Wayne Gretzky stepped down as Phoenix's coach Thursday, compiling a 143-161-24 record in four seasons. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Phoenix Coyotes, who have succeeded in making just about everyone around them look slimy these days, can now count the greatest player in the history of the game among their casualties.
Of course, Wayne Gretzky will have to line up behind a number of others, namely common sense, integrity, honesty and rational thinking.
But really, could this have turned out any worse for Gretzky? Could things be any worse for the NHL at the moment when it comes to its problem child?
Gretzky bowed out of the mess in Phoenix, ultimately because he didn’t want to crash a party where he wasn’t wanted. Both sides that had made bids to purchase the team made it clear Gretzky and his exorbitant salary were a millstone on the franchise they simply couldn’t continue to carry.
So a man who has given arguably more to the game than any other human being was pretty much forced to resign. It boggles the mind that all the players in this long-running drama couldn’t find a way to make things a little more graceful.
It’s funny, really, how Gretzky ends up looking like the problem in all of this. His reported $8 million yearly stipend has been viewed by many as an albatross on an organization that is bleeding money. Tough to argue with that.
But wasn’t it the Coyotes who brought Gretzky into their fold in the first place? They seemed quite content to give Gretzky an ownership stake and a fistful of money when they thought his presence in the organization and his star power would translate into increased interest and revenues.
But what they didn’t realize is they weren’t getting Gretzky the player. If Gretzky had been in the prime of his career and worn No. 99 for the Coyotes, there’s a good chance the organization wouldn’t be in its current state. But people weren’t going to turn onto a team simply because Gretzky is involved and they certainly weren’t willing to drive all the way out to Glendale and pay top dollar for tickets to watch him wear a suit behind the bench.
If Gretzky is guilty of anything, it’s poor judgment in the people with whom he surrounded himself when he had a position of authority with the Coyotes. The so-called Friends of Gretzky and their incompetence are a big reason why the Coyotes have faltered so badly and his influence in having his former agent, Mike Barnett, hired as GM might have been the death knell for this team, at least as far as its fortunes on the ice are concerned. Unfortunately, that’s where Gretzky’s impact on this team will be most dramatically felt.
But how fair is it to blame Gretzky for leveraging his popularity and allowing somebody to pay him that kind of salary? Not at all. Gretzky was a decent coach who looked to be improving at his craft as he dedicated more of his efforts to it. But any way you look at it, for him to go out like this, if this is indeed the end for him in Phoenix, is nothing but shameful.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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