A Lousy End
Wayne Gretzky deserved to end his coaching tenure with the Phoenix Coyotes like every other man to assume the position behind an NHL bench.
You know, fired. Dismissed. Have the team claim it's going in a different direction, or say it wants somebody who can work with young players. Or old players. Or can make the team fitter. Or understands how to win in the playoffs. Or can be a communicator. Or will shut down the country club atmosphere.
Whatever. Gretzky deserved to go out on his shield. In sport, there is sometimes honour in getting the axe.
But that appears not to be the way in which its going to go down for The Great One in Phoenix, and if you take stock in online polling, the remaining hockey fans there don't mind. Asked by azcentral.com if they wanted to see Gretzky back as coach, 83 per cent responded, "No."
Gretzky hasn't been at the Coyotes camp for 10 days, although its unclear whether he's been told to stay away or is boycotting the proceedings for legal or personal reasons. A Coyotes spokesman did tell the Arizona Republic yesterday that Gretzky is receiving his coaching salary, but just isn't working.
Gotta get me one of them jobs.
Theoretically, he could still come back to his old job, and when it comes to the Coyotes and their disastrous bankruptcy situation, it's wise to never rule out any possibility. Punch Imlach twice handed the coaching reins over to King Clancy for health reasons and twice returned to run the Leafs, you may remember.
But it sure looks like the hockey team has moved on, with decisions being made that would normally involve the head coach. Dave King was brought in yesterday as an assistant to associate head coach Ulf Samuelsson, while Sean Burke replaced Grant Fuhr as goaltending coach. Kyle Turris, the third pick of the 2007 entry draft, was demoted to San Antonio, surely another warning to all teams about the dangers of rushing youngsters to the big leagues.
The Coyotes are on the road now after drawing an estimated 2,000 fans to their Sept. 15 home opener, and still no sign of either Gretzky or a resolution in the team's ownership spat, with an emergency meeting scheduled for today.
It's pretty clear the treatment of Gretzky throughout this ordeal has been dreadful, and to some degree, it's the NHL that has allowed it to happen. Nobody wants to honour the contract he signed in good faith, and now he's been left hanging while the haggling continues.
No, he's not the best coach in NHL history. But last winter, when the Yotes were fifth in the conference around the NHL all-star game, he sure looked like he was learning.
Assuming his coaching days in Phoenix are over, however, right now its hard to imagine what his next step will be in the game he loves.