Less productive Gretzky says next year may be last


INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- The greatness of Wayne Gretzky is such that his present is haunted by a past so extraordinary that it will significantly influence his future.

The Kings captain, who turned 31 a week ago, suggested yesterday that he would contemplate retiring after next season if he is unable to play up to his own standards of excellence.

And on the Gretzky scale, only a "10" will do.

"I don't compare myself to anybody else. I compare myself to Wayne Gretzky. It's as simple as that," he said.

Gretzky looks at his numbers this season -- 20 goals and 71 points through 46 games -- and he finds that they do not measure up.

Most anybody else in the National Hockey League would be satisfied with these figures, but as teammate Marty McSorley said, "We're not just talking about anybody."

Gretzky is even amused by the fact that he is fourth among NHL scorers and trails Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux, who is experiencing back problems again, by only nine points.

"I think it's kind of funny that I'm in the battle, but for me to score 100 points isn't enough," he said. "I would have to say that 100 points is very mediocre."

Gretzky is on a pace that will take him to 33 goals, 83 assists and 116 points, easily the worst figures of his 13-year career. He has collected 100 assists 11 consecutive times and has never scored fewer than 40 goals or 137 points.

The NHL's career scoring leader with 2,213 points in 972 games, Gretzky has averaged 60 goals, 118 assists and 178 points per season. He averaged 45 goals, 113 assists and 158 points during his first three seasons as a King.

"If his numbers were down and we were enjoying more success as a team, I believe he could accept that," Kings coach Tom Webster said.

The condition of Gretzky's father, Walter, who for 2 1/2 months has been recovering from surgery to repair a brain aneurysm that was once life-threatening, has weighed heavily on his mind and affected his play.

A hyperextended back sustained in the Canada Cup tournament and reaggravated in an exhibition game has since healed, but it was a factor early on.

The disappointing play of linemate Jari Kurri hasn't helped. And Tomas Sandstrom, who opened the season on Gretzky's line, has missed 21 games because of injuries and a suspension.

"There have been a lot of circumstances I've had to face, which is why I'm not going to put a lot of stock in my numbers [this season]," said Gretzky, who missed five games in October after Walter became ill. "But if I have the same numbers next year, then I'd have to look at my future."

Gretzky is under contract for six more seasons, through 1997-98. Should he play that long, he will receive deferred payments through 2004-2005.

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