GM: Gretzky key to future

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

One of the star attractions for the NHL exhibition game at the MTS Centre won't be in uniform, but his presence will most certainly be felt.

Head coach Wayne Gretzky, who victimized the Winnipeg Jets on what seemed like a nightly basis throughout his NHL career, is coming back in September to put his Phoenix Coyotes through their paces.

Coyotes assistant GM Laurence Gilman said having Gretzky committed to being behind the bench for the next five seasons is a big boost for the franchise.

"Obviously, he commands respect and his knowledge of the game is second to none," said Gilman. "From watching him, not just operating a team from behind the bench but conducting practices, this is the next best thing to playing for him.

"He's a great coach."

Gretzky's first season behind the bench was filled with emotion -- ranging from the death of his mother Phyllis to his wife Janet being tied to the gambling syndicate allegedly being run by Coyotes associate coach Rick Tocchet -- saw the Coyotes finish with a record of 38-39-5 for 81 points.

Phoenix was 12th in the Western Conference this season, 14 points out of the final playoff spot.

However, a quick look at the four teams that advanced to the Stanley Cup semifinals shows that all four teams missed the post-season in 2003-04 -- something that gives the Coyotes hope for the future.

"Absolutely," said Gilman. "What people have learned in the last year in our new business is that the game is about speed and skill and grit. You have to constantly be cycling that into your lineup. We have a pipeline of young guys coming up, which is really good."

As far as the on-ice product for Sept. 17 is concerned, the Coyotes plan to dress captain and former Jet Shane Doan and you would expect the Oilers to allow defenceman Chris Pronger the opportunity to suit up near his hometown of Dryden, Ont.


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