Gretzky Gambles on Phoenix Coyotes Moving

Martin AverySenior Writer IMay 9, 2009

HOLLYWOOD - JULY 11:  NHL legend Wayne Gretzky with wife Janet Jones-Gretzky and their children arrive at the 2007 ESPY Awards at the Kodak Theatre on July 11, 2007 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

"For me, it's Phoenix or bust," ... "I've made that clear. For me, to pick up and move my family to another city is not going to happen." —Wayne Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky has at least 22 and a half million reasons to be cheering for BlackBerry co-CEO Jim Balsillie right now, according to Stephen Brunt, author of Gretzky's Tears. Gretzky would be crying all the way to the bank, as he is protected by contract if the team is purchased, getting $22.5 million in compensation

He is the current part-owner, head of hockey operations, and head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL. So far, he has not commented on the controversial deal that could take the franchise back to Canada.

Gretzky is not willing to move with Coyotes, according to the CBC and Canwest News Services. He may want Balsillie to be successful in moving the Phoenix Coyotes to southern Ontario, but he says he won’t be going with them.

He told CBC in an interview back in February that he doesn’t want to move with the team because of family reasons. “For me, it’s Phoenix or bust,” said Gretzky told the network on Feb. 14. “I’ve made that clear."

Balsillie has made it clear he wants Gretzky to coach the team in Canada.

Bringing an NHL team to southern Ontario would be the culmination of a lifelong dream,  Balsillie told CTV's Lloyd Robertson Friday evening in an exclusive interview.

Gretzky was central to the southern U.S. NHL expansion that included Phoenix. He promoted the idea, then he became a part owner of the team in Phoenix, and finally he stepped behind the bench to coach the Coyotes.

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Born and raised in Brantford, Ontario, half an hour away from Hamilton, Gretzky got his start in hockey on the backyard rink built by his father, Walter Gretzky. Balsillie said he would have the Hamilton arena renamed in honour of Gretzky's famous father.

Wayne Gretzky was nicknamed "The Great One." He has been called "the greatest hockey player ever" by many sportswriters, players, and coaches. When he retired in 1999, the famous No. 99 held forty regular-season records, fifteen playoff records, and six All-Star records.

He is the only NHL player to total over 200 points in one season—and he did it four times. Gretzky's No. 99 is the only number that has been retired by all teams in the National Hockey League, like Major League Baseball's Jackie Robinson.

"If Gretzky were to front that movement, if he were to stand together with Balsillie and argue the Coyotes' rightful place is in Hamilton, it would be awfully difficult for the NHL powers to credibly counter that pitch," Stephen Brunt claimed in the Globe and Mail.

"He is an NHL company man who surely wouldn't cross the league's establishment."

When Gretzky was sold to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, it was viewed in Canada (in the midst of the free trade debate) as the sacrifice of a natural resource to the Americans. Two hours after the Oilers won the Stanley Cup in 1988, Wayne learned from his father that the Oilers were planning to deal him to another team.

"The Trade", as it came to be known, upset Canadians so much that New Democratic Party House Leader Nelson Riis demanded that the government block it.

Hockey became popular in California after his arrival. He inspired the U.S. Sunbelt expansion strategy to which the NHL appears to be firmly attache.

If Gretzky hadn't gone to L.A., you could argue, the Winnipeg Jets would never have moved to Phoenix. If he were to bring them back to Canada now, Brunt says, the circle would seem complete.


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