After everything else the Coyotes have been through this summer, this was likely one of the better days for the team since last December. One would think losing a record setting player, the all time leading NHL scorer, would be a blow to the team and the fanbase. However, with Wayne Gretzky stepping down as coach today, the fanbase let out a collective sigh of relief.
While it's been an honor to have "The Great One" associated with our team, his effectiveness was effectively squandered when they put him behind the bench. With plenty of playing experience, but no coaching experience, Gretzky went from a minority investor and part-time ambassador of the club directly to coaching an NHL team. Unlike other former players making the jump to coaching, Gretzky had never coached on ANY level before taking the job. Others making the jump went to the WHL or OHL and basically bought a team to coach. like Brent Sutter. Others at least apprenticed in the AHL for a bit. At a minimum they at least assisted somewhere for a little while. But no, our management group at the time decided that they needed a boost and the best way was for them to shove Gretzky out front and center to try and generate interest since they didn't want to put money into effective marketing.
What did we get during his tenure? A lot of mediocre hockey. Sure, you can argue that he wasn't given much to work with in terms of players, but the building blocks were all there. Any other coach wouldn't have been given quite so long to put up such results. When that coach is Wayne Gretzky though, and he's basically his own boss as well that doesn't create a lot of accountability.
I will say this. For the first year everyone liked having Gretzky behind the bench. It was nice to see that he was interested in hockey here in Phoenix. It was awesome to see the greatest player ever to play the game 41 times a year at our arena. It was a treat. That first year no one was expecting anything. We knew that he was new to coaching, we knew that it wasn't going to be magic overnight. We hoped differently, but we expected to be middling that year. But as the seasons went on and the results stayed the same the mood soured. The novelty of having the great one wore off. The questions changed from, "When will the team turn around," to "when will we get a coach that can turn this around." There was never a real plan in place that anyone else could decipher. There didn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to changes that were made. There was just a lot of losing.
That the whole experiment came to an end via an announcement on Gretzky's website doesn't come as much of a surprise. Honestly it was easier that way rather than having Gretzky stand in front of the media mumbling away about the situation. That much I thank him for. I'm happy that he took himself out of the equasion of this legal nightmare. That we no longer have to hear "Where's Gretzky" from the media outlets every few days. There's no one repeatedly asking him about the money and everything else if he had shown up. He said "I'm out" and let us bring in a coach before the regular season.
That's the one thing i've always liked about TGO if nothing else. He's always been a classy guy. He didn't want to bring down the team anymore so he just walked away. He still wants to coach, but he knew what was going on and let us get on with what will hopefully be the first of many Post-Gretzky seasons.
With that, Thank you Wayne for all you did, but I'm excited to see what come without you now.