GM Maloney optimistic (for now) amid ownership mess, Gretzky's absence

September, 14, 2009

OK, so let me get this straight ... Theo Fleury and Jason Allison were on the ice as NHL training camps opened, but Wayne Gretzky wasn't?

Strange start to the NHL season, isn't it?

It's sickening to see the game's greatest all-time player left twisting in the wind while the Phoenix Coyotes' ownership mess waits to be decided by a bankruptcy judge.

Gretzky, the team's coach and managing partner, is doing the right thing by staying away until his role with the club is ironed out. But it has to be killing him not to be on the ice with the players right now.

"It's really day to day," Coyotes GM Don Maloney told on Monday, updating Gretzky's situation. "I've been communicating with Wayne and his business manager. I expect to meet up with Wayne in the next day or so here. The problem with the timing of it all, waiting to see about ownership, waiting to see if there's a decision on his contract ... We'll meet up in the next day or so and continue to figure out how we'll operate."

But seriously, as Maloney knows full well, at some point, an NHL team needs its coach.

"We think we're in real good shape for the first week to 10 days of camp," said Maloney. "We feel organized [assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson is running the show right now]. But once we get beyond that stage [7-10 days], we need clarity in that position. It's too important and too competitive a conference to be in a state of flux at the end of September."

Credit Maloney for keeping his wits throughout all this; he's made do with very little financial flexibility.

Another victim of the Coyotes' situation is longtime hockey executive John Muckler. With money in short supply, the Coyotes quietly informed Muckler this summer that he would not be back as senior adviser to hockey operations. He had come on board with a one-year deal last season.

"It's understandable," Muckler told on Monday. "There's no money there right now. But I had a lot of fun; it was especially great to get back together with Gretz again and also Ulf and Grant [Fuhr]. I coached those guys over the years and it was great to be with them again. I worked with them quite a bit last season.

"But if there's no money, there's no money. What can you do?"

So while Gretzky remains on the sidelines for now, Fleury and Allison are back on the ice. Fleury's comeback attempt is garnering the most attention for obvious reasons, but don't count Muckler among those surprised to see him come back.

"I coached Fleury last winter at Gretzky's fantasy camp and he was the best player out there," Muckler said. "I mean, he was excellent. He was flying. He was by far the best player out there. He can still skate. I don't know if he can get his conditioning back or his coordination, but I tell you, he's still got wheels.

"I played him 80 percent of the time at that camp. I told him that had he played like that in New York, I might have still had my job [with the Rangers]."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?