"I've loved the four years I spent coaching the Coyotes. Not a day went by when I took it for granted, and I will miss the competition of the NHL dearly. It was an honor to hold the position, and I will always consider myself especially fortunate to have had this opportunity." -- Wayne Gretzky
"This was a difficult decision that I've thought long and hard about," Gretzky wrote in a post on his official Web site. "We all hoped there would be a resolution earlier this month to the Coyotes ownership situation, but the decision is taking longer than expected. Since both remaining bidders have made it clear that I don't fit into their future plans, I approached General Manager Don Maloney and suggested he begin looking for someone to replace me as coach.
"I've loved the four years I spent coaching the Coyotes. Not a day went by when I took it for granted, and I will miss the competition of the NHL dearly. It was an honor to hold the position, and I will always consider myself especially fortunate to have had this opportunity."
"As always, Wayne placed the welfare of the team ahead of his own in making this extremely difficult decision," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. "While the Coyotes have not had the degree of on-ice success that always has been Wayne's objective, there can be no question he has played a vital role in the youth movement that has positioned the Coyotes for success in the future.
"We have nothing but admiration for all that Wayne has done for the game, and are extremely hopeful there will be a prominent role for Wayne with the Coyotes if the League's bid for the Club is successful. We look forward to his continued involvement."
The club thanked Gretzky for his time with the organization in a press release: "The Phoenix Coyotes would like to sincerely thank Wayne Gretzky for his dedicated service to the Coyotes organization since joining the club in 2000. During that time, he gave the team a true identity and credibility. His passion for the sport of hockey, and specifically hockey in Phoenix, was an inspiration to those he worked with on a daily basis. Wayne's unmatched professionalism will also be missed.
"Wayne is often credited with the rise of hockey in southern and western markets. He was proud to represent one of those very franchises, and the Coyotes were fortunate to have him. Although his time with the Coyotes has come to an end, the examples he set and the legacy he leaves will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on everyone associated with the franchise."
Gretzky has been managing partner and part-owner since 2000, and was named coach in August 2005. In his four seasons the club went 143-161-24, and missed the playoffs each season.
Last season, the Coyotes were fifth in the Western Conference at the All-Star break, but lost nine of its first 10 games after the break and finished 13th in the conference. They haven't made the playoffs since the 2001-02 season.
Gretzky has been away from the team since the start of training camp. Assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson has been running the team in Gretzky's absence, and veteran coach Dave King was hired Monday as an assistant. Also, former Coyote Sean Burke recently was hired as goaltending coach.
Gretzky's tenure has been marked by an attempt to develop a young core of players, led by Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, Keith Yandle and Kyle Turris, complemented by veterans like team captain Shane Doan, defenseman Ed Jovanovski and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. So far, though, the group has yet to have any sustained success.
"The Coyotes scouting staff has put together a great group of young and talented players who are going to improve tremendously over the next few years," said Gretzky. "I'm proud of the team we've assembled, the organization with which I've been associated and the thousands of dedicated fans who have never wavered in their support of this young team. I'm confident that the best is yet to come for hockey in Phoenix."
There was no word on whether Samuelsson would run the team on a full-time basis, or if the club would look outside the organization for a coach.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.