Sunday, August 07, 2005

Gretzky to coach Coyotes


According to the Arizona Republic, it will be announced early next week that Phoenix Coyotes managing partner Wayne Gretzky will be the team’s head coach this coming season, as had been rumored for weeks.

The Republic also reports that his assistants will be the recently-fired former head coach of the Detroit Red Wings Dave Lewis and either former Coyote Rick Tocchet or their interim coach Rick Bowness.

Phoenix was already going to be one of the teams to watch this year due to their bold free agent moves, signing Brett Hull and Mike Ricci. Now with “The Great One” behind the bench, the Coyotes should be on the top draws. Will Gretzky’s coaching philosophy be in line with his playing philosophies? Will the Coyotes run and gun the way the great Oilers’ teams of the 80’s did? All these questions should bring people out to the rinks, something the NHL needs in spades come October.

For Gretzky, it is a tremendous risk. As the greatest player of this generation, and likely of all-time (some still hold out, making cases for Bobby Orr, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, and Gordie Howe), he’s always been extremely careful to protect his image and reputation. Though it wouldn’t change his on-ice accomplishments, having the stigma of being a failed bench boss would certainly damper his otherwise sparkling standing in the game.

One has to wonder how much is this is out of desperation. Since being a part of the ownership group that over the Coyotes three years ago, Gretzky has not seen the boost in interest locally in the game that he had anticipated. Though a new building helped their attendance last year, it still wasn’t enough of a draw to get people to come see games. They averaged 15,469 for 2003-04, but that figure is probably flattering due to the new arena. For the previous four years, they had been among the lowest drawing teams in the NHL, finishing in the bottom five of the league all those years.

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