Coyotes Slash GM Smith

Wayne Gretzky addresses the media in West Palm Beach, Fla., about buying the Phoenix Coyotes. AP

Two days after Wayne Gretzky became the Phoenix Coyotes' managing partner, general manager Bobby Smith was fired Saturday.

Cliff Fletcher replaced Smith, signed to a long-term deal as executive vice president and general manager.

The team announced two other key hirings Saturday, adding Pat Conacher as assistant head coach and Dave Draper as vice president of scouting and player personnel.

Fletcher, who spent the past two seasons as a senior adviser with the Tampa Bay Lightning, will report directly to Gretzky and will oversee the team's hockey operations.

"Bobby Smith worked very hard under difficult circumstances," Gretzky said. "He did an excellent job, but at this point we felt that the organization needed to make a change."

Gretzky said he hoped to tell Smith of his dismissal in person Saturday morning, but Smith was out of town and was fired by phone.

Smith did not immediately return telephone messages left on his cell phone.

The announcement came after Gretzky and developer Steve Ellman completed their $88 million deal to buy the team Thursday.

Smith's future had been in question since Gretzky joined forces with Ellman in late May. It originally was assumed that Smith would be fired, but he apparently earned Gretzky's respect by building a strong team on a small budget.

Smith was made the Coyotes' executive vice president of hockey operations in May 1996 and took over as general manager about six months later. He signed a new two-year, $1.6 million contract before this season and the Coyotes will have to pay that off.

In Smith's five seasons as GM, the Coyotes were 168-136-47-6.

"Cliff is ... one of the most respected gentlemen in the game," Gretzky said of Fletcher. "His wealth of experience and knowledge of the game will be a valuable asset to our organization."

Fletcher served as chief operating officer, president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1991-97.

He also worked as GM of the Calgary Flames in the club's first 19 years of existence, compiling a .581 winning percentage. In 1989, the Flames won the Stanley Cup.

He also worked as GM of the Calgary Flames in the club's first 19 years of existence, compiling a .581 winning percentage. In 1989, the Flames won the Stanley Cup.

He was the first general manager to sign a player from the Soviet Union to play in the NHL with official consent when Sergei Priakin joined the Flames in 1988.

Before becoming a coach, Conacher played 13 seasons in the NHL with thNew York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils, Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames and New York Islanders. He played for Edmonton's 1984 Stanley Cup champions and made his second trip to the Cup finals with the Kings in 1993.

Draper has over 35 years of experience in hockey management and spent the last nine years with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche organization as director of player management, in scouting and, from 1998-2000, as consultant to the president.


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