August 8, 2005
Wayne's new worldGreat One to coach Coyotes
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
If he's to be named as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes today, then Wayne Gretzky has lost his famed sense of timing and stage completely.
I mean, today is Aug. 8. Wait a day, Wayne. Tomorrow is Aug. 9 -- the date which will live on in infamy in Gretzky's career.
That's the day, in 1988, when No. 99 was sold by Peter Pocklington from the Edmonton Oilers to the L.A. Kings.
This day could live on in infamy in a whole 'nother way. Gretzky, I believe is about to become an NHL coach for all the wrong reasons. And that's never right.
NOTHING ELSE TO SELL
I don't see a burning desire by The Great One to become an NHL coach, or a great belief that he can lead the failing franchise to the Stanley Cup. I see Gretzky becoming coach because the Coyotes have nothing else to sell but his name. And they can't sell it any longer with him sitting up in an owner's suite.
I'm not one of those columnists who will try to tell you that Gretzky is going to soil and spoil his great name by doing this, however.
Rocket Richard will forever live on as Rocket Richard despite his spectacular, and spectacularly brief, failure as a coach with the Quebec Nordiques in the WHA. Muhammad Ali is still Muhammad Ali despite a farce fight with Dave Semenko. Geoff Hurst, the hero of England's 1966 World Cup title, didn't become devalued by playing his final season with the Edmonton Gold.
And the idea that Gretzky can't coach, I'm not sure I buy, either. He's a smart guy. He's a smart enough guy to have noticed that Glen Sather was smart enough to surround himself with John Muckler before he became a coaching success. With Barry Smith and Rick Bowness, Gretzky will be smart enough to be a big picture coach.
Gretzky showed he gets the big-picture part of the job at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games when, with the pressure from back home swallowing his team whole, he used a post-game press conference to totally take the focus off his team and their situation. Canada's tournament turned around with that one move. But what's he got to coach? What chance does he have to succeed?
Phoenix is one of those sun-belt franchises which is going to come back from the lockout in exactly the opposite situation as the Oilers.
Without this move, the Coyotes would almost certainly be coming back for their first full season in a brand-new building with half a rink full of fans. Maybe even with this move, that might be the case. Mike Barnett's pre-lockout moves to sign Brett Hull, Mike Ricci and Peter Nedved didn't do it.
The Coyotes have already cut ticket prices on nearly 15,000 seats from 11% to 25% depending on location. More than 5,000 of their seats will be available for $15 or less U.S. per game.
This is one of the teams I can see being contracted in the next few seasons if it doesn't end up making the return trip back north to become the Winnipeg Jets again.
And what chances does Gretzky have of success? If success is measured in games over .500 or making the playoffs, good luck. This is a team which only managed to win 22 games the last time we had an NHL season.
The Coyotes left themselves with no room to make any deals when the new deal came along. Thus the Coyotes don't have the steak and don't have the sizzle a lot of clubs added this week.
IN THE DESERT
I don't know how much sizzle Gretzky is going to give them behind the bench in the desert. But in Canada, Gretzky will be a huge story everywhere he goes.
All 30 teams open the same night, Oct. 5, this year. How many media men can you fit into the GM Place press box in Vancouver?
That's where the Coyotes open the season. You get to see him behind the bench in Edmonton Oct. 18 and April 3. And Phoenix is in the division which plays Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa this year.
The best part of this is Wayne Gretzky isn't going anywhere near New York. Wanna rethink that new see-a-team-once-every-three-year "rivalries" schedule, Gary Bettman?