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Through the 5 Hole


September 24, 2009 5:43 PM

Gretzky leaves Coyotes


Super athletes rarely develop into super coaches, as Wayne Gretzky discovered during his four seasons behind the Phoenix Coyotes bench.

The greatest player in NHL history? You won't get an argument from me.

I had the pleasure of covering Gretzky during his time with the Los Angeles Kings, following his blockbuster trade from the Edmonton Oilers in 1988, and he was as gracious and approachable off a sheet of ice as he was great on it.

But Gretzky, who owns virtually every league scoring mark imaginable, stepped down today as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes after four seasons with a record of 143-161-24, with two fifth-place finishes in the Pacific Division, two fourth-place finishes, and no playoff appearances.

It's unfortunate, because the Coyotes could have the makings of a good, young team whose prospects have been overshadowed by the bankruptcy situation hanging over the franchise, one that has left the club's future location in doubt.

Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie wants to purchase the Coyotes and move it to Hamilton, Ontario, though he said he would keep it at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz., this season if he wins an auction for the club.

The NHL wants the Coyotes to remain in Arizona and has put up a bid to keep them there, hopeful that a local buyer could be found in the interim.

In the meantime, Gretzky had been absent from training camp, so the team was being run by interim coach Ulf Samuelsson.

Gretzky resigned, he said on his web site www.gretzky.com, because he no longer fit in the team's plans.

“We all hoped there would be a resolution earlier this month to the Coyotes ownership situation, but the decision is taking longer than expected," Gretzky said. "Since both remaining bidders have made it clear that I don’t fit into their future plans, I approached general manager Don Maloney and suggested he begin looking for someone to replace me as coach. Don has worked hard and explored many options. I think he has made an excellent choice, and so now it’s time for me to step aside."

And in another bit of Coyotes news, fans will be able to purchase all lower-bowl tickets for $25 for the Oct. 10 home opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Upper-level seats are priced at $15 for the game.

Considering this team's shrinking fan base, it might be wise to keep those ticket prices for the remainder of the season, no matter which party winds up with the club.

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