There’s no sense in belaboring the point. CEO Jeff Shumway’s decision to fire Coyotes general manager Mike Barnett Wednesday (along with senior executive Cliff Fletcher and assistant GM Laurence Gilman) was overdue.
The Coyotes finished last in the Western Conference this season, they’ve missed the playoffs four straight seasons, most of Barnett’s major signings and trades were flops, and the Coyotes are hemorrhaging red ink.
That’s a cement ticket to the bottom of the harbor.
But as the Coyotes begin the search for a new general manager, there is one, uneasy question that floats unanswered: Should coach Wayne Gretzky be a guiding force in this organization?
Oh, you’ll get nothing but praise and genuflects from the locker room, where he is lauded as a players’ coach and a student of the game.
It may be true, but really, what else would you expect the players to say about their coach and the game’s Teflon-coated icon?
Criticizing Gretzky is like criticizing Gandhi.
And yet, with all the Coyotes’ failings the past five seasons, are we really supposed to nod in numb agreement when told that Gretzky is blameless?
“Obviously, I know some things you don’t,” said Shumway, noting that Gretzky has only recently become more involved in the critical personnel and staffing decisions of the franchise.
Weren’t his fingers all over the signings of Claude Lemieux, Brett Hull and Petr Nedved?
Wasn’t he the one who brought in Barnett and Fletcher?
Isn’t the organization littered with his former colleagues and friends? Did that happen by coincidence?
It sounds more like Shumway is shielding his one perceived asset for the sake of the franchise’s future.
And what of that asset? Some hockey insiders believe Gretzky has kept the franchise on life support. A life support machine might take offense.
Are $30 million in losses, annual April tee times and a half-filled arena signs of life? Valley hockey already may have flat-lined.
This may sound mean-spirited, so it should be pointed out that Gretzky is genuine and humble, gracious and forthright. You won’t find a more likeable man.
But we’re not talking about the man, we’re talking about the Coyotes executive. Isn’t it time somebody questioned his credentials instead of trembling in his presence?
Shouldn’t the organization have a better basis for his evaluation than this curious statement from Shumway?
“I think Wayne is probably the best judge of talent of anybody I’ve been around,” the first-year CEO said. “I haven’t been around a lot but I’ve spent the past year sitting in locker rooms and sitting in lounges, sitting on buses and airplanes and listening to people talk hockey.”
Is it even necessary to point out the absurdity in that statement?
One positive sign that came out of Wednesday’s news: Shumway and Gretzky agree that the next GM should be an independent voice — someone with whom Gretzky has no association.
But even if Gretzky has no interest in becoming the GM, and assuming the franchise does hire that independent voice, Gretzky still will have a big say in personnel decisions.
“I think Wayne’s voice will be louder in the future,” Shumway said.
We’re not saying that’s a bad thing. It may prove a positive.
But like the sign outside the locker room reads: “No More Excuses.”
We’re about to find out if Gretzky can succeed beyond his playing days.
Or if he’s just another Magic Johnson.