GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Wayne Gretzky's tenure as coach of the woeful Phoenix Coyotes ended abruptly when the "Great One" announced his resignation on Thursday amid the financial turmoil surrounding the NHL team.
Gretzky's departure had been rumored as the bankruptcy court battle between Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie and the NHL over the sale of the team dragged on. Gretzky confirmed he was leaving on his Web site.
"This was a difficult decision that I've thought long and hard about," Gretzky said in a statement on his 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. Don has worked hard and explored many options. I think he has made an excellent choice, and so now it's time for me to step aside."
Gretzky, who was due to make $8.5 million this season, coached the Coyotes from 2005-2009, finishing with a 143-24-161 record, and the team missed the playoffs in all four seasons. Gretzky, 48, also owns a small piece of the team.
"As always, Wayne placed the welfare of the team ahead of his own in making this extremely difficult decision," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "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."
Bettman said the league is hopeful Gretzky will have a prominent role with the Coyotes if the NHL's bid for the team is successful.
Former Dallas Stars coach Dave Tippett was brought in to replace Gretzky as the Coyotes prepare to open the season on Oct. 3 at Los Angeles. Associate coach Ulf Samuelsson had been serving as interim head coach during the preseason, and the team this week hired former NHL head coach Dave King as an assistant.
Captain Shane Doan said news of Gretzky's resignation "was definitely a surprise."
"I'm not angry," Doan said. "Everyone realizes that this situation's unique. People are saying, 'Well, this should have been done, that should have been done.' It's such a unique situation where he's part of management, he's part of an ownership group, it's in bankruptcy court. I mean, everything is so convoluted that nobody really knows what's going on."
Gretzky is the leading scorer in NHL history, and every Coyote was familiar with his legacy.
"Any time you have any opportunity to be associated with Wayne Gretzky in any form, it's such a unique and rare opportunity," Doan said. "As a coach, every year he got better and better."
But Gretzky brought little of his magical on-ice form when he moved behind the bench.
In his first season, his mother and grandmother died and assistant coach and friend Rick Tocchet was arrested for allegedly running an illegal sports gambling ring. The scandal touched Gretzky when it was revealed that his wife, Janet, had placed bets.
The Coyotes won 16 more games than in the previous season but the promise of Gretzky's first season never materialized. The Coyotes slipped to 15th in the Western Conference in 2006-07 and didn't finished higher than 12th during his tenure.
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