Will Wayne Gretzky be there to lead players like Kyle Turris, Viktor Tikhonov and Peter Mueller? (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
I’m not going to carp on modern life, but it’s all too apparent that as a whole, we stick to the rules too often. And I don’t mean this in a goody-two-shoes way, more of a cover-your-butt-first way.
It’s no-fault insurance, or the “I’m sorry you may have taken my comments to be offensive” non-apology. It’s following to the letter your contractual obligation when the right thing to do may conspire against that.
And I surely hope that’s not the case with Wayne Gretzky right now. The Great One, as has been widely reported, was not at the opening of Phoenix’s training camp and as of this morning, still wasn’t there.
Now, you may have heard the Coyotes are going through a minor disagreement right now about the future of the franchise. It’s been mentioned once or twice. Gretzky, as both coach and part owner of the team, is entangled in this web of corporate intrigue and the outcome may find him on the outside of the franchise.
To be sure, if he is forced out by virtue of an ownership change, The Great One will stand to lose a lot of money – at least $8 million – and that gives him an out for not being at camp right now. But the uncertainty of his job status should not take him away from the place he should be right now, which is with a very young Coyotes squad that needs him.
Gretzky needs to be there for players such as Mikkel Boedker, Kyle Turris and Viktor Tikhonov, youngsters who have worked so hard for him and may need the assurance that they should re-up their leases on apartments in Glendale instead of calling a real estate agent elsewhere.
He needs to be there for Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzal, who have played to nothing but half-empty home crowds in their NHL careers and at this point probably need assurance that, yeah, it will get better once all this is resolved. (Even if the Coyotes continue to struggle at the gate, these kids need that light at the end of the tunnel. I was talking to a junior player the other day who was concerned with the small crowd he played in front of in a pre-season game and how a certain rival never drew fans and what a bummer that is. So don’t think fan support doesn’t have a huge affect on elite athletes.)
But, ultimately, Gretzky needs to be there because it’s his job – and as a pro you work until they take your security pass away. Earning power will never be a problem for the icon that is Wayne, so the money is, in the grand scheme of things, inconsequential. Showing up would be brave and right.
And though The Great One’s career winning percentage as a coach is a Barry Melrose-esque .472 with no playoff appearances, don’t for a second think he can’t rally and motivate his troops.
Remember when Gretzky went off on the Canadian media during the 2002 Olympics? His “nobody wants us to win” speech was an amazingly honest and passionate screed that managed to amp up his team, while simultaneously taking all the pressure off them and putting it on his own shoulders. It’s the best thing he’s done since retiring from the game.
A lot of people were taken aback at the time, but I care not for those types. Gretzky could do anything on the ice as a player and if he hustles down to Phoenix to be with his boys – where he needs to be right now – and brings Strong Wayne with him, maybe the season won’t be so bad for the Dogs after all.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly throughout the off-season, his column - The Straight Edge - on Fridays, and his prospect feature - The Hot List - on Tuesdays.
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