Â Â Â Retiring superstars, promising new draft picks and controversy in Phoenix usher in the 2009-10 NHL season, which got underway last week.
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Coyotes future unsure; Gretzky calls it quits
The controversy over the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes will be tossed on the back burner for the time being after a court ruling that will keep the struggling team in Phoenix for the remainder of the season.Â Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie will have to find another place to burn a few hundred million dollars, after losing his bid to buy the Coyotes and move the team to Hamilton, Ont.Â
Balsillie and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman locked horns over the embattled franchise throughout the summer in court and out, with the courts rejecting both bids in the end.Â Bettman is left with a real mess to clean up in Phoenix, and if attendance remains lack-lustre, you can be sure we will be hearing more about taking the Coyotes out of the desert by this time next year.
Â Â Â Adding to the Coyotes’ misery, Coach Wayne Gretzky stepped down from his position last week amid the debate surrounding the team in Phoenix courts.Â Gretzky became involved with the team after his retirement, and had a $14.5 million stake in the team and arena.
Gretzky, always a man of the utmost class, decided to cleanse himself of the whole situation, as criticism towards his $7 million salary and win-less record mounted.Â The future is wide-open for Gretzky now, but hopefully the Great One sticks to coaching and doesn’t get any ideas from the recent NHL comeback attempt by Flames legend Theoren Fleury.
Fleury, Sundin and Sakic retire from NHL
After being suspended indefinitely by the NHL six years ago for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, Theoren Fleury gave up on his pre-season comeback attempt and retired as a Calgary Flame. Fleury played with the Flames for 11 years, winning a Stanley Cup in 1989 and also a gold with Canada at the Olympics in 2002.Â
Fleury, who was born in Oxbow, Sask., battled alcohol and drug problems in the latter part of his career but always played with heart as he was usually the smallest body on the ice. In this year’s pre-season with the Flames, Fleury had four points in four games and scored a bittersweet shootout winner — his first goal since 2003.Â
Surely Fleury knows it’s better to burn out than to fade away — and for Calgary Flames fans, he will forever be remembered as a fan favourite and controversial entity
Â Â Â After battling injuries over the last couple seasons, Colorado Avalanche forward Joe Sakic retired in the off-season, and had his infamous number 19 retired at the Pepsi Center last night alongside former teammates Ray Bourque and Patrick Roy.Â Super Joe, as the fans called him, had one of the most productive careers in the history of the NHL, retiring as the eighth highest scorer of all time.Â Sakic brought two Stanley Cups to Colorado in 1996 and 2002, led countless Canadian teams in international competition and was regarded as one of the nicest guys to ever play the game.
Long time Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin also tied up the skates this year, deciding not to play another season with the Vancouver Canucks.Â Sundin, who acheived hero status in Toronto before jumping ship to Vancouver last season, will also be remembered as one of the best to grace the game.Â
While the league says good-bye to a few legends this year, the league is bursting at the seams with young talent.Â While Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin are all still in their early 20s, the New York Islanders have a soon-to-be superstar of their own, in No. 1 draft pick John Tavares. Tavares silenced critics and picked up two points in his first career game last week.Â
The NHL is in the midst of another exciting season. Look for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they try to fend off the rest of the league to once again drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup this upcoming spring.
graphic Eli Gana