|ESPN.com: LeBrun||[Print without images]|
It was just over a year ago that Wayne Gretzky stepped down as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, the game's greatest player exiting the NHL in a hiatus that is entering a second season.
The game isn't the same without him, but his return doesn't sound imminent.
"I'm enjoying being on the sidelines right now," Gretzky told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I really don't see myself, in the next little while, coming back. It's just one of those things where I love what I'm doing.
"I still watch a lot of hockey," he added. "But I'm happy to be doing the things I'm doing."
The Great One has kept busy. Between his numerous charitable and promotional commitments, Gretzky still has a full calendar. In the past few months, he has signed new endorsement deals with EA Sports, Breitling, TD Bank and Skechers, and is on the cover of EA's 2011 Wii hockey game. Not bad for a guy who hasn't played in more than a decade.
Gretzky also said spending more time with his family has been a blast. On deck is another high school football season for his quarterback son, Trevor. The kid is a stud in both baseball and football and will need to pick a sport and a college at some point over the next year. Dad will come in handy when it comes to career advice.
"I really don't know what he's going to do," Gretzky said. "He's pretty quiet. He's being pretty sensible about it and just taking his time with it. He's like any typical 17-year-old. When it's football season, he loves football, and when it's baseball season, he loves baseball. But it's been fun. He's a great kid."
Our conversation shifted back to hockey, and I had to ask Gretzky about the Coyotes. A year after he left, the team still doesn't have an owner in place.
"Yeah, it's a little bit surprising, especially [with] the year they had," Gretzky said. "They won a lot of individual awards and what the job management did in putting their team together and staying within a reasonable budget, and how good of a job their coaching staff did -- truly one of the best jobs I've ever seen. It was just a sensational year for them. But these things [ownership changes] take time. It doesn't happen overnight. I'm sure [NHL commissioner] Gary [Bettman] and [NHL deputy commissioner] Bill [Daly] have a plan in place, and hopefully by this time next year, they'll have everything rectified."
Last week, my ESPN.com colleague Scott Burnside broke the story that PEAK6 Investments CEO Matthew Hulsizer was interested in buying the Coyotes. The NHL will update owners on the Coyotes' situation at a board of governors meeting in New York on Tuesday.
In any case, it's not Gretzky's problem anymore. He no longer has ownership/coaching stress hanging over him.
"I love the game," Gretzky said. "I say all the time that if it wasn't for hockey, I wouldn't have anything in my life. I'm very grateful for it. Right now, I just enjoy watching the games as a fan. The players seem to be getting better every year. The game is great. It's more exciting every year."
He cited the Philadelphia Flyers' thrilling journey to the Stanley Cup finals last spring.
"They get into the playoffs on the last day of the season by winning a shootout. Then they come back from 3-0 down [against Boston] and eventually get to the Stanley Cup finals -- I mean, those are great stories," Gretzky said. "That's what makes our game so great -- there's always a new chapter written each year. Just when we think 'What could happen next?' something positive happens for the game. You look at Stevie [Yzerman] going to Tampa Bay [as GM], that's going to be nothing but positive for our game. Those are the kinds of things I watch now and enjoy. I'm enjoying being a fan."