I grew up watching the Los Angeles Kings.
I’m old enough to remember those purple and gold uniforms with the giant crown which was more reminiscent of Imperial Margarine than a hockey team. I’m old enough to remember when the Kings were essentially an NHL after-thought, when their line-up consisted of Hall-of-Famer Marcel Dionne and little else; his supporting cast was a collection of the likes of Butch Goring, Steve Jensen, and Mario Lessard.
Obviously, that also means I’m old enough to watch the transition of this franchise which occurred once Wayne Gretzky hit town. In the B.G. (Before Gretzky) era, the Kings would play in front crowds consisting of about 2,000 Canadian expatriates, almost as if the Forum was Southern California’s own “Bob and Doug McKenzie” farm.
Then in the D.G. (During Gretzky) era, Kings games took on a distinctly “Hollywood” feel, the seats near the glass filled with assorted celebrities almost as if we were doing a ice-bound impersonation of a Lakers game. They changed the crowd, they changed the uniforms, and they changed the results. It was during this era the Kings made their only previous Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Then came the A.G. (After Gretzky) era. Until now, the only way to tell the difference between the B.G. era and the A.G. era was the uniforms. If you were watching a team with limited talent and a dismal play-off performance and they were wearing purple and gold, that was the B.G. era Kings. If you were watching a team with limited talent and a dismal play-off performance and they were wearing black, that was the A.G. era.
That was until a few days ago, when something happened that hasn’t happened since the During Gretzky era. Nineteen years after making their first appearance in a Stanley Cup Final, the Kings secured a return trip with their capture of the Western Conference Final.
Even upon entering the playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings garnered little respect. They came in as a #8 seed, but popular opinion had them being swept aside by the President’s trophy winner Vancouver Canucks. The Kings took that series 4-1. Then, many people thought the Kings couldn’t outpace the 109-point powerhouse known as the St. Louis Blues. The Kings swept that series.
After those two series victories, the Kings finally started getting some respect. Now, to be honest, there were a few voices out there who were extolling the virtues of the Los Angeles Kings coming into the playoffs, most notably Bruce Boudreau, Barry Melrose, and Dan Patrick. But now that the Kings have made it to the Stanley Cup Final, I thought it was time for an old Kings fan to offer a primer for the hoard of bandwagons fans who are bound to jump on board. That way, you can be just like Dan Patrick and call this team “Your Los Angeles Kings.”
Your Los Angeles Kings – The Summary:
The following observation of the Kings was penned by Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Rosenbloom.
“The Kings are big and fast. They can score and defend. They devour loose pucks in the middle of the ice and destroy opponents along the boards. They will play any style of game you want — wide-open or defensively obsessed — and they will beat you at it, especially in your barn. They have won an NHL record 10 straight playoff road games.”
But they weren’t always that way. Rosenbloom also points out that after Darryl Sutter was hired as the King’s head coach in December, Los Angeles posted a 25-13-11 record. They were only a #8 because they were a 15-14-4 team prior to Sutter’s arrival.
Your Los Angeles Kings – The Vital Statistics:
- Previous Stanley Cup Final appearances: 1 (Lost in five games in 1993 to the Montreal Canadiens. By the way, this was the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup)
- 2012 regular season record: 40-27-15 (3rd place Pacific Division)
- 2012 post-season record: 12-2
- Goals per-game (regular season): 2.29 (29th in NHL)
- Goals per-game (post-season): 2.93 (3rd in NHL)
- Goals against (regular season): 2.07 (2nd in NHL)
- Goals against (post-season): 1.57 (1st in NHL)
Your Los Angeles Kings – The Long Road To The Stanley Cup Final:
This team was a playoff qualifier in the previous two seasons, and ironically they posted better records in those seasons as well; going 46-27-9 in 2009-2010 and 46-30-6 in 2010-2011. But they couldn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs. At the beginning of this season, when it appeared then-head coach Terry Murray had this team regressing based on its slow start, he was fired and after a four game interim stint behind the Kings bench by John Stevens, Darryl Sutter took over the reins.
The Kings responded to this change; winning four of their first six, but after that they reverted back to the form of a .500 team. Murray had been fired for underperforming with a team that had been years in the making to be a playoff contender. Nine players on the Kings season-ending roster were first-round draft picks, and another four were second-rounders.
Kings’ captain Dustin Brown was selected with the 13th overall pick in 2003. To true puckheads, the 2003 draft may very be considered the best draft class of all time, considering it has produced such talent as Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise (who will be facing Your Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final), Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry. In addition to Brown, the construction of Kings also included high draft picks such as Drew Doughty (2nd pick overall in 2008) and Anze Kopitar (11th overall pick in 2005). Brayden Schenn was the fifth overall selection in the 2009 draft, but he was part of a trade to acquire Mike Richards (24th overall pick in the 2003 draft) from Philadelphia.
But Your Los Angeles Kings were not built on the draft alone. They signed unrestricted free agent Willie Mitchell in 2010, and the 35-year-old defenseman has been averaging 25 minutes, 27 seconds of ice time in the playoffs second only, ranking behind only Drew Doughty. Dustin Penner was acquired in a trade with Edmonton last year.
But the trade that proved to be the turning point for Your Los Angeles Kings was the February deal which sent Jack Johnson to Columbus for three-time 30-goal scorer Jeff Carter (11th overall pick in the 2003 draft). Not only did Carter give Your Los Angeles Kings three players from the talent-stocked 2003 draft, it gave them that “one missing piece.” All of a sudden, not only could the Kings shut you down defensively, now they could outskate you on the offensive end as well. This is why Your Los Angeles Kings went 12-5-3 after putting a crown on Carter’s chest.
That eighteen-game run got Your Los Angeles Kings into the playoffs, but the reason they are the first #8 to beat the #1 and #2 two conference seeds in the playoffs and why the Kings have become only the eighth team since 1980 to win 12 of their first 14 playoff games comes in one word…goaltending.
Even though Jonathan Quick was picked in the third round of the 2005 draft (72nd overall), he has been a bigger factor in this playoff run than any of the “big three” from the 2003 draft. Quick is the playoff leader in goals-against average (1.54), in save-percentage (.946), which is why he is 12-2 with two shutouts in the post-season. On top of that, Quick has a .928 save-percentage while short-handed, he is clutch late in games as he has only allowed four goals in the third period in 14 playoff games, and while the Kings have yet to be taken into overtime in the post-season Quick has yet to lose an overtime game this season. To duplicate his performance, just spray-paint “32″ on a sheet of plywood and nail it into the goal.
Your Los Angeles Kings: A New Era?
I’ve already mentioned the three eras in the history of the Los Angeles Kings; Before Gretzky, During Gretzky, and After Gretzky. But if the Kings bring Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Southern California, this very easily could become “Your” era for the Kings. This team has all the talent to win, and to emerge from the shadows of the Los Angeles sports world, that’s exactly what they need to do. Even beyond Southern California, this team deserves far more attention than it is getting, but America is a country that loves a winner.
Remember a decade ago when the New England Patriots rose from nowhere in the sports world to become a dynasty? While the Kings are far from a dynasty, their rise to their first shot at a championship is very similar to that of Patriots. The pieces have been being assembled for a while, then one day, it all came together. It’s one thing if you just aren’t a hockey fan, but if you have even a passing interest, be sure to watch the Stanley Cup Finals and discover why this could be “Your” era for you and the Los Angeles Kings.