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Gretzky resigns as Coyotes coach

Tippett named his replacement

By Andrew Bagnato
Associated Press / September 25, 2009

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GLENDALE, Ariz. - Wayne Gretzky’s tenure as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, a period marked largely by on-ice futility, ended abruptly yesterday when Gretzky announced he would be stepping down amid the financial turmoil surrounding the team.

Former Dallas coach Dave Tippett was brought in as the Coyotes prepare to open the season Oct. 3 at Los Angeles. Associate coach Ulf Samuelsson had been serving as interim head coach during the preseason.

Gretzky’s departure had been rumored as the bankruptcy court battle between Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie and the NHL over the sale of the team dragged on.

“This was a difficult decision that I’ve thought long and hard about,’’ Gretzky said in a statement on his website. “We all hoped there would be a resolution earlier this month to the Coyotes ownership situation, but the decision is taking longer than expected.

“Since both remaining bidders have made it clear that I don’t fit into their future plans, I approached general manager Don Maloney and suggested he begin looking for someone to replace me as coach. Don has worked hard and explored many options. I think he has made an excellent choice, and so now it’s time for me to step aside.’’

Gretzky, who was due to make $8.5 million this season, had coached the Coyotes since 2005, finishing with a 143-161-24 record, and the team missed the playoffs in all four seasons. Gretzky, 48, also owns a small piece of the franchise.

“While the Coyotes have not had the degree of on-ice success that always has been Wayne’s objective, there can be no question he has played a vital role in the youth movement that has positioned the Coyotes for success in the future,’’ commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement released by the league.

Gretzky was nowhere to be found when Tippett, decked out in a brick-red Coyotes warm-up suit, was introduced yesterday afternoon.

Maloney said he had a “first inkling’’ in June - about a month after Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection - that Gretzky might not return as coach. Maloney said he decided to pursue Tippett, who had been fired by the Stars in June despite making the Stanley Cup playoffs five times in six seasons.

“I probably spent all of June and July trying to figure out how I could convince [Tippett] to come here,’’ Maloney said.

Maloney said the Coyotes signed Tippett to a four-year deal. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Tippett, 48, went 271-162-59 in six seasons with the Stars.

Captain Shane Doan said news of Gretzky’s resignation “was definitely a surprise.’’

“I’m not angry,’’ Doan said. “We’re moving on. Everyone realizes that this situation’s unique. People are saying, ‘Well, this should have been done, that should have been done.’ It’s such a unique situation where he’s part of management, he’s part of an ownership group, it’s in bankruptcy court. I mean, everything is so convoluted that nobody really knows what’s going on.’’

When he signed a five-year contract extension in May 2006, Gretzky talked about bringing a Stanley Cup to the desert. When he was asked if it would take that long to build a championship team, Gretzky laughed and replied, “It better not, or I won’t be here in five years.’’

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