When Wayne Gretzky severed ties with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009, hockey fans were left to wonder whether the Great One would ever return to the game in an executive role.
While the now 50-year-old Gretzky remains a free agent of sorts, it appears there is interest from a number of clubs in bringing the league's all-time leading scorer back to the game as a member of their front office.
"Edmonton and Los Angeles have been really great to me and I have a nice relationship with both Kevin [Lowe] and the Oilers and obviously Dean Lombardi and the Kings, and I'm really honest with them. Right now, it's not the time for me to jump back into the game," explained Gretzky.
"I've always kind of been the same way when I was a player, when I was a coach, when I was in management. You have to give it your full effort. It's a 24-hour a day job, 12 months a year. Right now I don't have that sort of energy or passion to do that. I'm really just enjoying when they periodically call me or I'll call them and we'll just talk hockey."
Gretzky recognized the possibility that he may never return in an executive capacity, citing other former legends like Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr who are around the game but not involved with a particular team.
"Never is a long time, but right now I don't see it on the horizon," said Gretzky. "I have good friends in the game from some teams and the league is always good to me and of course with my relationship with Team Canada and Bob Nicholson, we're always talking hockey. But I don't really have a passion right now to make a full-time commitment to get back in the trenches."
It's been two years since Gretzky stood behind the bench as head coach and head of hockey operations for the Coyotes and in that time he has watched many of the players he once shared the ice with step into executive positions.
Gretzky's former teammate Mark Messier is now the assistant to president and general manager Glen Sather in New York, Steve Yzerman has become the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and most recently Brendan Shanahan has joined the league as the Senior Vice-President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations.
Shanahan earns a high grade in Gretzky's eyes for his work as league disciplinarian early in the season, but he acknowledges that Shanahan has one of the most difficult jobs in hockey.
"First of all, I wouldn't want his job or responsibility for anything," joked Gretzky. "It's like running for politics; when you're the President or Prime Minister no matter what you do you're going to upset half the people. You're in a never-win situation."
In addition to Shanahan's work, the fact that players are taking responsibility for their actions now and encouraging suspensions is a significant step in Gretzky's mind.
"In the 1980's, 1990's and even the early 2000's, you were always fighting for one less game of a suspension because it would cost the player a lot of money," explained Gretzky. "I think the Players' Association has done a really nice job saying 'We're putting this responsibility in the hands of the referees, the league and the union and if a guy does something silly we want him suspended and we don't want this to continue in our game.'"
As important as it is to make the game safer, Gretzky remains a traditionalist when it comes to the sport and despite excelling as a former finesse player himself, he still believes that the physical aspect of the game needs to stay in tact.
"It's hard to win a Stanley Cup because mentally, physically and emotionally you're drained by the end of the season. You talk to the Boston Bruins and they'll tell you physically how demanding it was. That's always going to be part of our game and it always should be part of our game. The physical aspect has to stay in there," Gretzky stated.
With the game evolving and the players becoming faster and stronger, Gretzky also admits that some of the milestones he reached in his career would be much more difficult to attain today.
"The defence and the goaltending of the players today is so much more advanced than it was in the 1980's. That's not a knock against anybody in the 1980's, it's just a fact of life, the players are better today. They're better athletically.
"Would I be able to ratchet 200 points? Probably not. Because it's a different game," said Gretzky, who hit the 200-point mark in four separate seasons. "Partly because the scenario. I was with the right team, the right players, the right coach, and at the time, the right era."
Gretzky sees a similar situation brewing in Edmonton now with a slew of young talent across their roster, led by this year's first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
"I really believe he's one of the best young players we've seen come into the game in a long time," said Gretzky. "And the great thing for him is he has two other young guys in Taylor Hall and [Jordan] Eberle that are really outstanding players and really good young men and they are in the right scenario."
As Gretzky enjoys his days not having to worry about wins and losses, its clear hockey is never far away from the Great One. While offers to join front offices may be on the table, it seems as though Gretzky, as always, is one step ahead of the game and ready to make a play when the time is right.