Over the course of the summer there were a lot of people sympathetic of Wayne Gretzky and felt bad that his name and his contract was openly discussed, and often not in good light, in the courts, and sometimes that spread into the media. Over the course of the summer we learned that Jerry Reinsdorf wasn’t interested in retaining his services should he bid for the team, Ice Edge was only interested if he took a substantial pay cut to $2 million and that the NHL was not interested in retaining his contract through the auction process either. There are many that feel that Wayne Gretzky has been treated somewhat unfairly by all of this. Maybe he has, but I have no sympathy for him, especially after his no show at the Phoenix training camp this past weekend.
First off, the only reason Wayne Gretzky has been such an issue in these bankruptcy proceedings is because he is getting paid a ridiculously stupid salary to be coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. If I recall correctly Gretzky’s contract is to pay him $6.5 million this season and $8 million next season. Not only does that likely pay him more than 3 times the next highest paid coach (Ron Wilson makes $1.6 million which might be the highest for a coach) but it is probably significantly more than any other teams pays their coach and general manager combined (Burke and Wilson I think combine for a little over $5 million per season) and Gretzky signed this contract without having any coaching experience.
Before he became coach he was a minority owner and was the head of hockey operations, again with little or no experience in such a role. In that position he hired his former agent Mike Barnett as General Manager even though he had no experience operating as a general manager of the team. Since Gretzky became involved with the team they have made the playoffs just once, in 2001-02, which was also the only time they finished higher than fourth in the Pacific division. Wayne Gretzky deserves a lot of credit for what he has done on and off the ice throughout his playing career and he has been a great ambassador for the sport but his coaching and managing career with the Coyotes has been questionable at best.
There is a somewhat valid argument to be made that his salary combined with the fact that the Coyotes have never had a winning team (which he is significantly responsible for) are two of the three reasons why the Coyotes are in the financial mess they are currently in (the bad lease agreement is the other). For that alone one loses a lot of the sympathy one might have for Gretzky for having his name and salary drug through the court system this past summer but when the Coyotes training camp opened on the weekend we learned that Wayne Gretzky was a no show. In my opinion, if Wayne Gretzky deserved any remaining sympathy it was lost by him not showing up. He is the coach and the head of hockey operation and his contract is still valid and there is still a very good chance that he would have had the opportunity to coach the team for the remainder of the season. Should the NHL win the auction they have stated they would like to retain his services under a new contract and if the dreaded ‘third option’ occurred where no bid was deemed a winner Gretzky’s current contract would continue to operate. By not showing up to camp, while under contract, he is essentially abandoning the team. To me he had two options. Show up, or resign. He has chosen neither and has left the team in limbo. If this was anyone other than Wayne Gretzky he would be criticized far more than he has been (which is relatively minimal). Suck it up Wayne. Fulfill your contract or resign if you don’t want to.