I knew I wouldn’t last long stating that Wayne Gretzky was one of the main sources of the Coyotes Downfall without backing it up.
I did some digging around news reports from 2009 to try to get the reports and quotes as close to the “Great One’s” departure from coaching as I could. The AP story posted on ESPN.com on September 25, 2009 was the most thorough story that was released just after Gretzky stepped down.
This was Wayne Gretzky’s father, Mr. Walter Gretzky’s statement to the Associated Press. When asked about Wayne stepping down he said, “No matter what happens, they’ll say it was all because of Wayne. Everybody has to find a fall guy and they’ll point their finger at Wayne even though he had nothing to do with this.”
Well Gretzky family, if hindsight is 20/20 then here I am pointing my finger at the “Great One.” Just because you are the greatest athlete of all time doesn’t mean you were a good coach.
Wayne Gretzky became a managing owner when he and Steve Ellman bought the now-Phoenix Coyotes in 2000. Prior to their purchase, the coyotes had four consecutive appearances in the post season. After Ellman and Gretzky took over, the Coyotes made it to the playoffs only once.
We all thought things would get better when the Coyotes announced Gretzky would assume the Head Coaching roll in 2005.
But if you look at the season records on hockeyreference.com when Gretzky was coaching there was only one in four that they were over .500, and that was only .506 which is nothing to boast about.
Watching the Coyotes when they were under Gretzky was like watching a disorganized gaggle slipping around the ice. It looked like they liked to attack with everything they had but then would turn around and on defense they just looked soft and confused.
Then after the 2009 regular season the Coyotes declared Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and suddenly everything appeared to turn around. The NHL took over the management of the Coyotes and began looking for buyers and appointing new managers.
Eventually Gretzky left the organization in September and Dave Tippett was brought in to revive the division’s worst team.
That season Dave Tippett took the Coyotes to the playoffs and there was a new spark to the Phoenix Coyotes. Again, this year he took the Coyotes to the playoffs. However, it may have been too little too late as the rumor mill pumps out more and more speculation about the team returning to Winnipeg.
I have to include a retraction from my previous article about the death of hockey in the Desert.
I stated Dave Tippett had the same team Gretzky had when he went to the playoffs in 2010. That is a glaring error. Of the teams that he took to the postseason only 10 were on Gretzky’s team.
In the end it doesn’t make much of a difference because Tippett made the necessary changes and movements to make a winning team. That is something Gretzky failed to do.
In some markets a losing team won’t be the end of a franchise. The New York Islanders are still surviving in their home. Unfortunately, in a brand new unlikely market like Phoenix you have to establish a successful franchise if you want people to stick with the sport during the bad times.
After Gretzky’s mediocre leadership, many Arizonans just don’t care to fight for the sport in the desert.