GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Phoenix Coyotes cleaned out their
front office Wednesday, firing general manager Mike Barnett and two
other executives after the franchise's worst season since it moved
from Winnipeg in 1996.
Wayne Gretzky, who owns a share of the team and is its managing
partner, will return for a third season as coach next fall.
But the front office felt the fallout from the team's third
consecutive last-place finish in the Pacific Division. Also
dismissed were director of hockey operations Cliff Fletcher and
assistant general manager Laurence Gilman.
"The bottom line was how would we best be served going
forward," Coyotes chief executive officer Jeff Shumway said at a
news conference. "We believe we need a general manager that can
help us build from the inside out."
The Coyotes finished last in the Western Conference for the
first time since the franchise came to Arizona and their 67 points
were the team's fewest since that move. Phoenix hasn't made the
playoffs since 2002.
Barnett, Gretzky's close friend and his agent for 21 years, had
signed a four-year contract extension before last season. He had
been general manager since 2001, when Gretzky -- the NHL career
scoring leader -- joined the organization as managing partner.
"This is probably one of the harder days of my life," Gretzky
said. "Mike Barnett's meant more to me than probably anybody other
than my father."
Shumway and Gretzky said the team was in far better shape than
it was when Barnett took the job five years ago. But Shumway didn't
believe Barnett and the others were best suited for developing a
young team after failed attempts to build a contender via free
"The future of this team is young, talented players," said
Shumway, who took the Coyotes job after Jerry Moyes took over
controlling ownership a year ago. "We need a general manager who
has experience building a franchise from the inside out. The
franchises that you see now that are successful start off with
their own talent that they can develop in their minor leagues."
The Coyotes want to hire a general manager from outside
Gretzky's vast circle of friends.
"Let's put it this way," Gretzky said. "It probably is a
benefit to the franchise if the person who comes in, that I don't
know him. I want to get the best person and hopefully somebody I
That would help Gretzky be more forceful in decision-making,
"Wayne is the most respectful person I have been around in my
life," Shumway said. "He is very careful to never use his
notoriety to push an idea or to overwhelm a room or to get his way.
He is just very deferential and very respectful to people. I think
that as we go along, Wayne will get more comfortable in being a
little louder in his opinions."
Shumway declined to name any candidates, other than to say that
most work for other NHL teams and many are in the playoffs.
Gretzky expressed support for the decision, even though it meant
firing Barnett, a man he has known for 31 years.
"I talked to Jeff many a time over the last month about the
good things that have gone on in this organization," Gretzky said,
"the positive things we have done as a group here and the good
things that Mike Barnett and his staff have done.
"On the other side, I understood where Jeff was coming from.
New ownership came in, and this group wants to win, and I told them
I would support them 100 percent. No problem," he said.
Fletcher, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004, was
hired as Phoenix general manager in 2001 and promoted to executive
vice president of hockey operations the following year. Fletcher
was general manager of the Calgary Flames for the first 19 years of
the franchise's existence. He oversaw the start of the team in
Atlanta in 1972 and its move to Calgary in 1980.
He was chief operating officer, president and general manager of
the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1991-97.
"Had it not been for Cliff and him being here back in 2000 and
2001, this franchise might not be here," Gretzky said. "He was
the guy that really was the glue that held this franchise together
when it was in desperate times."
Gilman spent 13 seasons with the Coyotes, the last six as
assistant general manager. Earlier, he held several positions,
including director of hockey administration and legal counsel.