He said Gretzky said that Los Angeles is a great hockey town when you win, and that he had left the Kings with a mission not accomplished.

"One of the things he said he regrets in his career is not being able to finish the job here. His goal was to win the Cup here and it didn't happen," Lombardi said. "Why not help us win it in another capacity?"

Gretzky couldn't be reached for comment.

-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Wayne Gretzky during his playing days with the Kings. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

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