Forget the numbers, Gretzky was a good coach
Sometimes the numbers do lie. Sometimes they don't tell the whole story.
Such is the case with Wayne Gretzky.
As a player, the statistics he posted, the scoring feats he amassed, the records he set, the championships and trophies he won, are a clear and valid indication of how great he was on the ice.
As a coach, however, the numbers aren't nearly as conclusive.
Odd man out
Gretzky, of course, stepped down Thursday as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, another victim of the messy bankruptcy proceedings. Simply put, Gretzky was not going to be part of the Balsillie bid if it succeeded, and he wasn't going to be part of whoever purchases the club from the NHL if they should prevail and speculation is that Jerry Reinsdorf will be that buyer.
So it was the right thing, under the circumstances, to step down. Now, in the wake of his resignation, the question being asked is: was Gretzky a good coach?
The answer is yes.
OK, over his four seasons the Coyotes had a disappointing 143-161-24 record, good for a .473 win percentage. That is hardly the stuff of legend, but it can also be explained. The numbers don't tell the story of what Gretzky had to work with in Phoenix.
Coming out of the lockout, when he took over, they were burdened with old, slow players and were not prepared to deal with the new order NHL. And, not surprisingly given what is happening in court, they had budget issues. Harry Houdini or Jack Adams might not have gotten much more out of that team. How much say did Gretzky have in those personnel decisions? He no doubt had some input, but that would make him a bad manager, not a bad coach (though he does have that 2002 Olympic gold medal to his credit, so he does know something about putting teams together).
Shaping the future
For the past couple of seasons, the Coyotes have been building with youth and were improving with that youth. No, they didn't make the playoffs over the four years, but remember back to the middle of last season when Gretzky had his team sitting fifth in the Western Conference and was being touted as a coach of the year candidate, and a Team Canada Olympic coaching candidate.
Now, that's not to say he was among the very best coaches in the league, but Gretzky learned and adjusted over those four years and he got better. Indeed, he was a smarter and better coach the last game he worked than he was the first.
As for what he was being paid, roughly $8 million US a season, that number has to be explained as well. Gretzky wasn't just coach of the Coyotes, he was a part owner, managing partner and alternate governor. As coach, he was paid $1.6 million, which is a big number, but Gretzky is also a big name. The rest of the money was part of his equity in the club.
And, as for the fact Gretzky didn't report to training camp himself this season, there was no reason to attend. He wasn't going to the coach regardless of how this mess unfolds, so why bother? He deserved to protect his assets.
So, will he coach again?
That is impossible to know, of course. Gretzky became a coach, notwithstanding his ownership stake, because he is one of those guys who would have a hard time distancing himself from the game. He loves to be around the rink and with the players.
If the right fit materialized down the road, perhaps with an organization, or a management group with which he has had a history, it is conceivable that he could coach again because there are those within the game who look beyond the numbers.