|Saturday, August 25
Updated: September 5, 2:01 PM ET
Barnett, Coyotes agree on five-year deal
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Mike Barnett took a pay cut to join friend and former client Wayne Gretzky in the Phoenix Coyotes' front office and considered it a bargain.
"It wasn't a monetary decision," the Coyotes' new general manager said Tuesday. "It was 20 years doing the same thing. People in any walk of life go out and look for a new challenge. I could have been happy continuing on there.
"But this was a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, and when you're a Canadian and you've been in hockey your entire life, you want to get that opportunity."
Barnett, the Coyotes' fourth GM in six years, also is the fourth agent in recent history to move into an NHL front office.
Barnett told reporters an agent needs the same analytical skills as a hockey executive, and Gretzky backed him up.
"These people are around hockey as much as anyone," Gretzky said. "Just because you're a professional hockey player doesn't make you a great general manager."
According to published reports, Barnett agreed to a five-year contract worth nearly $1 million a year, about half what he was making to head up IMG Hockey.
He will replace executive vice president Cliff Fletcher as general manager.
Fletcher held a dual role since Feb. 17, when Gretzky fired Bobby Smith only days after the new ownership completed its $88 million purchase of the franchise.
But he never planned to continue directing day-to-day operations after spending 25 years as a GM in other NHL organizations, and was anxious to look after projects like a new arena expected to open in 2003.
"The only reason I served a short tenure as the general manager was the timing," he said. "When you take over a team, like we did, in February, the good people like Mike Barnett aren't available."
Gretzky raised the prospect of Barnett joining the front office last summer, not long after agreeing to join Phoenix developer Steve Ellman's bid to buy the team.
But NHL Players Association director Bob Goodenow suggested a possible conflict of interest if Barnett remained an agent. He decided to take the Phoenix job Sunday, and IMG announced J.P. Barry as Barnett's replacement on Monday.
Gretzky said it had to be done to avoid another season like the last one, when Ellman lost $27 million while playing in the America West Arena, which has only 11,500 seats with a clear view of the ice.
"We're unfortunately in a position where we lose $27 million and don't make the playoffs," Gretzky said. "You can add to that by adding free agents, and consequently you're looking at losing $37 million to $40 million. That doesn't necessarily win championships or guarantee you success. You need to have a plan."
Barnett gave a vote of confidence to coach Bob Francis and his staff, but also guaranteed the team would reach the playoffs.
"It's a young team," Barnett said. "It's an aggressive team. This provides us with an interesting opportunity. ... I think the players themselves have an opportunity to develop an identity."