PHOENIX (Reuters) - Wayne Gretzky has stepped down as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, a victim of the muddled ownership picture surrounding the financially ailing franchise.
The NHL Hall of Famer said on his website (www.gretzky.com) that the team's cloudy future had left him out in the cold.
"This was a difficult decision that I've thought long and hard about," said Gretzky, widely considered the best player ever to suit up in the NHL and known as "The Great One."
"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," added the 48-year-old.
Gretzky, who retired as a player in 1999 after 20 seasons that included four Stanley Cup wins with the Edmonton Oilers, was named Phoenix coach in 2005 but in four seasons the club went 143-161-24 and never made the playoffs.
"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."
The franchise has been in turmoil since filing for bankruptcy protection in May.
Canadian billionaire James Balsillie has offered to buy the club and wants to move it to Hamilton, Ontario, a relocation the league vehemently opposes. The NHL is bidding for the club and would keep it in Phoenix for at least a year.
The judge in the Arizona bankruptcy court is expected to decide soon which bid is the winner.
"I've loved the four years I spent coaching the Coyotes. Not a day went by when I took it for granted, and I will miss the competition of the NHL dearly," said Gretzky, a part-owner of the club who also stepped down as the team's director of hockey operations.
"It was an honor to hold the position, and I will always consider myself especially fortunate to have had this opportunity."
Phoenix was fifth in the Western Conference at the All-Star break last season, but then lost nine out of 10 games and finished 13th in the 15-team conference.
"The Coyotes scouting staff has put together a great group of young and talented players who are going to improve tremendously over the next few years," said Gretzky.
"I'm proud of the team we've assembled, the organization with which I've been associated and the thousands of dedicated fans who have never wavered in their support of this young team.
"I'm confident that the best is yet to come for hockey in Phoenix."
The Coyotes have not yet named a replacement for Gretzky, who has not been with the team since the start of training camp several weeks ago.
Assistant Ulf Samuelsson has been running the team during the pre-season, and veteran coach Dave King was hired Monday as an assistant.
Writing by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; editing by Ken Ferris