The Olympics? What happens next for Gretzky gets tricky for Hockey Canada
In the next few weeks, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson will announce the management team for the Canadian entry in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
It is an announcement that will set in motion the formation of the most scrutinized hockey team in Canadian history. At the very least, the 2010 team will be as closely followed and debated as any team since the Canadian squad that faced off against the Russians in the fall of 1972 in what would become known as The Summit Series.
The betting money has former Detroit captain and current team vice president Steve Yzerman being named executive director, with Red Wings GM Ken Holland and perhaps assistant GM Jim Nill being named to the management team. Montreal GM Bob Gainey will likely get a call, and possibly Kevin Lowe, now president of hockey operations for the Edmonton Oilers.
One person who isn't going to appear on the Canadian masthead is Wayne Gretzky, the executive director of the Canadian teams that won gold in Salt Lake City in 2002 and won the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, before being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2006 Olympics. Gretzky told Nicholson he isn't interested in the job this time around.
When Gretzky put together the Salt Lake City and World Cup of Hockey squads, the game's finest player wasn't nearly as busy as he is now that he's a full-time NHL head coach in Phoenix. He embraced the job of selecting the coaching staff and players for Salt Lake City and then did a masterful job deflecting attention away from his players when pressure began to mount after a slow start in the tournament. Behind the stellar play of Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic and Yzerman, Gretzky's team won Canada's first hockey gold medal in 50 years.
The World Cup of Hockey team overcame injuries to win on the eve of the lockout. In Torino, however, the gambling scandal that enveloped Gretzky, his wife Janet and longtime friend Rick Tocchet, among others, had just exploded and there was debate about whether Gretzky should have been in Italy at all.
The 2006 squad that Gretzky and his management team put together never got off the ground, and a roster that should have been dominant was held to 15 goals in six games (seven of those goals came in an opening-match win over host Italy).
Nicholson has been in contact with Gretzky in recent days to discuss what role might suit him best for 2010.
And here's where it gets tricky.
Gretzky is an NHL head coach. It is his passion now, a role he has fully embraced after three seasons, according to those who know him and have seen him at work. And Gretzky would like to be involved with the 2010 effort.
So, just where does Gretzky fit for Team Canada?
Let's start with the premise that if Gretzky wants in, he's in. That's just how it is when you're the greatest player of all time, the game's greatest ambassador and a fiercely loyal Canadian.
Second, Gretzky is all about winning; if he's asked to be an assistant coach or coaching consultant or man the video-replay booth, he would no doubt do it willingly.
But can you ask Gretzky to attend to minor tasks while others handle the heavy lifting? Or, if Gretzky is in, does he necessarily have to be in as your head coach?
The coaching staff will likely be announced next summer in advance of next fall's orientation camps. Right now, you'd have to think Red Wings coach Mike Babcock would be your top candidate. With a second straight Cup next spring, or even a trip to the Western Conference finals, you can pencil him into the head coaching job.
Hockey Canada likes to appease the French Canadian media and politicians by adding someone who is bilingual to the staff; if Michel Therrien can again take his Pittsburgh Penguins deep into the playoffs, he'd be the best choice, even if his gritty personality isn't necessarily that of a Hockey Canada guy. Guy Carbonneau would also make a strong case if his Montreal Canadiens enjoy a long playoff run.
Lindy Ruff has never been part of the international club, but he is a fine coach and would be a good addition to any coaching staff. Tom Renney has international experience and leads a Rangers team that could go deep in the playoffs. Dave Tippett was the captain of the 1984 Canadian Olympic team and won a silver medal in Albertville in 1992. He's also the coach of a Dallas Stars team that has Cup potential after advancing to last season's Western Conference finals.
Which brings us back to The Great One.
Gretzky's accomplishments as a player, as an icon, transcend his win-loss record as a head coach. He is, quite frankly, a god, and he always will be. With a gold medal on the line and an entire nation demanding nothing less than perfection, Gretzky's presence in a dressing room or behind the bench cannot be understated.
Yet, barring a dramatic turnaround by the Coyotes this season, if Gretzky is named to the Canadian coaching staff, it will be at the expense of some other coach whose experience, success and coaching acumen exceeds that of Gretzky.
The dichotomy represents an interesting and potentially thorny issue for whoever ends up at the top of the Team Canada pyramid.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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