You can ice all those Great-One-to-New-York rumors. Wellplaced NHL sources report that the Coyotes and Wayne Gretzky have all but agreed in principle to a new, three-year contract extension — one that positions him to step out of the owner’s suite and behind the coaching bench — with a formal announcement expected this week.
Next up, you can expect an extension for Rick Bowness — who will resume his former role as assistant. The second assistant spot, still expected to be former Coyote Rick Tocchet, likely won’t be filled until the new collective bargaining agreement arrives from Mount Olympus.
But, if the NHL winds up with replacement players on the ice next January, a replacement Gretzky will also have to be found.
MOVIE PLOT LINE
Miami media members are already sifting through conspiracy theories to determine who didn’t want Shaquille O’Neal to win the NBA’s MVP award, therefore pushing it toward Steve Nash by default.
Here’s the deal: Some voters just don’t warm to players who use the regular season as spring training. Shaq plays when he wants to play. Nash plays when they throw up the ball.
BEATING A DEAD HORSE
This is how it’s going for George Steinbrenner this season: The Yankees win a series for only the third time all year — with a good pitching effort from Kevin Brown, no less — and he can’t enjoy it.
Watching Bellamy Road fade in the stretch at the Kentucky Derby must have brought back memories from last October, when the Boss’ baseball team stopped running two lengths from the finish line.
• Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy should stop apologizing to NBA commissioner David Stern and work up a good mea culpa for Rockets fans. Losing to the Mavericks after winning the first two games in Dallas — and getting bombed in Game 7 — is by far his biggest crime of the week.
• Watching the putrid Pittsburgh Pirates knock the Diamondbacks all over Bank One Ballpark this weekend hurts, but not as much as the realization that this team has flat stopped hitting.
This is not a good time for the artists formerly known as the Montreal Expos to hit town.
• Not that the Suns don’t have enough to worry about with the Mavericks tonight, but did you catch San Antonio’s act Sunday night? Toto, we’re not in Memphis anymore.
• After getting his freezer door blown off in the Nathan’s hot-dogeating contest last year, former Chicago Bear William "The Refrigerator’’ Perry is back to take part in a cake-eating contest in New York on Tuesday. If he loses this one . . . check, please.
• The Pacers and Pistons open their Eastern Conference semifinal series tonight in Detroit. Bring . . . your . . . cameras!