Scott Bordow: Wayne Gretzky's legacy as an owner and coach is not a Great One. In fact, it was a complete and utter disaster.
You know why Wayne Gretzky didn’t work here, why his association with the Phoenix Coyotes was a complete and utter disaster?
He wasn’t No. 99.
Remember the day the Coyotes brought Gretzky on as the team’s managing partner? It was June 2, 2000, and you’d have thought we had witnessed the second coming.
The city of Scottsdale proclaimed it “Wayne Gretzky Day.” Sheriff Joe Arpaio showed up at the press conference to put his arm around Gretzky and mug for the cameras. Fans cried tears of joy, and much of the local media were convinced the Stanley Cup was just around the corner.
But that was Wayne Gretzky the player the Valley fell in love with. And as we learned over the next nine years, greatness in one arena doesn’t always translate to another.
Gretzky’s resignation Thursday was long overdue. Frankly, he should have been fired years ago, but no one in the Coyotes’ organization had the courage or conviction to stand up to him. They were still in awe of his legacy, the greatest player ever, the untouchable icon.
Well, look at where that idolatry got them.
Phoenix never made the playoffs in Gretzky’s four years as coach, and only reached the postseason once (2002) since he took over the front office. His career coaching record was 143-161-24. Yet, because he owned a part of the team and because he was No. 99, he probably could have coached here forever if he had wanted to.
I don’t blame Gretzky entirely for the Coyotes’ dismal results. He was working with one of the smaller payrolls in the NHL. But his decision to surround himself with sycophants and yes men stripped the organization of a vital resource — someone to stand up to Gretzky or question his decisions.
Who did Gretzky hire as general manager in 2001? His agent, Mike Barnett. Never mind that Barnett had no experience in an NHL front office. He was Wayne’s buddy.
That kind of cronyism ran rampant. Gretzky hired friends and relatives. Younger brother Keith was named director of amateur scouting. Marty McSorley, Gretzky’s former enforcer in Edmonton and Los Angeles, was hired as coach of the Coyotes’ American Hockey League affiliate even though he had no coaching experience.
Now, it’s not uncommon for coaches or GMs to hire people they’re familiar with. The difference with Gretzky is that he seemed to be handing out favors.
Gretzky’s misplaced loyalty extended to the Coyotes’ roster, as well. Claude Lemieux? Brett Hull? What were they doing here, other than filling out Gretzky’s golf foursome?
And don’t even get me started on the whole Rick Tocchet-Janet Jones gambling fiasco. How can a coach be unaware that his wife is placing bets with his best friend?
I will say this about Gretzky: He’s as nice a man as I’ve met in my 25 years of covering sports. But his mission was to win hockey games and put fans in the seats; in both respects he failed miserably.
It’s too simplistic to say the Coyotes are being haggled over in bankruptcy court because Gretzky didn’t do his job. That shame belongs to Gary Bettman, Jerry Moyes, Steve Ellman and others.
But the blood is on Gretzky, too. Had he been a better executive and coach, had he hired the right people in the front office and on the ice, perhaps the Coyotes would have won a playoff series or two and the team wouldn’t have become irrelevant.
In their statement regarding Gretzky’s resignation the Coyotes wrote ... “The examples he set and the legacy he leaves will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on everyone associated with the franchise.”
It was meant as a compliment.
Instead, it’s a condemnation.