Monday, February 12, 2007

Life as Gretzky

"I was too young to be sitting around doing nothing. And all I know is hockey. That's what I know. I was never a guy who regarded himself as a salesman, a businessman or real estate mogul. My life is hockey. Simple as that."
— Wayne Gretzky
The Miami Herald on Sunday had a good little sit down with The Great One, as his Phoenix Coyotes wind down yet another playoff-less season in the desert. Saturday saw the 'Yotes dropped by the equally moribund Florida Panthers, which is why Gretzky and company are getting any play at all in an influential southern U.S. paper like the Herald.

Telling an untold Gretzky story is a near impossibility, but beat writer David Neal managed to get some interesting material from a guy who, by his own admission, has been around the game — and its chroniclers — since the Stone Age.

To me, the 'Gretzky comes to town' story is a lot like the one being written about Sidney Crosby everywhere the Pittsburgh Penguins stop on their (nearly) leaguewide tour this season. After all, what do you ask a guy who has already answered everything? And how, as a hockey reporter, do you tell a new story about someone whom what's been written already fills volumes?

Because the last thing I personally would want to write (and you would want to read) is another rehashed version of 'The Gretzky tale of woe'.

Thankfully, that's not what Neal gives us.

Here's Gretzky again:
''I think my ability as a player — obviously, I was God-gifted and had some pretty special things that the Lord gave me — but the majority of what I accomplished came from hard work, preparation and relying on teammates and coaches. My point is, I wasn't really a naturally talented player. What I got, I really earned through hard work. From that point of view, I understand the game as probably as much as anybody else who's ever played it or coached it.''
Some interesting stuff, some of which touches on the Crosby 'the hard worker' business I talked about just after the all-star break. As one commenter in that thread noted, Gretzky had often spoken of how his dedication was what led him to the heights he reached — something that, to a layman, seems at odds with just how far above his peers he rose.

It's interesting, too, to note just how convinced Gretzky is that he can do this and that he will succeed — despite the fact the Coyotes continue to struggle under his stewardship. Might it be that some of that stubbornness is going to keep him behind the bench long enough to turn things around?

Here's Gretzky, one more time:
"It's my life. I do it, I love it. Listen, my whole life has been hockey since I was 2 years old. I don't think anybody in life at the age of 40 can sit around the house and play golf every day. That wasn't for me. I've got a great family, and my family is obviously the most important to me, but they also understand that I love to be around the hockey, and they like to be around it, too. It works."

So, for all the questions about just why Gretzky would risk tainting his legacy as a player, the real reason seems to be that he's in Arizona fighting the good fight simply because there's nowhere else for him to be.

After all, if Gretzky can't make it in hockey, he reasons, where can he?

I don't think he's planning on walking away anytime soon.

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At 12:40 p.m., February 12, 2007, Blogger BlackCapricorn said...

"After all, if Gretzky can't make it in hockey, he reasons, where can he?"

A valid question but he isn't cutting it in the desert. Whether that has to do with the "talent" he and his buddies have surrounded themselves with or its Gretz coaching skills the fact is that the Desert Dogs are not getting done under the Great One. Maybe he needs to coach Pittsburgh....

At 7:46 p.m., February 13, 2007, Blogger PB said...

How will we define good coaches? One that takes a mediocre team and rebuilds from poor decisions made previously into a good solid franchise, or one that can coach good players?

The mettle of a coach in my mind is one that can transform the locker room into one that will end up being a power house. Look at what Tortorella did with the Lightning. He took the franchise that was absolutely woeful into a respectable one - he was lucky that he had Richards, Lecavalier (who was unhappy with Torts strong hand in the beginning), and St. Louis. In addition, he had a captain in Dave Andreychuk that set the tone in the locker room of what needed to be done.

What does this have to do with Gretzky? Anyone can coach good players - it's squeezing the stuff out of average players that is the tough part. I see a lot of similarities between these two franchises.

I think it's too early to call about whether Gretzky is "getting it done" in the desert. However, it is clear that coaching is different than playing and most learn how to coach through the system, which admittedly, Gretzky hasn't done.


At 12:05 a.m., February 14, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

How will we define good coaches? One that takes a mediocre team and rebuilds from poor decisions made previously into a good solid franchise, or one that can coach good players?

Well, the very first thing to do is to recognize that there are very, very few guys who are a good coach for all sorts of teams. For most, the question is, "How do we define a good coach for this team?"

What does this have to do with Gretzky? Anyone can coach good players

Wrong. Not everyone can coach good players. Some guys are perfect for it: Scotty Bowman; Sparky Anderson in baseball; Larry Brown in basketball. However, none of these guys is a good choice if you have a young team that's trying to feel it's way out.

I think judging coaches by whether they win championships is a terrible way to go, because it overvalues a certain sort of coach, namely the Bowmans or the Andersons.

Take a look, in baseball, at Buck Showalter. He takes young teams and makes them into good outfits. Of course, he's no good at leading them to a title once he's devloped them. It's a funny coincidence, though, that teams tend to win a World Series shortly after he leaves. Do you think that that's because he's a bad manager, and things just always get better after he leaves? Or is it because he makes it very easy for a guy like Joe Torre to follow him and do what he does well?

Sparky Anderson, on the other hand, won a lot of World Series titles, but he was a disaster as soon as the Tigers didn't have really good players any more. (Trust me; I'm a Tigers fan.) Is he a better manager than Buck Showalter, or merely a different one?

Also, is it me, or is the word verification test to post getting harder? right now, I'm looking at one where there are an 'n' and an 'm' next to each other, and it's impossible to tell which is which. Ditto the 'v' and the 'w'.


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