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September 26, 2009

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Gretzky resigns as Coyotes coach

WAYNE Gretzky's tenure as coach of the woeful Phoenix Coyotes ended abruptly when the "Great One" announced his resignation on Thursday amid the financial turmoil surrounding the National Hockey League team.

The Coyotes hired former Dallas Stars coach Dave Tippett hours after Gretzky announced his departure, which had been rumored as the bankruptcy court battle between Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie and the NHL over the sale of the team dragged on.

"This was a difficult decision that I've thought long and hard about," Gretzky said in a statement on his Website. "We all hoped there would be a resolution earlier this month to the Coyotes ownership situation, but the decision is taking longer than expected.

"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. Don has worked hard and explored many options. I think he has made an excellent choice, and so now it's time for me to step aside."

Gretzky, who was due to make US$8.5 million this season, coached the Coyotes from 2005-2009, finishing with a 143-24-161 record, and the team missed the playoffs in all four seasons. Gretzky, 48, also owns a small piece of the team.

"As always, Wayne placed the welfare of the team ahead of his own in making this extremely difficult decision," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "While the Coyotes have not had the degree of on-ice success that always has been Wayne's objective, there can be no question he has played a vital role in the youth movement that has positioned the Coyotes for success in the future."

Tippett was fired by Dallas in June despite making the Stanley Cup playoffs five times in six seasons. Maloney said the Coyotes signed Tippett to a four-year deal. Financial terms weren't disclosed. The 48-year-old Tippett went 271-59-162 in six seasons with the Stars.

Gretzky is the leading scorer in NHL history. But he brought little of his magical on-ice form when he moved behind the bench.

In his first season, his mother and grandmother died and assistant coach and friend Rick Tocchet was arrested for allegedly running an illegal sports gambling ring. The scandal touched Gretzky when it was revealed that his wife, Janet, had placed bets.

The Coyotes won 16 more games than in the previous season but the promise of Gretzky's first season never materialized. The Coyotes slipped to 15th in the Western Conference in 2006-07 and didn't finished higher than 12th during his tenure.


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