Wayne Gretzky said Wednesday. “It’s been unreal for the organization and it’s been great for hockey in California and L.A. We live in L.A., so we’re seeing it first-hand how fans are rallying around the Kings [...].”
“It’s been fun to watch. It’s been spectacular. They’ve been without question the best team in the Western Conference in the first three rounds of the playoffs and they deserve the accolades they’re getting. It’s no fluke.”[...] Gretzky’s last NHL involvement, as a part-owner and coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, ended badly when he was caught up in the bankruptcy that engulfed the team three years ago. It’s no coincidence he declined interview requests during the Kings’ West final series against the Coyotes, but on Wednesday he happily reaffirmed that although he loves being a fan he’s not looking to become affiliated with a team or the NHL.
“[...] I don’t even think about it right now,” said Gretzky, who plans to attend the Kings’ first home Cup Final game on June 4. [...] “Everything I have in my life is because of hockey [...]. I’m just enjoying what I’m doing. I watch as much hockey as anybody, but I watch in a different way now. I don’t critique each individual player or system or style.[Gretzky] praised Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi’s vision in building the team through the draft and leveraging surplus assets in trades for Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner.
“Over the last five years they made some really good, quiet deals on the side as far as stockpiling draft picks and being patient with players,” Gretzky said. “And when you’re able to draft a guy like Anze Kopitar or Drew Doughty and you’re able to trade a couple of really good, young players like Brayden Schenn and Jack Johnson to fill voids that you need on your hockey club.”
He also said Coach Darryl Sutter brought the right intensity and strategy to lift the team to a higher level.
“He played hard every game whether it was in October or whether it was in May and I think that’s what he instilled in this hockey club,” Gretzky said. “I think the previous coach, Terry Murray, did a tremendous job in establishing the team system and I think from my point of view that Darryl tweaked it a little bit and that he’s much more aggressive and [emphasizes] much more forechecking and on the puck, a lot like the way he coached in Chicago and Calgary.
“He took nothing away from their team defense, which is as strong as any team in the National Hockey League, and yet they pursue the puck, and create turnovers offensively to give them more time in the offensive zone, which creates less time in the defensive zone.”
He also said there should be a way to reward Sutter’s performance at the league level.
“I’d never fool with anything, because I have so much respect for the tradition and history of the game, but it’s amazing,” Gretzky said. “You look at changing the coach of the year award and picking it after the Stanley Cup playoffs and not before the playoffs start, I think he’d win in a landslide.”[...] There’s no question in his mind [...] that the current Kings have reached a higher level than his ’93 team did before the Final.
“We played with heart and grit and played a system that the coach established and we had a good goalie. We kind of got on a run,” he said. “This team, they’re a much better team than we were in ’93, so I think their chances of winning the Final are a little bit better than ours were in the sense that we definitely lost to the better team. The better team won the Stanley Cup that year.”