GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) – The Phoenix Coyotes expect a decision soon from Wayne Gretzky on whether he will coach the team in the upcoming season.

The NHL’s all-time leading scorer and nine-time MVP – and managing partner of the Phoenix franchise – has said he would wait until a new collective bargaining agreement was in place before deciding whether to take on the coaching job.

“I spoke with Wayne last night,” said Coyotes general manager Mike Barnett, a longtime friend of Gretzky. “There’s obviously speculation that he will step in and be our head coach. I know he’s still very interested in the position.”

But Barnett said Gretzky and his family still must “make the final decision as to whether they’re prepared to leave the life they have now, and their residence in Los Angeles, to come here,”

Barnett and Coyotes president Wayne Moss spoke with reporters on Wednesday, after the announcement that NHL players and owners had agreed to terms on a new deal.

The Coyotes did not make Gretzky available to comment. Barnett said he expects a coaching decision shortly after the deal is ratified and the details are known.

“We’re going to have to make a decision with Wayne pretty quickly,” Barnett said. “That will be a priority.”

The general manager brushed aside suggestions that Gretzky might coach only home games to minimize his travel obligations.

“Anyone that knows Wayne Gretzky knows that if he would take on this role, he would take it on with the same voracious approach that every other of the 29 head coaches in the National Hockey League do – full-time and very committed to it,” Barnett said.

Rick Bowness, who took over as interim coach after Bob Francis was fired in the 2003-2004 season, will remain in the organization, probably returning to his former role of assistant coach, Barnett said.

If Gretzky decides to coach, he will take over a team that largely has its roster in place.

“Based on prior seasons in the NHL, I would say very definitely this is a group capable of competing,” Barnett said. “This is a group, with the added skill and character, we think can go well into the playoffs.”

The Coyotes have 18 players under contract – 14 forwards and four defensemen – more than any other NHL team.

While most other franchises avoided activity in the uncertain labor environment, Phoenix signed five free agents the summer before the lockout, including 40-year-old Brett Hull.

“The new building has been waiting here for us for too long,” Barnett said. “We’ve liked the team we have on paper for a year now, but it will be nice to see it on the ice. We’re anxious to see what we’ve got.”

AP-ES-07-13-05 2019EDT


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