Work in Sports
PACIFIC DIVISION |
4 Phoenix Coyotes
Team Page | 2000-2001 Schedule | Roster
Sports Illustrated Ranking: 12
By Josh Elliott
The Coyotes have no plans to sign Heather Locklear. That's bad news for TV buffs -- after all, what's a good soap opera without her? -- but it's good news for the Coyotes, who, after a tumultuous off-season, finally seem to be on the verge of normalcy. Now that the sale of the team by embattled owner Richard Burke to a group headed by developer Steve Ellman and Wayne Gretzky (he will have a 10% ownership stake and control hockey operations) is on the verge of completion, the players can focus on more pressing matters, such as advancing past the first round of the playoffs, something the franchise has not done since 1987.
After an embarrassing off-season of squabbling between Burke and the new regime, tensions boiled over last month when Burke, who refused to cooperate with the incoming owners until he received all the money due him, banned Gretzky from the team's dressing room following the preseason home opener. In doing so, Burke called Gretzky's impromptu visit "goddam inexcusable" and said it would create a "media circus."
The curtain should fall on this farce shortly when general manager Bobby Smith and his front-office loyalists are fired. Second-year coach Bobby Francis, however, will survive Gretzky's housecleaning. The Great One was impressed by the team's 90-point effort last year despite the fact that All-Star left wing Keith Tkachuk missed 32 games because of injuries and a suspension and No. 1 goalie Nikolai Khabibulin sat out the season in a contract dispute.
After off-season knee and ankle surgery, the 28-year-old Tkachuk is healthy and is reasserting himself as a franchise player, while Khabibulin will sign a new deal when Gretzky takes over. Veteran free-agent wing Claude Lemieux, who won his fourth Stanley Cup with the Devils last spring, will also sign at that time. The team needs center Jeremy Roenick (34 goals, 44 assists) to improve following a disappointing second half last season, and the continued development of emerging 24-year-old right wing Shane Doan (26 and 25).
For Gretzky the club's barometer for success is clear: advancing in the playoffs. "Losing in the first round isn't going to cut it anymore," says Gretzky. "This team has to have bigger aspirations, and it will."
Issue date: October 16, 2000
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