Thursday, June 01, 2006

Gretzky signs 5 year deal to stay on as coach of the Coyotes

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- After signing a five-year deal Wednesday to remain the Phoenix Coyotes' coach, Wayne Gretzky was asked if it would take that long to build a championship team."It better not, or I won't be here in five years," Gretzky said with a laugh.Gretzky wouldn't say how long it could take to deliver a Stanley Cup to the desert. But the announcement that he'll remain behind the bench is seen as critical to the club's efforts to become a contender for its first NHL title."It is an important, important event for the Phoenix Coyotes," chief executive officer Jeff Shumway said. "This completes our management group. We are very, very happy to get this done."Financial terms weren't announced. Gretzky, 44, is also the Coyotes' part owner and managing partner. He joined the franchise on Feb. 15, 2001, when Jerry Moyes' ownership group completed its purchase of the club.The Coyotes went 38-39-5 in Gretzky's debut season, winning 16 more games than in the previous season. The team was 36-36-5 with Gretzky on the bench; he missed five games for family reasons.It was, at times, a trying year for the NHL's all-time leading scorer.The first setback came when Brett Hull, a likely future Hall of Famer brought in to provide veteran leadership, retired five games into the season. Injuries to goalie Brian Boucher in the exhibition season and Ladislav Nagy in February also hurt the team.Gretzky dealt with the death of his mother, Phyllis, in December. His grandmother, Betty Hockin, died three weeks later.Assistant coach and friend Rick Tocchet was arrested for allegedly running an illegal sports gambling ring in February. The scandal touched Gretzky when it was revealed that his wife, Janet, had placed bets."Obviously, you live and learn," Gretzky said. "I'm a big boy. Fortunately, I have a lot of good friends and a lot of people who were very supportive. There's no question it was a tough year."Despite all the turmoil, Gretzky said he enjoyed coaching, which filled a void that opened up when he retired as a player in 1999."Competition: The chance to compete to get your name on the Stanley Cup," said Gretzky, who led the Edmonton Oilers to four such titles.Still, Gretzky said he wouldn't have returned if his family hadn't agreed to move to the Phoenix area. Last season, son Ty lived with Gretzky in Phoenix while Janet and the couple's other four children remained at their home in Southern California."Oh, that was non-negotiable," Gretzky said. "I wasn't going to do that again."Janet Gretzky attended the news conference."I'm sure there will be some realtor calls to our office," general manager Michael Barnett said.Barnett, a close friend who served as Gretzky's agent for 21 years, said he sensed the family issues were the only sticking point for Gretzky as he mulled his future."He made it clear to me at the end of the year that we had unfinished business, and he thoroughly enjoyed the competitive aspect of coaching," Barnett said..Gretzky's next move is to begin preparing for the June 24 draft in Vancouver.Tocchet is on an indefinite leave of absence from the NHL, but Gretzky didn't rule out his return."As far as Rick Tocchet goes, right now it's in the hands of the league, and until the league makes a decision there's nothing that we can really do about it," Gretzky said.Though training camp is more than three months away, Gretzky seemed anxious to go to work. And he had a message for anyone who doubted his commitment to coaching."I spent my whole career, my whole life as a youngster playing hockey, being told I was too slow and I was too small and I wasn't good enough," Gretzky said. "Then when I decided to become a coach, I was told that I can't be a good coach because I was too good of a player. So I kind of went full circle."I think that, had I walked away this year, I would not have been happy with what I'd accomplished as far as wins and losses went last year," Gretzky said. "The only way that you're remembered as an athlete and a coach is winning championships. As well as I did as a player, I never went to another level until we won our first championship. And to me, that's the way it is coaching, too."

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