One Los Angeles Kings fan is having an especially fun time watching the team's run to the Stanley Cup Final.
"It's been unreal what they've done and what they've accomplished so far," Wayne Gretzky told the Los Angeles Times on 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 and hoping that they bring home the Stanley Cup."
Gretzky was the Kings' marquee player in 1993, the only other time the Kings played for the Stanley Cup. He had two goals and five assists as the Kings lost in five games to the Montreal Canadiens.
Out of the game since leaving the Phoenix Coyotes organization in 2009, Gretzky is more than happy to watch games from the comfort of his home. He said he's been very impressed by the way Kings GM Dean Lombardi has built the team, both through the draft and via trades.
"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, hired to replace Terry Murray in December, was the perfect candidate to merge Murray's defensive philosophies with Sutter's high-intensity forechecking style.
"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."
Gretzky said watching this Kings team, it would be no contest if it had to face his 1993 team -- the 2012 model would win.
"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."
Gretzky, retired for 13 years, still showcased some of his elusiveness when asked who he would root for if the Kings' final opponent was the New York Rangers, the team he spent the final three seasons of his career with.
"Both are great cities and the good thing for me is I've got friends in both organizations. I loved playing in both cities and I just hope it's a great final and whoever wins, good for them," he said. "I have so much love and respect for how I was treated in both organizations that I want the best for both of them."
I'm here to develop a winning culture and a winning team. There is a bright future ahead of this team. A lot of young, great hockey players here and on the way … a fan base that's passionate about the game of hockey.
— Dan Bylsma after being introduced as new coach of the Buffalo Sabres