Los Angeles Hockey: Stanley Cup

Kings ready to close chapter, write another

January, 19, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- Before the Los Angeles Kings could open the chapter on this season, they had to properly close the chapter on last season.

It was a long overdue process many on the team weren’t sure when or even if they would ever get the chance to experience.

Sure, the NHL lockout would have ended at some point in time and the Kings would have eventually raised their Stanley Cup banner and handed out their championship rings soon after. But if the lockout had canceled this season and if the new salary cap were as low as NHL owners wanted it to be, this day wouldn’t have been the same.

It would have been like having a reunion with many of the invitees spread out all over the country and unable to attend.

There is no way the Kings would have been able to bring back their entire Stanley Cup-winning roster intact if the lockout stretched into next season and the salary cap was as low as $60 million. It would have tarnished a moment Kings fans have dreamed about for 45 years and Kings players and coaches spent three magical months making a reality.

[+] EnlargeLos Angeles Kings
Evan Gole/NHLI/Getty ImagesThe Kings raised the banner for their Stanley Cup season on Saturday.
Before the Kings traded forward Kevin Westgarth, who didn’t play in the playoffs and hasn’t played since February, on the eve of training camp, they were going to be the first Stanley Cup-winning team in recent memory to return everyone on its roster the following season. Even after the Westgarth deal, they are the first team since the 1983 New York Islanders to have all but one player return from the previous championship season. That Islanders squad returned to the Stanley Cup finals that season, but lost to the Edmonton Oilers. No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

The Kings did little to differentiate themselves from recent Stanley Cup winners by losing their season opener after raising their championship banner. Boston and Chicago lost the past two banner-raising games in the NHL, and both lost in the conference quarterfinals the following season.

It’s too early to judge the Kings after their 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday afternoon. They were down 3-0 before the end of the first period and behind 4-0 as soon as the second period started. By the time Rob Scuderi scored the Kings’ first goal of the season, many fans had already left the building.

“You’re going to make some physical mistakes in these first seven or eight games,” Scuderi said. “That’s just the way it is. I expect physical mistakes, but we have to be prepared mentally to play the game and at least give ourselves a chance. If you’re in the right position, which is a mental thing, then you give yourself a chance to win a physical battle.”

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane remembers how hard it was to win after winning the Stanley Cup and having a target placed on his and the team’s back every night. Suddenly, every game felt like a playoff game as teams positioned themselves for a signature win.

“Everyone is going to play their best game against the Cup champion,” Kane said. “That’s a game you want to prove yourself and make a statement. I think that’s what we were feeling tonight, and we had the opportunity to do that.”

Saturday’s game almost seemed like an afterthought for most of the fans in attendance. Many of them flooded L.A. Live across the street from Staples Center and the streets surrounding the arena three hours before the game. There was a beer garden, dance competitions, women passing out beads and outdoor ice-skating in 80-degree weather.

It was almost a continuation of the Stanley Cup Finals, and it felt that way for Kings coach Daryl Sutter. He said it didn’t feel like Game 6, when the Kings won the Cup, but more like Game 4, when Kings fans were celebrating a sweep and a Cup win before it ever happened. The Kings would end up losing that game and the next one before finally closing out the New Jersey Devils and winning the Stanley Cup.

“I kind of looked at tonight as similar to before we played Game 4 last year of the finals,” Sutter said. “You have to focus on what you do and focus on yourself and not what everyone wants you to do.”

As the Kings' players exited the locker room Saturday wearing suits and holding their championship rings inside of large, white Tiffany & Co. boxes, they weren’t making too much of their first loss of the season. It wasn’t exactly the type of game they expect to see very often from their Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goalie. Jonathan Quick gave up five goals on Saturday, which is something he did only once last season.

“You have to get used to getting knocked down and getting back up,” Quick said. “Most of our guys just wanted to play hockey today … We had a chance at 96 points, and now all we have a chance at is 94 … As the ceremony was going on, most of our guys were thinking about the game, but obviously you’re going to take a moment and it’s a special moment for the team and fans, but everyone knew what we were here to do and try to win a hockey game, and, unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that.”

Kings captain Dustin Brown certainly took a moment to appreciate holding the Stanley Cup trophy on the ice one more time and helping raise the championship banner into the rafters of Staples Center, but is happy the Kings can finally move on and focus on repeating history rather than reliving it.

“It was a really good moment for the organization and the players and fans,” Brown said. “But I think, as a group, we’re ready after raising the banner and everything we did last year to close that chapter and write a new chapter here.”

Five questions for the Kings

January, 18, 2013
LOS ANGELES – When the NHL lockout finally ended, it looked like the Los Angeles Kings wouldn’t have many questions heading into this season. Well, at least not as many as their counterparts. After all, they were primed to be the first team in recent memory to return every player on their roster after winning the Stanley Cup.

That was before the Kings shipped forward Kevin Westgarth to Carolina for forward Anthony Stewart and a couple of draft picks. While the Westgarth trade shouldn’t have too much of an effect on the Kings’ on-ice performance (he hasn’t played since last February), there are a few other players from last year’s roster who are question marks for the Kings as the season begins. Their status and the status of the Kings' ownership are two of the many questions facing the team as they look to be the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in 15 years.

1. Will the Kings suffer a Cup hangover?

If there is one positive about the NHL lockout from the Kings’ perspective it’s that it has been seven months since they’ve won the Stanley Cup. There really shouldn’t be any excuses about hangovers or lack of rest with that much time off. Then again, it’s only natural for a team to have a bit of a letdown after being celebrated as champions for the past seven months.

The Kings have been around the world with the Stanley Cup for over half a year and will once again spend the day with it Saturday as they finally raise their championship banner at Staples Center before their regular season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks. Will it be hard to get motivated for Game 1 of the season after being patted on the back for an hour or so pre-game? Maybe, but the Kings also realize that in a 48-game, intra-conference regular season schedule, there isn’t much time to waste. Kings coach Darryl Sutter basically described it as an extended version of the playoffs.

AEG president and CEO and Kings governor Tim Leiweke said he has experience with championship letdowns after the Los Angeles Galaxy, also owned by AEG, won the MLS Cup in 2011 and started last season 6-11-2 before turning their season around and winning their second straight MLS Cup. The Kings will look to repeat that outcome while getting out of the gates with a better record.

2. How will the impending sale of AEG affect the Kings and their moves?

AEG, which owns the Kings, Galaxy, Staples Center, LA Live, Home Depot Center and hundreds of other assets, is currently up for sale. The sale process is in the early stages but is expected to be completed at some point during the NHL season. So will an ownership change during the season affect the Kings’ chance at repeating? Not at all if you listen to Leiweke, who said the company and whoever the new owner is will be just as committed to putting a championship team on the ice as Philip Anschutz was.

“We’re committed to winning,” Leiweke said. “[Kings general manager Dean Lombardi] has the green light to make any moves he believes will improve this team. Whether that’s signing a player or making a trade or whatever, we’re committed to winning the Cup again.”

Leiweke and AEG already showed their commitment in the offseason by keeping the team intact and inking most of their core players to long-term contracts.

3. How will Jonathan Quick respond to offseason back surgery and what will happen to Jonathan Bernier?

Another one of the positives of the lockout as far as the Kings were concerned is that it gave their goalie and Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Jonathan Quick, more time to recover from offseason back surgery. Quick had surgery in August and if the season had started on time he would have missed at least three months. Quick has been on the ice since the start of training camp and said he feels fine heading into the start of the season. Sutter also mentioned that as long as Quick feels fine he is going to lean on him more during this truncated schedule with the importance of every game heightened.

With Quick healthy and inked to a 10-year $58 million contract, backup goalie Jonathan Bernier, who could probably start on most teams, is looking for playing time elsewhere and hoping the Kings will trade him. The problem for Bernier is the Kings will likely take their time as they wait to see how Quick recovers from his surgery. If he looks fine they’ll probably take some more time evaluating what positions they need and what player or players they can get for Bernier.

In the interim, it looks like a win-win for the Kings who will have Quick back for the start of the season and the best backup goalie in the league waiting in the wings if anything happens to him.

4. How long will Willie Mitchell be out and how will that affect the defense?

Leave it to Sutter to just casually slip in some huge injury news in the midst of talking about a completely different subject. That's essentially how reporters found out that Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell underwent knee surgery in the offseason and is way behind schedule. In fact, he’s so far behind schedule that Sutter doesn’t even have a timetable for his return as the season begins.

Mitchell, who had surgery two months ago, was a vital part of the Kings’ Stanley Cup run and a veteran presence on their suffocating defense in the playoffs. He had five goals and a career-best 24 points in 76 regular-season games and one goal and three points in 20 playoff games. He actually averaged more ice time in the playoffs (25:19) than he did during the regular season (22:14).

As far as replacements go, defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk was placed on waivers this week, clearing the way for Jake Muzzin to earn a roster spot while Mitchell remains sidelined. Muzzin played 11 games with the Kings during the 2010-11 season and will compete with Davis Drewiske for ice time in Mitchell’s absence.

5. Will a full season of Jeff Carter cure what ailed the Kings’ offense for much of last season?

Those who jumped on the Kings' bandwagon during the playoffs don’t remember how bad the Kings offense was during the season. It was actually beyond dreadful. In fact, it was so bad you had to feel sorry for Quick, who midway through last season had given up an average of 1.93 goals per game, making him one of just four NHL goaltenders with a GAA below two, but it was largely lost while playing behind the league’s lowest scoring team.

Even with a man advantage, the Kings had a hard time scoring as their power play ranked 16th and converted just 12.8% in the postseason. The Kings finished the regular season 29th in goals per game at just 2.29 per contest.

The Kings are hoping having Jeff Carter, who came over in a trade for Jack Johnson in February, for a full season will fix the Kings’ scoring woes early on. Not only will the Kings have Carter to begin the season but if Simon Gagne, who missed much of last season, can return to his old form and Dwight King and Jordan Nolan, who stepped up at the end of the regular season and the postseason continue to develop, offense might not be as much of a concern for the Kings this season.
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.”

Keeper of the Cup

July, 30, 2012
video Scott Burnside catches up with Walt Neubrand to discuss his responsibilities as one of the keepers of the Stanley Cup.
video Scott Burnside catches up with Dustin Brown to discuss what he did during his day with the Stanley Cup.

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.”

(Read full post)

Kings again leave the Cup on the table

June, 10, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. -- Before the Los Angeles Kings took the ice for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, Dustin Brown smiled and said that since the Kings had to fly back home after the game anyway, they might as well bring the Cup with them on the long flight.

Although the trophy was once again in the building, for the second straight game the Kings left the ice empty-handed, destined to drink out of regular cups instead of a silver chalice on their flight to L.A. on Saturday night.

Jim O'Connor/US Presswire
Since taking a 3-0 series lead against the New Jersey Devils and being in position to win the Cup, the Kings have failed to take the lead in each of the past two games.

"We want the Cup!" has become a rallying cry around Los Angeles over the past couple of weeks, but maybe the Kings need to forget about the trophy they are playing for. Ever since the Stanley Cup has arrived at the arena they are playing in, they have seemingly crumbled in its presence. Since taking a 3-0 series lead against the New Jersey Devils and being in position to win the Cup, the Kings have failed to take the lead in each of the past two games. Suddenly this team’s mystique is beginning to fade as quickly as its lead in this series.

For the first time in more than two months, the Kings returned to a visiting locker room and took off their white uniforms in defeat. It was a feeling so foreign to most players, they didn’t quite know how to react.

Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick got defensive when a reporter said this was the first time this postseason that the Kings had been tested or faced adversity.

“I thought we were tested pretty hard in the first, second and third rounds,” he said. “Just because we were able to come out on top it doesn’t mean we weren’t tested. If you don’t think we were tested in those series, you should be covering a different sport.”

Well, it was the first time the Kings had dropped a road playoff game in nearly 14 months. The Kings have won an NHL playoff-record 10 straight road games this year, and 12 straight dating back to their first-round series against San Jose last year. They had always responded to a loss with a win, until now.

So now the question is how the Kings will respond to their first back-to-back losing streak of these playoffs, in the first Game 6 they will have to play after closing out each of their previous three series in four or five games.

(Read full post)

Secret to good power play? There's no secret

June, 8, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. -- Except for some better results, not much has changed on the power play the last two games.

The Los Angeles Kings combined for three goals on six man-advantage opportunities in Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, as many as they scored in the previous 14 playoff games.

The Kings split the last two meetings with the New Jersey Devils at Staples Center, leaving them with a 3-games-to-1 series edge heading into Game 5 on Saturday night at Prudential Center. Another win and L.A. will clinch its first Stanley Cup title in franchise history.

Justin Williams, who scored a power-play goal late in Game 3, said a variety of factors have accounted for the unit’s recent surge in production.

“There’s no secret to a good power play,” he said. “Shots, screens, tips, rebounds. It’s all of those things. An extra effort on a goal, getting in front of the goalie, just out-battling the four guys with one of your five out there.”

The Kings didn’t have a power play in Game 3 until the third period, when they were protecting a 2-0 lead. That gave the coaching staff reason to tinker with their personnel, keeping the first and second lines together with two defensemen, rather than their normal set of a fourth forward stationed at the blue line alongside a single defenseman.

L.A. scored on both man-advantage situations to finish off the 4-0 victory.

Dustin Brown wasn’t sure if the change in personnel helped spur the power play in Game 3, but “you’re more comfortable playing with your line,” he said.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter said the decision to go with line combinations in Game 3, rather than his usual power-play combinations, was purely strategy and not a result of the team’s lack of production with the man advantage.

“It’s more time and score and those sorts of things,” he said.

(Read full post)

Stanley Cup lessons

May, 23, 2012
It has been a banner run for the Los Angeles Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Kings are 12-2 this postseason, including 8-0 on the road (the best road win streak to start a playoff year in league history) and they have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993.

However, as the Kings prep for the Cup Final, here are a couple of historical notes that don't paint such a rosy picture of potential Cup success:

• The Kings are the seventh West Coast team (defined as a team from a state or province that borders the Pacific Ocean for this discussion) to reach the Cup Final in the post-expansion era (1967-68 to present). Only one of the previous six finalists from the West Coast went on to win the Cup, the 2007 Anaheim Ducks.

• In addition, as the 8-seed in the West, the Kings are also the seventh team seeded 6th or lower to reach the Stanley Cup Final under the current conference-based playoff format, which was first used in 1994. No team seeded 6th or lower has won the Stanley Cup under this format. The New Jersey Devils are the lowest seed to win the Cup, winning as a 5-seed in 1995.

The Kings are set to face the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between the Rangers and Devils. Game 1 will be May 30. Visit ESPN's series page here: Rangers vs. Devils.