After he’s done bringing hockey’s two warring factions together to sign a new collective bargaining agreement, Wayne Gretzky will have to hustle back to Arizona.
He has another job waiting for him.
Sources confirmed Friday that Gretzky has already told key Coyotes personnel that he will take over the head coaching duties in Phoenix before the shortened season begins, with interim coach Rick Bowness assuming his former role as top assistant.
Former Coyote Rick Tocchet is expected to be the third man behind the bench, but that has yet to be nailed down.
Training camps could open within a few days and if that’s the case, the Coyotes are ready to roll. While more than half of the league’s teams have fewer than a dozen players under contract, Phoenix have 23 players signed to deals. Nearly half of them are already in town working out, with most of the rest already playing on teams scattered all over Europe.
Bowness, who will likely be in charge during the first few days, has already drawn up a seven-day training camp schedule for the team. Although no schedule has been released, a 28-game season could begin as early as the first week in March.
The Coyotes rebuilt their roster last summer, signing several free agents, making two trades and adding forwards Jason Chimera, Boyd Devereaux, Brett Hull, Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci and Oleg Saprykin along with defensemen Denis Gauthier and Sean O’Donnell.
The team is still in the market for an additional defenseman. And with the Coyotes’ salaries totaling $31 million to $32 million — around $10 million under whatever the final salary cap number becomes — the team can afford to make a few touch-ups to the roster.