Wayne Gretzky's short and not-so-sweet stint with the St. Louis Blues appears to be over.
On Monday, the day after his contract expires, the NHL's scoring king will become a free agent. It doesn't look like he'll return to the Blues, who acquired him in late February from Los Angeles, hoping Gretzky could lift them to a title.Instead, the Blues lost in the second round to Detroit.
On Thursday, The Canadian Press and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Gretzky's agent, Mike Barnett, said his 35-year-old client "will become a free agent."
"The decision was not based on economic factors," Barnett told the Post-Dispatch, adding of the Blues, "They could get back into it, but we don't expect them to."
Negotiations between the Blues and Barnett resumed last weekend during the NHL draft in St. Louis. Blues general manager Mike Keenan said he expected to have Gretzky re-signed by midweek. The two camps met a handful of times.
The Post-Dispatch, citing unidentified sources close to Gretzky, said he wouldn't re-sign with the Blues because of conflicts with Keenan. The sources said he'd take less money to play elsewhere rather than play for Keenan again.
After Game 2 of the Detroit series, Keenan berated Gretzky in front of his teammates and then publicly raised questions when he said, "If he's not injured, then something must be bothering him."
Earlier this month, Gretzky said any decision he would make regarding St. Louis hinged on whether the Blues would commit to keeping close friend Brett Hull.
Hull and Keenan are not on the best of terms and it's expected Keenan will try to trade Hull this summer.
Before the season ended, the Blues proposed a three-year deal worth $21 million, but withdrew the offer after St. Louis was eliminated by Detroit.
The Blues' next offer was for approximately $14 million over two years, but money was not the only unresolved issue.
The February trade with Los Angeles brought heavy criticism of Gretzky. It was the first time in his career he has faced such criticism.