Gretzky A No-Show As Coyotes Open Camp

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

PHOENIX (AP) -- The Phoenix Coyotes opened training camp without coach Wayne Gretzky on Saturday.

One day after the conclusion of arguments in front of a U.S. bankruptcy judge, the team began preparing for the upcoming season despite the absence of the "Great One."

Gretzky's coaching status remains in limbo until Judge Redfield T. Baum makes a ruling in the bankruptcy case of Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes. In addition to being coach, Gretzky owns a small share of the team.

"His position with us is to be determined," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said Saturday. "He's the head coach right now. Given the timing of the court date and the lack of a decision on ownership, Wayne thought it was better to sit back for a few days and evaluate."

Ulf Samuelsson will serve as the team's acting coach until Gretzky's ultimate status is determined, Maloney said.

"We feel good," Maloney said. "We feel that we've got a good plan in place for the next seven to 10 days."

The Coyotes open the preseason Tuesday night at home. While Maloney left the door open for Gretzky to return in time for the game, he said it was unlikely anything would change until the Coyotes' ownership situation is settled.

Baum is expected to make a decision within a week to 10 days.

Gretzky is due to make $8.5 million this season, but his contract was not addressed in either of the two existing bids for the team. A third bid by Ice Edge Holdings, which since was withdrawn, called for Gretzky to remain as coach at a reduced salary of $2 million.

"If he comes in and three days later the ownership changes and his contract is not extended, what are you going to do, lead him out in handcuffs?" Maloney said with a laugh. "The sooner we bring this thing together the better, but it doesn't have to be in the next 10 minutes."

Baum essentially is deciding between two bids for the team -- one from Canadian billionaire Jim Balsille, contingent upon the team moving to Hamilton, Ontario, and a second from the NHL.

Baum also could reject both bids. If that happens, attorneys for the NHL said the league would seek court-ordered control of the franchise and would look to sell the team.

Balsille's bid hinges on whether Baum would take the unprecedented step of overruling the 26-0 vote by the NHL board of governors rejecting the Canadian as an owner. Baum also would have to approve relocation over the NHL's objection and set a relocation fee.

If it is awarded the franchise, the league plans to resell it outside of the bankruptcy process. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he believed Ice Edge Holdings and a group headed by Chicago sports mogul Jerry Reinsdorf would be interested. Both pulled out of the bidding after failing to reach a new lease agreement with Glendale.

If it can't find a buyer to keep the team in Arizona, the league would look to relocate the franchise.

"It's incredibly unfair for my wife and kids," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "They want to know the answer but nothing has changed since May 5. That part is disappointing. The one thing I realized early on is absolutely nobody has any answers."

Defenseman Ed Jovanovski said the team's struggles off the ice are related directly to its struggles on it. Phoenix has not made the playoffs in six seasons.

"The bottom line for this organization is you've got to win games," Jovanovski said. "It's the only way you'll have a chance. Hopefully things will work out and there will be a team here in the Valley."

The Coyotes have lost more than $300 million since the team moved from Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1996. It has lost at least $34 million in each of the past three years and was given financial assistance by the NHL last season.


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