An ugly year for the Great One
The question, needless to say, is how much failure can Gretzky stand, or withstand. He's in only the second year of a five-year contract, but his buddy Mike Barnett was cashiered as general manager last season and the Coyotes ownership made it clear in hiring Maloney that they were avoiding any and all hockey people with direct ties to Gretzky.This is becoming a well-worn theory of late, that this will be Gretzky's swan song because of how awful the team will be.
Could he be fired if the Coyotes stink? Possible, but unlikely, particularly given that he still has an ownership stake in the team.
But it's equally hard to imagine he'll just hang in there if this season turns out to be utterly miserable. Perhaps there will be a resignation, or some other kind of face-saving way out.
But I can't honestly believe that this isn't a scripted collapse for the Coyotes, who are icing one of the worst rosters of the past decade this season, and Gretzky has to be in on the ploy. The fact is, there was absolutely no way for Phoenix to rebuild without tearing the mess that was there down, and the unfortunate thing is that this wasn't the strategy in his first season as coach coming out of the lockout.
Better late than never I suppose.
But to suggest that, as the Coyotes predictably sink into the Western Conference basement this year, Gretzky will exit, makes little sense to me. Of course they'll be bad: Beyond the first line of York-Reinprecht-Doan, there's almost zero NHL experience on the forward lines. The defence is virtually unchanged from last season (Phoenix allowed the third most goals against last season) and the only goaltenders brought on board were those no one else was willing to sign (Aebischer and Auld).
This will also be the most rookie-laden lineup in the league, with Martin Hanzal, Peter Mueller, Dan Carcillo and Bill Thomas all expected to play on the top three forward lines. Kyle Turris is probably joining the baby patrol next season.
Gretzky has to know and be prepared for what's in store this year, or else he would have checked out by now. As hard as it is to believe, he's in this for the long haul, however ugly that appears to be.