Or more to the point, in the aftermath of Wayne Gretzky bailing on the Phoenix Coyotes last week — with the fiscally challenged franchise about to start the season — the Globe & Mail’s Bruce Dowbiggin points out the Great One received a smidgeon of criticism (most notably from G&M colleague Paul Blair and caring-sharing clotheshorse Don Cherry), no. 99’s iconic status remained secure in several spots.

Gretzky has traditionally received the benefit of the doubt from the media pack thanks to his marvellous career and pleasant demeanour with reporters. Even when he was snared in the Rick Tocchet gambling scandal heading into the 2006 Olympic competition, the NHL legend caught a large break from many in the fourth estate. (One overtaxed Gretzky loyalist called the gambling allegations a œcrucifixion.) Thursday was no exception as many leapt to Gretzky’s defence. Nick Kypreos on The Fan 590’s Hockey Central ripped the NHL for leaving Gretzky on an island while the Coyotes’ bankruptcy drama unfolded. Veteran broadcaster Darren Pang tried to soften Gretzky’s unexplained absence from training camp: œIt has bothered and hurt Wayne Gretzky that he has not been at camp.

Others said he deserved an exemption from criticism based on his contributions to the business in America. œThe pot-shots and the gratuitous illegal hits ¦ on Wayne Gretzky right now have been ridiculous, TSN’s Pierre McGuire said. œNo man has done more in terms of reaching out and trying to build the game in the NHL than Gretzky.

Yet, after the revelations of his huge compensation “ $8-million (U.S.) a year “ and then the absence from the Coyotes’ training camp, few in Phoenix shed tears as he headed off into the sunset. East Valley Tribune columnist Scott Bordow said Gretzky’s œassociation with the Phoenix Coyotes was a complete and utter disaster.