In an otherwise pedestrian profile by Lew Serviss in today's New York Times (reg. may be required), Gretzky had a few moments of self-reflection regarding his coaching career:
"I always said the thing about my game, when I was a player, for whatever reason, the Lord gave me a blessing, some special talent, I'm the first guy to recognize that," he said. "But, I wasn't the fastest skater, I wasn't the strongest player, I wasn't the biggest guy. I never had the natural ability that other guys had as a total package."Wow, what a bushel of delusion that was...
"My success came more out of hard work, I think, and preparation," he added. "And so carrying into coaching, I know I'm not Glen Sather or Scotty Bowman or Al Arbour, but I'm going to make myself a good coach. And I know that hard work is very rewarding and my goal here is to not prove that I can coach, my goal here is to win the Stanley Cup."
First of all, I appreciate that the greatest player in the history of the sport is a humble guy, but I don't know one "total package" player that wouldn't have traded their physical assets for one-tenth of the natural ability Gretzky had a passer, stick-handler and goal-scorer. But here's the biggest issue: Does anyone believe Wayne Gretzky is going to be able to will himself into becoming a winning coach?
His first two seasons were spent outside the playoffs looking in, and the Coyotes are two points from the bottom of the Western Conference entering Monday night. Phoenix is clearly a team building for the future, with a slew of young prospects (Martin Hanzal, Peter Mueller, Kyle Turris and Blake Wheeler) ready to solidify the core of this franchise in a way it hasn't been since Teemu Selanne came up with Alexei Zhamnov and Keith Tkachuk.
But is Gretzky -- whose only notable coaching decision was to show loyalty to an assistant coach caught in a gambling sting -- the coach that's going to nurture that talent, to bring these young pieces together to create a playoff team? He's shown nothing from a tactical standpoint to indicate that kind of potential. His coaching philosophy has been rather undefined, outside of a promise to be a patient coach/minority owner rather than one whose ego causes him to populate the roster with overpriced veteran players for instant gratification -- you know, like a team that has Jeremy Roenick, Owen Nolan and Curtis Joseph on it.
Maybe I'm underwhelmed because I'm having trouble getting past the notion of Gretzky as a celebrity coach; the thought that the reins of this team are in the hands of a former star who's getting his competitive juices flowing again and gets a kick out of finding a new challenge after retirement. Matching lines with Mike Babcock and Ron Wilson is undoubtedly more interesting to Gretzky than 18 holes somewhere in Scottsdale and a night glaring at the ice from the owners' box.
But when it comes to coaching, either you have it or you don't, and I'm pretty sure Gretzky doesn't have it. As this franchise creeps closer to contention as its young reinforcements fill the lineup, when does a head coach on a mission of personal growth step aside for one that's already shown he can grow a winning team on the ice? In other words: When does someone trying to make himself into a good coach make way for someone who already is one?