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Gretzky expected to be named Coyotes coach Monday

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Wayne Gretzky is set to coach the Phoenix Coyotes, who hope the most prolific scorer in NHL history can
revive a team that has not advanced past the first round of the
playoffs since 1987.

Gretzky, the Coyotes' managing partner and hockey operations
director and still the sport's most prominent figure, was expected
to be introduced at an afternoon news conference Monday.

The Arizona Republic said Gretzky had agreed to expand his
duties with the team to include coaching. The team did not confirm
the move but said it had scheduled a "major announcement."

"I'll be honest with you, when I was 22, 23, 24, I never
thought I'd be a coach in the NHL," Gretzky said in Monday's
Republic. "But I'm excited about the challenge . . . . The last
couple of weeks I've been following my son's baseball team around
and I kind of got the itch to coach, as silly as that sounds."

Several media outlets reported Sunday that Gretzky had agreed to
coach the perennially disappointing club that has been in Phoenix
since 1996. He is in the final year of a five-year contract with
the team.

Coyotes co-owner Steve Ellman, who said he returned to Arizona
from a trip specifically for the news conference Monday, declined
to confirm the reports that Gretzky will coach the team. "I choose
not to speak about it until the news conference," Ellman said.

Gretzky, general manager Mike Barnett and captain Shane Doan did
not respond to calls from The Associated Press.

There had been speculation for more than a year that Gretzky
would expand his front-office duties to include his first stab at
coaching. Barnett, his former agent and longtime friend, originally
asked Gretzky in June 2004 if he were interested in doing so.

But the nine-time MVP wanted to wait until the NHL had a new
collective bargaining agreement before deciding. That happened last
month.

Despite his on-ice accomplishments, Gretzky would have to prove
he can make a difference as a coach without any professional
experience.

His legions of believers point to the 2002 Winter Olympics, when
Canada won its first men's ice hockey gold medal in 50 years with
Gretzky as executive director. He has committed to the same
position for Canada at the 2006 Turin Games.

Barnett has said he believes Gretzky will be able to coach and
serve Canada's Olympic interests without conflicts. The Coyotes
don't play between Feb. 12 and March 2 because of the NHL's Olympic
break.

Gretzky proved that NHL franchises could succeed in warm-weather
cities after the Edmonton Oilers traded him to the Los Angeles
Kings in 1988.

He already has been a hockey savior in Phoenix. The franchise
was tottering amid near-weekly reports that it might be sold to
Portland, Ore., billionaire Paul Allen when Gretzky decided to
throw his influence behind Ellman in 2000.

Gretzky, Ellman and Jerry Moyes -- now the majority owner --
acquired the club in 2001 with a promise to keep the franchise in
Arizona.

Since Gretzky's arrival on the Phoenix sports scene, the team
has moved into a new $220 million, 18,000-seat arena and adopted a
new logo and redesigned uniforms. The Coyotes opened the Glendale
Arena in December 2003 and have yet to play a full season there or
even a season opener.

ESPN confirmed former Detroit assistant coach
Barry Smith will be one of Gretzky's assistants along with former Coyotes player Rick Tocchet and interim head coach Rick Bowness.

The opening exists because Bob Francis was fired on Feb. 24,
2004. Bowness filled in as coach for the remainder of the season.

Bob Francis was fired as coach of the Coyotes on Feb. 24, 2004,
and Bowness filled in for the remainder of the season.

Gretzky retired in 1999 after 20 seasons in the NHL. He helped
the Edmonton Oilers win four Stanley Cups and set 61 NHL records,
including career goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857).

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.