Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett talks to reporters Thursday. ((Matt York/Associated Press))

The Phoenix Coyotes have replaced Wayne Gretzky behind the bench with former Dallas Stars head coach Dave Tippett.

Gretzky confirmed early Thursday that he is stepping down as head coach of the bankrupt franchise effective immediately, clearing the deck for the Coyotes to bring in Tippett hours later.

"The intrigue of building a good hockey team outweighs all the off-ice stuff," Tippett told reporters at an introductory media conference.

"What happens off the ice, we have no control over. What happens on the ice and in the locker room, we have control over and that is what we will focus on."

"It is another step — clearing up and going forward," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "Change is always different but something you accept."

Coyotes general manager Don Maloney revealed he knew as early as June that Gretzky might resign and began the search in earnest for a suitable replacement in August.

"Dave knows the division, he knows the conference, he knows the league," Maloney said. "We're very, very fortunate to be in a situation where we needed a coach and, in my opinion, to get one of the best."

Contract terms were not disclosed, but signing Tippett was tricky business.  

"Dave Tippett still had a contract with Dallas, first off," Hockey Night In Canada analyst Glenn Healy said. "And trying to put that together, so that Dave Tippett could come into Phoenix — into a situation where that team is bankrupt — it takes a bit of high-stepping.

"It took Don Maloney a couple of weeks to pull it together."

On Tippett:    

"He had some time left on his contract in Dallas. He could have been sitting at home, watching Oprah right now." — Don Maloney

'Great upside to this group'

Tippett, 48, wasn't unemployed long, having been fired June 10 by the Stars following a disappointing campaign in which they failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in his six seasons as head coach.

And he has no qualms about coaching the Coyotes.

"I really like some of their young players," Tippett said. "I really think there is some great upside to this group."

"When you get a chance to coach or play in the NHL, you take it," Healy explained. "It can be a long time between visits to get back from what you like to do best."

Dallas (36-35-11) finished 12th in the Western Conference last season under Tippett, eight points in arrears of the Anaheim Ducks and the final playoff spot.

Lengthy injuries to keynote players like captain Brenden Morrow, forward Brad Richards and defenceman Sergei Zubov hurt the team's chances.

Adding to the misery was the Sean Avery fiasco, in which the truculent winger was suspended for making derogatory remarks about former girlfriend and actress Elisha Cuthbert.

Avery was placed on waivers and later claimed by the New York Rangers.

"With all the injured they had — Zubov and Morrow — and all of the distractions in the locker room, he was really dealt a bad deck of cards to start the year," Healy said.

'A strong systems guy'

Tippett posted a 271-156-28-37 record as head coach of the Stars, winning the Pacific Division twice.

He was as an assistant coach on Team Canada at the world men's hockey championship in May, with former Stars general manager Doug Armstrong serving as GM and current Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk as assistant GM.

Tippett was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings prior to being hired by the Stars on May 21, 2002.

The Moosomin, Sask., native also won a Turner Cup as GM and head coach of the IHL's Houston Aeros in 1999.

"[An] excellent coach, and a strong systems guy when he was an assistant in L.A," Healy said. "He really improved the power play there and had great teams in Dallas.

"He is a young guy who is probably going to work well with the players they [Coyotes] have. The Dallas teams had great systems — really good without the puck and specialty teams were excellent.

Tippett spent 11 seasons as a player in the NHL, amassing 93 goals and 169 assists for 262 points in 721 games for the Hartford Whalers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.

With files from The Associated Press