It's not exactly a surprise that Wayne Gretzky stepped aside today as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.  You may ask why he didn't do it sooner, especially when it became obvious that there was no place for him at the inn either with Phoenix or Hamilton.

"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," Gretzky said on his website earlier today.

It was never a question in Gretzky's mind whether he'd head north with Jim Balsillie should the RIM billionaire win the team.  That was always a firm "no."

And to the surprise of many, the NHL didn't reach out to the Great One during its pursuit of the team. Is this because the end game all along for the league is to flip the club to Jerry Reinsdorf, who has no use for Gretzky and more specifically his hefty contract?  Perhaps time will tell on that one, but it certainly looks like the dominoes are falling in that direction.

'What's best for Wayne'

Two weeks ago outside the court at the Coyotes auction in Phoenix, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman paid lip service to Gretzky saying he's "the greatest ever" adding he wants "what's best for Wayne."

I don't think anyone believes this is best for Wayne.

He's been hung out to dry during the entire court drama in Phoenix.  While Gretzky is technically under a personal services contract with Jerry Moyes, who has no standing with the league, I find it hard to believe that the NHL feels it's in its best interest not to have Gretzky in the mix should it win this franchise.

Bettman did issue a statement to this effect last Thursday afternoon saying the NHL is "extremely hopeful there will be a prominent role for Wayne with the Coyotes if the league's bid for the club is successful."

But given how Gretzky now feels about how he's been treated by the league - reports are he's extremely upset - one has to wonder why he would want anything to do with the organization any longer.

He's another casualty in this sordid process that began in early May when Jerry Moyes and Jim Balsillie hatched their bankruptcy plot to extricate the Coyotes from the desert. Since then, reputations have been tarnished, private business has been made public, and a fan base in both Phoenix and Hamilton has been unfairly toyed with.  It seems the only ones profiting from this are the lawyers whose billable hours continue to pile up.

The final word

I was in court when the NHL was asked by Judge Redfield Baum what Gretzky's status was with the team.  "He's coaching the Coyotes isn't he?" queried Baum.  A sheepishly vague answer came back from the league as they scrambled and cobbled together an answer intimating that the situation was delicate and negotiations with Mr. Gretzky were ongoing.

Jaws dropped in the courtroom as it became obvious that Wayne Gretzky's status with the team was very much unclear and that training camp could start without Gretzky back for his fifth season behind the bench.

Upon that shocker Judge Baum ordered a brief recess and we were told a clarifying statement on Gretzky's status would be forth coming.

It never arrived.

Until today.