Los Angeles Hockey: Luc Robitaille

LOS ANGELES -- As Los Angeles Kings governor and AEG president/CEO Tim Leiweke sat on a dais set up inside Staples Center, he began to get emotional looking around the Chick Hearn Press Room.

To his right was Bob Miller, the voice of the Los Angeles Kings for the past 37 years. To his left were Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, coach Darryl Sutter and president of business operations Luc Robitaille. And seated in front of him were Kings players Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene and Jonathan Quick.

Leiweke hadn't been sure when he would see all these men in the same room again. There were several times during the 113-day NHL lockout when it looked like the Kings would never get to defend their title and properly celebrate winning the Stanley Cup seven months ago.

“When you wait 45 years to win a Cup, the last thing you want to do is wait to raise that banner,” Leiweke said. “I think for our fans, in particular, asking them to wait another three months was not a great process. They were as equally as frustrated as we were.”

For the first time in recent memory, the defending Stanley Cup champions return completely intact the following season. Not a single player left the squad. The closest defending champion with that kind of return was the 1983 New York Islanders, who had 23 of 24 players come back after winning the Stanley Cup. That team returned to the Stanley Cup finals but lost to the Edmonton Oilers. No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

“To me, the most important thing is winning again,” Leiweke said. “No one has repeated as Stanley Cup champions in 15 years. We’re most interested in allowing our players the right to go out and defend the Cup. This was never about winning a Cup. This was about creating a legacy, and I think we have the team and the character to do it.”

Leiweke is so confident the Kings will be adding more than one banner to Staples Center in the coming years that he and the team decided to raise the Kings’ Stanley Cup championship banner and hang it from the rafters, as opposed to placing it on the wall with the other championship banners and retired jerseys from the Kings, Lakers and Sparks.

“We’re going to do something different,” Leiweke said, “so we have room to hang the others.”

The Kings will announce Friday that the banner-raising ceremony will take place before the Kings’ season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 19 at Staples Center. Fans attending that game will receive a replica championship banner, Robitaille said.

Later in the season, the Kings will host a game during which fans will receive replica championship rings. The Kings also have reopened the outdoor public ice skating rink at L.A. Live across from Staples Center through Feb. 4. Meanwhile, Leiweke announced that the Kings and McDonald's will donate $1 million to local charities, and credited Lakers forward Metta World Peace with another promotion the Kings have in mind to raise money for those charities.

“We’re going to donate a few rings to different charities to help them raffle them off and make money,” Leiweke said. “We’re going to follow the lead of what World Peace did when he raffled his ring. That was phenomenal.”

While the Kings will not play Eastern Conference teams during the shortened 48-game season, Leiweke said the Kings and the Los Angeles Galaxy, who won back-to-back MLS Cups, will make a joint visit to the White House to meet President Barack Obama during the NHL season.

“We have a tentative date and we’re waiting to see if it works on the president’s schedule,” Leiweke said. “We’re going to take the Kings and the Galaxy on the same day, and do it in one shot with both teams. No one’s ever done that before, but then again, no city has ever had two championships like this. We’re going to bring all our guys back from the Galaxy, including Mr. [David] Beckham, and all of the Kings during a road trip.”

Despite the impending sale of AEG, Leiweke assured Kings fans that Lombardi has the green light to sign any player and make any deal he thinks will improve the Kings ... and that the ownership already showed its commitment by keeping the entire team intact in the offseason.

Lombardi didn’t seem overly anxious to mess with the chemistry the team developed during its Stanley Cup championship run, but he admitted he'd continue to evaluate the team as training camp opens this weekend.

“It’s not about recapturing the feeling,” Lombardi said. “It’s about writing a new story. The one thing we know about that story is when they fulfill it and get to the end, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”

Kings relive Stanley Cup on silver screen

July, 23, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- With the Stanley Cup and Clarence S. Campbell Bowl sitting below a giant 70-foot screen and nearly 700 fans, the Los Angeles Kings premiered their official Stanley Cup Champions DVD on Monday night at the Regal Cinema in L.A. Live.

[+] EnlargeStanley Cup DVD
Gary MiereanuLos Angeles Kings players Matt Greene, left, and Jarret Stoll carry the Stanley Cup into the theater at the premiere of the team's championship DVD.
Walking down a press line at the theater normally held for Hollywood movie premieres, Kings defenseman Matt Greene smiled at the thought of seeing his formerly bearded mug on the silver screen for the first time. “This is my first feature length film,” he said. “It’ll be exciting. I was in acting class, but I never made the cut.”

The DVD, which comes out on Tuesday, traces the Kings’ journey to the Stanley Cup all the way back to 1967, when they were being assembled as an expansion franchise and the Forum in Inglewood was under construction. It highlights the Kings’ trade for Wayne Gretzky in 1988 and the team’s Stanley Cup Finals run in 1993, when they lost to the Montreal Canadiens. The film then transitions into the rebuilding of the Kings with the drafting of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty.

“Touching on the history of the franchise is key,” said Luc Robitaille, the Kings’ president of business operations and Hall of Fame former left winger for the team. “They did a great job. We were so busy when we won, we didn’t really get a chance to enjoy that moment. So today it will be great to see it again and the reaction from our fans.”

As the film chronicled the Kings’ roller coaster 2011-2012 season leading up to their unpredictable and unprecedented postseason run, the theater crowd cheered after every big goal as if the team's followers were across the street at Staples Center again.

“We were so focused and our mind was so straight forward during the playoffs that you miss some things,” said Kings center Jarret Stoll, who, along with Greene, carried the Stanley Cup to the front of the theater before the premiere. “So it’s great to see it again.”

Everyone in the theater knew how the film would play out, but it was a finale they didn’t mind seeing again.

“I knew the ending,” Robitaille said. “But I never get tired of it.”

These Kings are built for a long run

June, 19, 2012
KingsJayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireThis Kings team seems to have a better chance at continued success when compared to the 1993 Cup finalist.

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.”

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Lombardi takes elevator to the top

June, 15, 2012
Dean LombardiBruce Bennett/Getty ImagesDean Lombardi is humble when it comes to the Kings' accomplishments, but he had a major hand in helping them get there.

LOS ANGELES -- What must have seemed like the longest elevator ride of his life finally came to a halt shortly before 8 p.m. Monday night.

The Los Angeles Kings had just clinched their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history, and general manager Dean Lombardi, in his sixth season at the helm, was rushing from the press box inside Staples Center to the arena floor, hoping to reach the ice in time for the Cup presentation by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

"Hold on, Bettman. I've got to see this," Lombardi hollered at the elevator door, which was nearly pressed against his face.

A few seconds later, Lombardi and a handful of executives were speed-walking down the hallway and disappearing around a corner.

The 45-year wait was over.

The scene was in stark contrast to my first experience behind L.A.'s curtains, 4½ years ago.

It was just after Christmas 2007, when I was asked by a senior editor at another publication in town to cover practice the following morning. Eager to move up the chain after 14 years of mostly writing about high school sports, I enthusiastically accepted the assignment, even though I kept it to myself that I hadn’t been following the team in my spare time.

My first order of business was uncovering what the Kings had done lately. Much to my surprise, they had lost eight straight games, which remains their longest losing streak since dropping their final 11 in 2004.

Walking into the locker room the next day, it was as quiet as a college library during finals week.

Michael Cammalleri, nursing sore ribs at the time, didn't even bother to look up when asked about the progress of his injury.

Rob Blake, rumored to be heading to a playoff-bound team looking to shore up its defensive corps, said he would gladly waive his no-trade clause if approached.

Patrick O'Sullivan looked like the most sullen guy in L.A.

That was Season 2 of Lombardi's rebuilding plan, and he said everything was proceeding as planned.

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Kings: This trick couldn't have come at a better time

February, 25, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- The built-in storyline coming into Saturday night’s game against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks was the debut of Kings forward Jeff Carter.

Turns out another right wing, the one who wasn’t traded away this week, stole the show.

Dustin Brown scored his third career hat trick and matched his career-high with four points, leading the Kings over the Blackhawks, 4-0, in front of a joyous sold-out crowd that witnessed its first victory at Staples Center since Feb. 1.

“Things went well for me tonight and I hope to build on it,” Brown said. “We’ve been struggling as a team, and I’ve been struggling personally to score goals, and it definitely felt good to score some goals tonight.”

In his fourth season as team captain, Brown became the object of wide-spread trade rumors Thursday night, the same evening the Kings traded defenseman Jack Johnson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Carter.

He was stuck in the unenviable position of attending practice the following morning and then taking questions from a larger-than-normal gathering of media. Brown sat back and answered every one, most probing his knowledge and reaction to the trade rumors.

“I’ve been a King my whole career and I expect to be a King beyond the next few days,” he said. “For me, personally, I probably said this [Friday], with all the rumors flying around, it’s my responsibility to prepare myself to be the best I can. Tonight I felt good.”

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Kings: Pavol Demitra was a bright star during brief stay

September, 7, 2011
Pavol Demitra didn’t spend much of his NHL career in Los Angeles, just enough to time to leave one of his lasting impressions.

Demitra, who was among those killed Wednesday in Russia when a plane carrying members of the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv hockey team crashed shortly after takeoff, played for the Kings during the 2005-06 season.

Despite missing 24 games because of injuries, Demitra still finished second on the team with 25 goals and third with 62 points. Perhaps the highlight of his stay came on Nov. 19, 2005, when he recorded the fourth hat trick of his career in a 4-3 victory against visiting Colorado, sending hats spiraling from the Staples Center crowd and onto the ice.

The third goal broke a 3-3 tie with 3 1/2 minutes remaining and was netted after Demitra's pass to Lubomir Visnovsky was blocked back to him by Colorado defenseman Karlis Skrastins, who was also on Wednesday's doomed flight.

Dustin Brown is the only player on last season’s roster who was on the Kings that season, but another former teammate, Hall of Fame forward Luc Robitaille, the Kings president of business operations, remembers Demitra living up to expectations right from the start.

“When he came to us he was going to be one of our top guys,” Robitaille told the L.A. Times. “He certainly didn't disappoint.”

Demitra was a three-time All Star and former Lady Byng winner when he signed with the Kings as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2005. His three-year, 13.5-million deal looked like a good investment when he entered the Olympic break tied for the team lead with 57 points, despite missing three weeks in January with a deep leg bruise.

However, he suffered nasal fractures and bleeding behind an eye when he was struck in the face with the puck while playing for his native Slovakia at the Olympic Games, then suffered a concussion in his first game back. He appeared in just eight games following the Olympics.

On daft day that June, he was traded to the Minnesota Wild for Patrick O’Sullivan, who was later part of a three-team trade that brought over current winger Justin Williams. Also included in the deal was the Wild’s No. 1 pick that year, Trevor Lewis, who is still a member of the Kings.

Demitra’s former agent, Rich Winter, told Edmonton’s Sports Radio Team 1260 that Demitra always had a fire in his eye, ever since he fell into the ninth round of the 1993 draft. He made the Ottawa Senators that fall and stuck around for parts of 15 more seasons.

“He committed to me the minute he was drafted that he would show these guys hard work and determination,” Winter said.

And he did. Only three players taken before Demitra have more goals in their career, Paul Kariya, Jason Arnott and Miroslav Satan.

Kings: A Wild return on tap at Staples Center

February, 24, 2011
Kings (33-23-4, 70 points) vs. Minnesota Wild (32-22-6, 70) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:

1. Home sweet home – The Kings probably won’t need to turn on the GPS to find their way to Staples Center tonight, but they might feel a little like the visitor when they walk into the arena. Thanks to the Grammy Awards and the NBA All-Star Game, the Kings haven’t played a home game since Jan. 26, a 3-2 shootout victory against San Jose. A lot has happened between then and now, most importantly they reeled off a 6-1-3 record in the ensuing road games and moved from 11th to sixth in the Western Conference standings.

2. Sitting pat? – While other teams around the league continue to trade players like they're at a baseball card convention, the Kings seem content to forge ahead with virtually the same roster. By comparison, a night after allowing three goals against on 18 shots in a 3-2 loss to the Kings, Anaheim goalkeeper Curtis McElhinney was promptly traded this morning to Tampa Bay for goalie Dan Ellis. If you’re keeping track, both goalies who practiced with the Ducks on Tuesday were gone by Thursday. The Kings have until Monday to get that high-scoring forward they so desperately need.

3. Little separation – No team has played the Kings as closely this season as the Wild. All three previous meetings were tied at the end of regulation, with the Kings winning the first in a shootout, Minnesota winning the second in overtime and the third in a shootout. In another sign of just how even these teams are, both teams enter this game with the same number of points. Nashville and Calgary are also sitting on 70 points to round out the top eight.

4. Defensive competition --Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell scored his second goal of the season Wednesday night against the Ducks and it proved to be a huge one, breaking a 2-2 tie seven minutes into the third period and holding up to be the winner. Mitchell has now joined in the unofficial competition among the other two veteran blue-liners, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene, to see who could score the most goals this season. Scuderi has two goals and Greene has one. All three scored on the recent 10-game trip.

5. Breaking the 20 --On the flipside, Ryan Smyth scored his 20thgoal of the season against Anaheim, putting him in a three-way tie for the team lead with Justin Williams and Dustin Brown. It’s the 11thseason that Smyth has scored at least 20 goals. Now, if Anze Kopitar (18 goals) and Jarret Stoll (16) can get to 20, it would mark the first time the Kings had five 20-goal scorers in the same season since 1993-94. Luc Robitaille (44), Wayne Gretzky (38), Jari Kurri (31), Mike Donnelly (21) and Rob Blake (20) were the team leaders that season.