If Wayne Gretzky
were a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, he would write in Ilya Bryzgalov
as his vote for the Hart Trophy as the League MVP.
Speaking on NHL Live! Friday from his Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas with hosts E.J. Hradek and Craig Button, Gretzky, the former coach of the Phoenix Coyotes
, said he would not be surprised if Alex Ovechkin
or Sidney Crosby
were to win the trophy that he won an NHL-record nine times.
Bryzgalov, though, deserves it for what he's done as the Coyotes' goalie.
"In my mind Bryzgalov has been the most valuable player," Gretzky said of the key player behind what is arguably the story of the year in the NHL. "Nobody picked Phoenix to be where they are today and in my mind that's how you pick an MVP."
Gretzky coached the Coyotes for four seasons before leaving this summer amid controversy with the team was embroiled in bankruptcy court proceedings.
Gretzky maintains that he would like to see another NHL franchise in Southern Ontario, but he is thrilled for Phoenix and everyone associated with the Coyotes for what has transpired this season. Phoenix is fourth in the Western Conference, only two points behind the first-place San Jose Sharks
. The Coyotes can clinch their first playoff berth since 2002 Saturday when they host Colorado in front of an expected sellout crowd at Jobing.com Arena.
"First of all I am thrilled for the city of Phoenix and I'm happy for the organization," Gretzky said. "It's a great city and I hope it all works out and it works out for another team in Southern Ontario also. What Phoenix has done this year and what they endured over the summer and how they battled through it, from Doug Moss to Donny Maloney and Dave Tippett
, they could have a clean sweep of Executive of the Year and Coach of the Year."
Gretzky had high praise for Tippett and has been especially impressed with how Maloney has managed the team. He said they will be good for years to come because Maloney has stockpiled prospects and draft picks.
"He's got assets now and bringing in the veteran players he has (this season), now he doesn't have to race these kids," Gretzky said. "The future of this team is really bright. They are going to be a good team for a long time."
"The Great One" is thrilled for veterans like Shane Doan
and Ed Jovanovski
"It starts with leadership and as a coach and an ex-player I have so much respect for Shane Doan
and Ed Jovanovski
," Gretzky said. "They practice hard every day and they come with a smile on their face every day. They love the game and they are true professionals so I am happy that they have a chance to get into the playoffs and perhaps win a Stanley Cup."
Gretzky didn't give his prediction for who would win the Cup, but he mentioned that until the Pittsburgh Penguins
, last season's champion, are eliminated they are the favorite.
"(Sidney) Crosby is a good leader and he's won, and their goalie (Marc-Andre Fleury
) is going to be a superstar and he's won," Gretzky said. "Pittsburgh is going to be tough."
Washington and New Jersey are also on Gretzky's short list as teams that could come out of the East, but Buffalo is his dark horse because he likes the way Lindy Ruff
coaches and Ryan Miller
is still riding his Olympic high after winning silver in Vancouver.
He is curious if San Jose can finally break through this season and said Chicago "is going to be awfully difficult" to beat. He won't count out Vancouver because of Roberto Luongo
, and of course, Detroit has to be considered because of its experience.
But Gretzky is looking for a good story, too, so he's pulling for the Coyotes.
"It would be an incredible story for them to win a Stanley Cup or at least have a great run here in the playoffs," he said. "I think it would be great for the city and great for the game."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl