They were born on a hot summer day in 1967 and with five other new teams, the Los Angeles Kings were set to start the National Hockey League’s new chapter.
The formation of the Kings not only had outsiders doubting that professional hockey in Southern California would work but hockey purists were even more bothered knowing that the age of the Original Six, which had been the face of the NHL for the previous 25 years, was no more. The likes of the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Red Wings, Bruins, Rangers and Blackhawks would now have to battle against six new teams, one of them being the Los Angeles Kings.
Having already owned the NFL’s Washington Redskins and NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, Canadian entrepreneur Jack Kent Cooke had a desire to own a hockey team. So, he bought the Kings and guided them into the NHL. But even with future Hall-of-Famers Terry Sawchuk in goal and Red Kelly behind the bench, the Kings were initially mediocre at best.
Despite making the playoffs in their first two years, the Kings finished 31-33-10 and 24-42-10 respectively. The Kings would not qualify for the playoffs again until the 1973-74 campaign.
Although they set team records in wins (42) and points (105) in 1974-75, the Kings couldn’t get close to competing for a Stanley Cup. Even with a future Hall-of-Famer in Bob Pulford behind the bench, the success of the royal blue-and-gold was limited.
But on June 17, 1975, the Kings signed a free agent who would become the face of their franchise for years to come. After four years of playing with a then-stagnant Detroit Red Wings franchise, Marcel Dionne jumped ship to Los Angeles.
In his 11 seasons with the Kings, Dionne would reach the 30-goal plateau 10 times, the 40-goal plateau five times and score 50 once. During his time in Los Angeles, however, Dionne was fortunate to share a line with Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer, who quickly gained notoriety as one of the most productive trios in the NHL, being appropriately dubbed ‘The Triple-Crown Line.’ In 1980-81, the trio made NHL history as all three of them reached the 100-point mark.
In the early-80’s, the most loyal of Kings fans were able to celebrate a significant playoff achievement. In the 1982 playoffs, Los Angeles was up against Wayne Gretzky and the juggernaut Edmonton Oilers. Having scored never-to-be-broken records of 92 goals and 212 points that year, No. 99, with his team in tow, was set to treat the Kings as nothing more than a blip on the radar en route to their first Stanley Cup title.
With the best-of-five tied at one game apiece, the stage was set for what will be forever known as ‘The Miracle on Manchester.’
After jumping out to a 5-0 lead after two periods, the Kings began an improbable comeback scoring four times before Steve Bozek tied the game with just five seconds to go in the third. Then, Daryl Evans scored in overtime to complete the comeback. The Kings won the game and eventually the series, sending the Oilers home much earlier than expected.
While not great, the Los Angeles Kings were good for much of the 1980’s but in 1988, they were on, in many ways, the better end of the trade of the century which saw the aforementioned Gretzky move to Los Angeles.
With The Great One’s trade to the Kings, the franchise changed their logo and colors to silver-and-black. Suddenly this underground following of a team became the talk of Tinseltown overnight and No. 99 was poised to bring a Stanley Cup there. But while the Kings did set some marks with Gretzky – 46 wins in 1990-91, for one – they could not win hockey’s most ultimate prize. They did come close by reaching the Finals in 1993 but lost to Montreal in five games. Even worse, 1993 would mark the last time the Kings would make the playoffs until 1998. Between that time, the Kings traded Gretzky but not before trading valuable assets like Tomas Sandstrom and Darryl Sydor just to name two. In addition, the Kings were marred with ownership trouble off the ice during said timeframe.
In the middle of a few ill-conceived rebuilding attempts, the Los Angeles Kings did have some highlight moments which included their 2001 opening-round playoff series against a very tough Detroit Red Wings squad. After losing the first two games of the series, the Kings won Game 3 before coming back from a late 3-0 deficit to win Game 4 and ultimately the series, won on a highlight-reel overtime winner by Adam Deadmarsh.
Overall, the Kings weren’t as successful as they hoped to be. But in 2006, the Kings hired Dean Lombardi as their new general manager and he immediately set a five-year rebuilding plan. For the first few years of said plan, it was admittedly frustrating to watch the Kings struggle. However, pardon the cliché, there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
With Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick already drafted under Lombardi’s predecessor Dave Taylor, the new GM and his scouting staff looked long and hard for talent, drafting early and late to find the players who would help form the success story of the Los Angeles Kings today.
But it’s one thing to draft prospects; it’s quite another to develop them into NHL-calibre players.
Lombardi and company drafted the likes of Drew Doughty, Trevor Lewis and Alec Martinez, traded for Justin Williams, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and signed the likes of Willie Mitchell and the since-departed Rob Scuderi and the end result was more than appreciated.
The Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup in 2012. For an entire summer – and even longer due to the lockout – Kings fans everywhere from California to Canada to the United Kingdom to Australia had the chance to, at last, celebrate their team’s ultimate victory. Now, as their team heads to the playoffs for a fifth-straight year, these same fans can look back on a new achievement: the Los Angeles Kings winning their 1500th game as a franchise.
We can sit here and debate what could have been if it weren’t for the team trading such stars as Butch Goring or Billy Smith, if Marty McSorley had changed to a legal stick in ’93, if owner Bruce McNall didn’t find himself in serious financial trouble. But why would we do that when the Los Angeles Kings have brought us so much joy not only in recent years but throughout the course of their existence?
Fans glowingly speak of the Miracle on Manchester, the 2001 series defeat of Detroit and even the Triple-Crown Line like it was yesterday – and so they should. Even newer fans know of these momentous occasions and treat their former players like, pardon the pun, royalty.
To outsiders, Daryl Evans may have been just a middle-of-the-road player who just happened to score an iconic goal in team history. To the Los Angeles Kings and their fans, he's much more than that. He’s a quality human being who gives so much not only to the franchise but to, more importantly, the community.
While Mr. Evans is only one of many examples, it does underline the unconditional love and dedication fans of the Los Angeles Kings show.
Franchise win No. 1500 is not only for the Los Angeles Kings but for their die-hard fans. This is for the Kelly Valdezs and the Corey Ashworths who, despite becoming fans within the last decade, were immediately hooked by this team and never looked back. This win is for the Steven Raboins, the Becky Fierros and the Lee Ann Kleines who have been fans long enough where they could throw out important dates and stats that even I had to look up. This is even for Chris and Christina Thomas or Kerri McCormack and Tonga Raboin, those who celebrate the up and downs of their team as couples.
No. 1500 is for everyone, living or departed, who has ever, at one time or another, called the Los Angeles their team.
Here’s to 1500 wins – and many, many more.