As every other NHL coach reported to their respective team’s training camps this past weekend, eager to start a new campaign with their old stars and some fresh faces, Wayne Gretzky did not report to his Phoenix Coyotes training camp. Inevitably, it appears that Gretzky’s “modestly paid” coaching contract of $8.5-million is under some scrutiny as Judge Baum is deciding the fate of the Coyotes in the bankruptcy hearings in Phoenix courts. Should Balsillie get the team, Gretzky will be safe as his deal promises to pay Gretzky at least $8-million to remain on as a head coach. Should the NHL get the team, they would require Gretzky to reduce his salary (imagine an NHL where ex-league saviour Wayne Gretzky gets FIRED by the commissioner). It appears as if Gretzky would lose his minority ownership and managing partner status in both deals. Coyotes GM Don Maloney hopes his coach will report to training camp this week after taking a couple days off to “evaluate his options”. Gretzky is also reportedly owed over $8-million from the bankrupt owner, Jerry Moyes.
He is No Longer A “Draw”
Selling tickets have always been trouble for the Coyotes in Glendale and their current court situation has drastically reduced 2009-10 ticket sales to fractions of their previous levels. Back when Gretzky first started as a head coach in 2005-06, he earned a lot of publicity for the Coyotes and was heralded as the hockey mind to sell tickets and bring the Coyotes out of their rut (never making it past the first round since moving to Phoenix in 1996-97). Sure enough, Gretzky has amassed a 143-161-24 coaching record for the Coyotes over four seasons (.434 win%) failing to make the playoffs every year. It’s no doubt the Coyotes have some talent in Kyle Turris, Shane Doan, Peter Mueller, Ilya Bryzgalov and others but in the end it comes down to having a solid coach leading your young team – Gretzky has not been the “great” coach that this young team needs. Heck, even the Detroit Lions wouldn’t put up with a losing coach for that long!
He’s Lost (or Going to Lose) the Locker Room
It’s difficult to find players that will publicly denounce their head coach but I think this latest move will really open the floodgates. “The bottom line for the organization is you’ve got to win games, ” says defenseman Ed Jovanovski. “It’s the only way you’ll have a chance.” Things are really on edge right now in Phoenix and a change of scenery (at the coaching level) might be the best move for the Coyotes as the team is in limbo. Gretzky is not the answer for Phoenix, and unfortunately, Gretzky is the one that needs to realize that, leave the money on the table and step down for the best.
Assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson is the interim head coach until Gretzky determines his status (anybody’s fantasy team looking for PIMs???)