The Great One is gone.
Wayne Gretzky, embroiled in the saga surrounding the Phoenix Coyotes, has stepped down as the teamís head coach a week before it was to begin the NHL season.
Gretzky had been in the bizarre position of a training camp holdout as the teamís financial affairs and future are being settled in a Phoenix bankruptcy court. Hired as a managing partner and coach, Gretzky was thought to be the figure to make hockey fly in the desert.
But with the struggles of bankrupt owner Jerry Moyes and the bid by Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie to buy the team, that future has been in doubt.
The team has been handled in training camp by associate coach, Ulf Samuelsson and recently hired assistant Dave King.
Gretzky made the announcement on his website saying he no longer fits into the teamís plans.
Gretzky has suggested to general manager Don Maloney that he immediately begin seeking a replacement.
ďThe Coyotes scouting staff has put together a great group of young and talented players who are going to improve tremendously over the next few years,Ē Gretzky said in his statement. ďIím proud of the team weíve assembled, the organization with which Iíve been associated and the thousands of dedicated fans who have never wavered in their support of this young team. Iím confident that the best is yet to come for hockey in Phoenix.
ďI want to thank every staff member of the Phoenix Coyotes, past and present. It was a real pleasure to work with each and every one of you. Iíve always said that Phoenix is a great sports city and deserves nothing but the best. I still believe that.Ē
Interestingly, Gretzky offered some mild support to the notion of a team moving to Hamilton, the foundation of Balsillieís plan.
ďAs a young boy, I learned to play hockey in Southern Ontario, and I know what great fans they have there,Ē Gretzkys said in the statement. ďItís my hope they too will have an NHL franchise in the not too distant future.
ďI often said it was the greatest honor and privilege I could imagine to be able to play in the National Hockey League. I feel the same way about being an NHL coach. Iíve loved the four years I spent coaching the Coyotes. Not a day went by when I took it for granted, and I will miss the competition of the NHL dearly. It was an honor to hold the position, and I will always consider myself especially fortunate to have had this opportunity.Ē