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Gretzky's legacy: Tarnished or not?

September 24, 2009 |  5:07 pm

Phoenix GM Don Maloney invoked a name you rarely hear at NHL news conferences to announce a major organizational change:

Oprah.

Gretzky

(No, she's not buying the Phoenix Coyotes, though you suspect some of her spare change would do the job).

This was about Dave Tippett, former Dallas Stars coach, and a one-time Kings assistant, taking over the Coyotes' head coaching duties from Wayne Gretzky, who stepped down earlier Thursday.

"I'm grateful, quite frankly, for Dave to come in here," Maloney said. "He had time left on his contract in Dallas. He could have been sitting at home watching Oprah right now.... I wish I was."

Maybe that's what Gretzky was doing.

No one truly knew what Gretzky has been up to since training camp opened earlier this month and was not on the ice in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes said Thursday that they thought his presence would have been a distraction in what has become a legal quicksand known as bankruptcy.  

"He was put in a terribly difficult position as we all know," Maloney said. "He had some contractual rights that somehow this has been twisted around that he's at fault for some reason to have signed a lucrative deal. Nobody had a gun to anybody's head to sign him to that deal."

Maloney was referring to the public relations hits Gretzky has been taking in Phoenix, and perhaps more important for Gretzky, in his native Canada.

The bottom line: Will the time spent in the coaching lab in Phoenix tarnish Gretzky's legacy in a lasting way?

No.

After all, his legacy was as a player, not a coach.

Certainly you don't first think about Larry Bird and Magic Johnson as a coach. Or Michael Jordan playing baseball.

Edmonton Oilers fans will remember the Stanley Cups, not the stiff statement released on Gretzky's website announcing his Coyotes' exit. Kings fans will think about the run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1993, not about how he wasn't at the news conference in Glendale, Ariz. on Thursday.

Great players stay great players. Just don't let them coach. 

-- Lisa Dillman


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