Scott Bordow: Wayne Gretzky was a no-show Saturday as the Coyotes opened training camp. To avoid becoming another distraction, he should stay away for good.
Perhaps it was foolish to think Wayne Gretzky would show up for the first day of Coyotes’ training camp.
After all, no one, including Gretzky, has any idea whether he’ll be the coach this season.
“You can understand his position,” general manager Don Maloney said Saturday. “If he comes in and three days later the ownership changes and his contract is not extended, what are you going to do, lead him out in handcuffs?”
Gretzky. In handcuffs. Is it just me, or are the Coyotes inching closer and closer to a reality TV show?
One truth we do know: The Coyotes will play their first preseason game Tuesday, and Gretzky won’t be there. The season opener is Oct. 3, and if the court proceedings continue to drag on, Gretzky might not be behind the bench then, either. Meanwhile, acting/temporary coach Ulf Samuelsson has the impossible task of trying to inject a normal routine into this insanity.
“It’s incredibly unfair,” captain Shane Doan said. “Nothing has changed since May. That’s the most frustrating thing ... Absolutely nobody has any answers.”
Including as to when Gretzky might return — or if he’ll return at all. All Maloney would say is that Gretzky is the “head coach of this team right now.” But he admitted that Gretzky has not been actively involved recently, and that when they talked Friday it was Gretzky who made the decision not to be part of training camp.
“He’s trying to do what he can to keep the distractions minimal for us,” Doan said.
There’s no question Gretzky’s appearance would have prompted some hard questions, not only Saturday but on every road trip the Coyotes make:
How responsible does he feel for the position the Coyotes are in now?
If he knew the franchise was losing $30 million a year — and as a managing partner, how would he not know? — did he offer to cut his $8 million salary?
Does he support the NHL’s bid for the team or Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie’s proposal?
And on and on and on. Hockey would have been secondary at the very time the team was trying to move on from the bankruptcy proceedings.
Even if the court case is resolved next week, there’s no guarantee Gretzky will return.
First, whoever wins will have to want Gretzky as coach. Second, Gretzky will have to agree to a massive pay cut. (He reportedly had told Ice Edge Holdings, which withdrew its bid, that he would be willing to slice his salary from $8 million to $2 million).
Finally, there’s the question of who the NHL would try to sell the Coyotes to if the league is awarded the franchise. Jerry Reinsdorf’s bid, for example, had no future role for Gretzky.
Given that uncertainty — and the players’ need for some stability — Gretzky should take the initiative and announce his resignation. I know he loves to coach, but the franchise has to come first. The team needs a coach — whether it’s Samuelsson or someone else — who will be there from day one.
Had Gretzky been successful in a suit and tie, it would behoove the Coyotes to wait on him. But let’s face it: He’s been a disaster as an executive and marginal as a coach. The Coyotes have yet to make the playoffs under his tenure.
Is that entirely his fault? Of course not. But he had the loudest voice in the organization and the biggest stick. He has to take responsibility.
More than likely, the legal battle between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Balsillie will drag on for months. The players will suffer, the fans will suffer, the organization will suffer.
Gretzky’s resignation won’t solve any of that. But the last thing the Coyotes need right now is another distraction.
Do the right thing, Wayne.