Weekend rumblings: Gretzky passes on Classic, Panthers fight on, Leafs' 'no sale'

Wayne Gretzky made it official Friday in a text exchange with ESPN.com: He will not play in the Winter Classic alumni game.

The Great One was touched by the way the Rangers (particularly GM Glen Sather) reached out to him recently, but, in the end, he politely declined to participate. As noted before in this space, Gretzky already had holiday plans with his family. Later on Friday, the NHL released the complete rosters for the Dec. 31 alumni game in Philadelphia. (The Winter Classic between the Rangers and Flyers is Jan. 2.)

Gretzky told ESPN.com via text that he spoke with Sather this week. It was a "nice conversation," Gretzky said, but his answer remained the same.

Speaking of Gretzky, he is still owed about $8 million to $9 million from his Coyotes contract. The NHL met with former Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes in a mediation session on Tuesday. The league launched a lawsuit against Moyes in March 2010. Should mediation eventually produce an agreement, Gretzky will finally be paid the money he's owed, and frankly, it's long overdue.

Having said that, a source told ESPN.com the mediation session between Moyes and the league did not go swimmingly, so, at this point, it's anyone's guess when this will be resolved.

Perron return?

David Perron hasn't played since Nov. 4, 2010, after a serious concussion derailed his career, but the Blues center is inching his way closer to a return.

"There's no target date for his return, but he's skating with the team in full practice situations," Blues GM Doug Armstrong told ESPN.com Friday. "When he feels he can go, we'll put him in."

It sounds very similar to the way the Penguins handled Sidney Crosby's final steps toward a return to action.

The news isn't so good for Blues center Andy McDonald, who has also been sidelined since mid-October with a concussion.

"He's status quo," said Armstrong. "He's not skating."

Comeau lands in Calgary

The struggling Calgary Flames added a player to their roster Friday, claiming forward Blake Comeau off waivers from the New York Islanders.

Flames bench boss Brent Sutter coached Comeau on the 2006 Canadian world junior team.

"We feel we have a pretty decent book on him since Brent coached him in junior," Flames GM Jay Feaster told ESPN.com. "We're excited about having him."

Comeau is 25 and that's why he is worth the gamble for an aging Calgary team that needs new blood. He's earning $2.5 million this season and can become a restricted free agent July 1.

The Islanders had been trying in vain to trade Comeau over the past several weeks before finally giving up and placing him on waivers. He had zero points in 16 games with the struggling Isles this season but had 24 goals last season.

Panthers won't change their plan

During training camp, Florida GM Dale Tallon saw 2011-12 as somewhat of a bridge season. He envisioned his reassembled roster (a dozen or so new faces brought in via free agency or trade this past summer) being competitive in the hope it would buy time before some of the team's highly touted prospects eventually made their way to the NHL, maybe as early as next season.

But lo and behold, the patchwork Panthers have surprised the hockey world by contending for the Southeast Division crown. All of which made me wonder whether Tallon might be revisiting his plan.

"We're not going to do much. We're going to keep to the same plan, we're going to stick with it and see where it takes us," Tallon told ESPN.com. "There's a long way to go yet before we make decisions on this team [ahead of the Feb. 27 trade deadline]. But we know we got some good prospects coming, so that's exciting."

The Panthers, though, would like to get healthy. They entered the weekend with the possibility of missing five or six regulars out of the lineup.

"We're banged up pretty bad," said Tallon. "It's tough, but we're hanging in there. We need to be healthy to have success over the long term. I'm anxious to see what this team can do if we're fully healthy."

Leafs no longer for sale

Here are three reasons I believe the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan decided not to sell its stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the company which owns the Leafs, Raptors, Air Canada Centre, the MLS Toronto FC and other properties:

1. With the specter of a new collective-bargaining agreement in the NHL next season, industry sources tell ESPN.com the Leafs' owners know their hockey team will be even more profitable with the players' share in the system expected to be lowered, as it was in the recent NFL labor deal and will likely be the case once the NBA labor deal is done. So, it makes the Leafs an even more valuable franchise to own in the next CBA.

2. Larry Tanenbaum, who owns the remaining stake in MLSE, holds a right of first refusal on any sale by Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, and the guess of many industry sources is he would have tried extremely hard and may have been successful in lining up the financing to match any offer.

3. The most obvious: Over the eight-month period since the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan put its stake up for sale, its share of MLSE did not get the lucrative, over-the-top price it was looking for.

A great read

Check out this feature by Josh Cooper of The Tennessean. He wrote about former Predators assistant Brent Peterson.