The Coyotes have no plans to sign Heather Locklear. That's bad
news for TV buffs--after all, what's a good soap opera without
her?--but it's good news for the Coyotes, who, after a tumultuous
off-season, finally seem to be on the verge of normalcy. Now that
the sale of the team by embattled owner Richard Burke to a group
headed by developer Steve Ellman and Wayne Gretzky (he will have
a 10% ownership stake and control hockey operations) is on the
verge of completion, the players can focus on more pressing
matters, such as advancing past the first round of the playoffs,
something the franchise has not done since 1987.

After an embarrassing off-season of squabbling between Burke and
the new regime, tensions boiled over last month when Burke, who
refused to cooperate with the incoming owners until he received
all the money due him, banned Gretzky from the team's dressing
room following the preseason home opener. In doing so, Burke
called Gretzky's impromptu visit "goddam inexcusable" and said it
would create a "media circus."

The curtain should fall on this farce shortly when general
manager Bobby Smith and his front-office loyalists are fired.
Second-year coach Bobby Francis, however, will survive Gretzky's
housecleaning. The Great One was impressed by the team's 90-point
effort last year despite the fact that All-Star left wing Keith
Tkachuk missed 32 games because of injuries and a suspension and
No. 1 goalie Nikolai Khabibulin sat out the season in a contract

After off-season knee and ankle surgery, the 28-year-old Tkachuk
is healthy and is reasserting himself as a franchise player,
while Khabibulin will sign a new deal when Gretzky takes over.
Veteran free-agent wing Claude Lemieux, who won his fourth
Stanley Cup with the Devils last spring, will also sign at that
time. The team needs center Jeremy Roenick (34 goals, 44 assists)
to improve following a disappointing second half last season, and
the continued development of emerging 24-year-old right wing
Shane Doan (26 and 25).

For Gretzky the club's barometer for success is clear: advancing
in the playoffs. "Losing in the first round isn't going to cut it
anymore," says Gretzky. "This team has to have bigger
aspirations, and it will."


COLOR PHOTO: TIM DEFRISCO Boss Gretzky will raise the bar for Roenick and all the other Coyotes.

Fast Fact
Keith Carney is one of two NHL defensemen who played all 82 games
in each of the last two seasons. Oleg Tverdovsky of the Ducks is
the other.



FORWARDS 13 Roenick and Tkachuk must have good starts

DEFENSE 19 A skilled but inconsistent unit

GOALTENDING 22 Will be much stronger when Khabibulin

SPECIAL TEAMS 18 Newcomer Juneau helps on PP and penalty

MANAGEMENT 24 Pending sale puts front office in turmoil