Gretzky: ‘My System Is No System’

The Boston Globe caught up with new Bruins defenseman Derek Morris. It’s a pretty standard summary of his career, but there’s one part that’s especially interesting — Morris’ take on Wayne Gretzky, who coached him in Phoenix:

We used two different systems [with the New York Rangers]. It was different. Much tighter gaps, a lot more movement. In Phoenix, we were kind of changing every single day. We didn’t really have a system there.

Now you can praise Gretzky for his creativity in not using any kind of system, but the lack of system can be brutal on players, especially younger ones. Instead of concentrating on executing, the lack of a consistent system forces players to constantly make decisions. And that’s why, when you watch the Coyotoes, the players often look like they’re skating through tar. It’s because they just have too many variables to deal with.

There has been a lot written about how great players don’t always make great coaches because people with tremendous talent see the game in a way that’s very different from “normal” players. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Gretzky never even noticed opposing teams’ systems because of his vision and sophistication. He saw where the play was moving and stayed a move (or two) ahead of everyone. When you’re doing that, the lack or presence of a system isn’t a big deal. But if you’re coaching players who aren’t Wayne Gretzky, the lack of a system becomes kind of a big deal.

So maybe, with the season starting and despite the chaos in Phoenix, this can be the season Gretzky installs some systems. He doesn’t have to turn into Jacques Lemaire, where the players know where they have to be every second of the game, but I think the Coyotes might appreciate some kind of consistency in the organization.