Not coach Gretzky ... yet

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

Public relations move to boost a sagging hockey market in the middle of the sun-splashed desert?

Or a heartfelt desire to be closer to the game he loves?

Whether it came at the local water cooler at the office or over the airwaves of talk radio, the debate raged yesterday concerning Wayne Gretzky's motivation in potentially stepping in as the new coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.

NOTHING IN STONE

The argument seems moot.

Either way, how could having the Great One front and centre in the sport he once dominated be construed as a negative thing?

For the record, Coyotes officials insist nothing is etched in stone.

"No deal or announcement is imminent," Coyotes spokesman Rich Nairn said.

A report in the Arizona-based East Valley Tribune reported yesterday that Gretzky and owner Steve Ellman were close to agreement on a three-year contract extension that would make Gretzky the team's new head coach.

Gretzky, the NHL's career scoring leader and the Coyotes' managing partner, is in the final year of a five-year contract with the team.

Suggestions in the story that Gretzky's coronation as the Coyotes bench boss could come as early as this week may have spawned immediate denials from the organization, but the fact he is considering such a move is no secret.

There are those in NHL circles who strongly feel that Gretzky's insertion behind the Coyotes bench is not a matter of if, but when.

Some reports insist the move will be made official by the end of the month.

Four weeks ago, Gretzky told the Arizona Republic that he likely would scuttle any plans to coach if replacement players were used to start the 2005-06 NHL season .

"My gut feeling is to say no," Gretzky said when asked at the time if he would still consider making his NHL coaching debut if the league hired second-tier players.

"Hopefully that doesn't happen and we'll get the best players back by September."

NO REPLACEMENTS

Since Gretzky uttered those comments, the NHL subsequently trashed the idea of kicking off the coming campaign with replacements.

Gretzky decided in March not to direct two-time defending champion Canada at the world championships in Austria because of his mother's battle with lung cancer. Phyllis Gretzky is undergoing treatment for the disease in Brantford.

Meanwhile, the Tribune also reported that Rick Bowness, who finished the 2003-04 season as interim head coach, would return to his former role as an assistant coach.


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