LOS ANGELES --When Luc Robitaille boarded a double-decker bus last week for the Kings’ Stanley Cup victory parade through Downtown L.A. he couldn’t help but think back to the 1993 team he was on that came within three wins, and some would still argue a Marty McSorley curved stick, from making the same victorious ride.
“I remember sitting on the team bus after the last game in Montreal thinking we’ll be back next year,” Robitaille said. “We all thought we’d be back.”
It took the Kings 19 years to return to the Stanley Cup finals, but the way Robitaille sees it now, it shouldn’t take the team nearly two decades to return to the finals again.
Not only do the Kings boast one of the youngest teams in the league, but unlike in 1993 when then-Kings owner Bruce McNall pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy and fraud and forced the Kings into bankruptcy, the team is now financially solid, backed by one of the richest men on the planet (Philip Anschutz) and fresh off signing a $250 million television rights deal, one of the richest in the NHL.
“The big problem after 1993 was the team went on a downfall for years afterwards,” said Robitaille, who is now the Kings’ president of business operations. “Unfortunately for Mr. McNall it was a hard situation for him but at the end of the day we weren’t able to keep our young players and other players got older.”
When the Kings hired Dean Lombardi as the team’s president and general manager in 2006, the plan wasn’t simply to make a quick fix or make one big signing or trade, it was to build a team that would be a consistent contender for years like the Detroit Red Wings. After the Kings made the playoffs the past two seasons after a seven-year postseason drought, the Kings are right where they had hoped they would be.
“We’ve all talked for the last five years as an organization that we want to build this team for the long run,” Robitaille said. “We intend to get better. We love this run, we love this championship and we’re always going to remember it but what we’re going to do now is get better for next year and the year after that. We’re going to try everything we can to keep this going. We want to be thought of with some of the great teams in this city.”
Almost as impressive as the Kings’ 16-4 playoff run, which is tied for the second best in NHL postseason history, is that they were able to play so well under pressure despite having one of the three youngest teams in the NHL. Most of their top players such as Dustin Brown (age 27), Anze Kopitar (24), Drew Doughty (22) Jonathan Quick (26) Mike Richards (27), Jeff Carter (27), Dustin Penner (29), Dwight King (22), Trevor Lewis (25), Brad Richardson (27), Colin Fraser (27), Jordan Nolan (22), Slava Voynov (22), Matt Greene (29) and Alec Martinez (24) are still in their 20s.
The majority of that core group is either signed to a long-term deal or will likely be signed to a long-term deal soon.
“The thing I like about these guys is they’re already talking about the core and keeping it together and competing and winning a bunch of Cups,” said AEG president and CEO and Kings governor Tim Leiweke. “If you start with our goaltender and build this club from his character and his temperament out, what you begin to see with Quick is he’s unbelievably competitive and focused and all he’s talking about now is how do we do this year after year. I want to win a bunch of these. We understand we have some pieces to finalize here but what I’m mostly excited about is it’s the players talking about how do we do this year after year.”
Perhaps the biggest piece the Kings have to finalize is Quick, who can become a free agent next summer. The Kings can begin negotiations with him beginning July 1 and Leiweke said locking him up long-term is the team’s top priority.
Quick may be the biggest star on the team right now after winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, but another difference between these Kings and the 1993 squad is there are no megastars on the team. In 1993, Wayne Gretzky was the team's star. Without a player neat that level, it should go a long way in keeping the core of this team intact long term.
“It was all about Gretz then,” Leiweke said. “What I like most about this team it’s not about just one guy. It’s Quick but it’s also Brown and Kopitar and Doughty and Richards and Carter. We’re blessed. We have a lot of guys that would be stars on any other team but by mixing the talent we have, we don’t have stars, we have a bunch of guys that believe in the team and the sweater first.
"Bruce didn’t have the capability to take advantage of the opportunity but we certainly do. With the campus and Staples Center and Mr. Anschutz’s commitment we’re in a position to not only keep the nucleus together but going out and finding an even higher platform for this team.”