The players have no such complaints this year. Melrose, an insatiable reader of self-help and pop-psychology books, is a disciple of Anthony Robbins, author of Awaken the Giant. "He changed my life," says Melrose, an NHL journeyman in the 1980s who became an instant success as a major junior and minor league coach. Last spring, after his Adirondack Red Wings won the American Hockey League playoffs, Melrose found that he was a hot commodity. The parent Detroit Red Wings wanted him to join them as an assistant, poised to succeed Bryan Murray as coach at the end of this season. But when McNall came calling with an immediate job offer, a four-year, $1.2 million contract and a $100,000 signing bonus, Melrose decided California was the place he ought to be, so he loaded up the truck and moved to...El Segundo. But having settled near the ocean, Melrose soon found his new job would be no day at the beach when Gretzky revealed his injury.
Rather than despair, Melrose set about persuading these Kings that they could be significantly better than last year's team, even without Gretzky. Says defenseman Paul Coffey, who also played with Gretzky in Edmonton, "Sometimes, if you lose your top player, it pulls you together, the way it pulled the Penguins together the last two years when Lemieux was hurt. But by no means are you going to be able to replace a Wayne Gretzky, a potential 200-point man, in your lineup. With Wayne, we'd be that much better."
Of course, they would also be that much older, even as they're trying to phase in youngsters. And the strain of physical therapy seems to be taking its toll on the once-boyish Gretzky, who has finally started looking like a man who turns 32 in January. (By the way, oh, Great One, that mangy goatee has got to go.)
The Kings swear they miss him, but they don't play as if they do. Still, it's easy to imagine the old Gretzky reveling in Melrose's push-'em-up attack. Kurri wouldn't mind a bit moving back to the wing to make room. It could happen. Gretzky says he hopes to be skating in February and playing in March.
By then, Wayne's World may have been irrevocably transformed into Melrose Place.