- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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To be there in June at Staples Center was to witness one of the most remarkable Stanley Cup celebrations in the past decade.
Fans stayed in their seats a good hour past the buzzer to watch their beloved Kings share the Cup with their loved ones on the ice.
After four-plus decades of hockey frustration in Los Angeles, not a single soul wanted to leave the building. They wanted to freeze that moment in time.
They’ll need to hang onto that moment longer, because the Cup banner-raising is on hold with an NHL lockout expected to commence Saturday at midnight ET.
It’s a drag for everyone in the hockey world, but especially for the Cup champs.
"I guess it’s like Tampa [in 2004], but it was our first Stanley Cup championship as an organization in 45 years," Kings captain Dustin Brown told ESPN.com. "I feel there’s added significance there with the long wait. The fans of Los Angeles have waited years and years and years. We finally did it, the banner-raising is something the fans really look forward to, and there’s a possibility that’s going to be put on hold because of the lockout."
Brown is quick to point that like all players, he’s focused on getting a fair deal and is solidly behind the NHLPA’s efforts in that regard.
If the impasse between owners and players drags out, the Kings captain also concerns himself with the lost opportunity in his market.
"I think about that," Brown said. "Growing the game here in L.A., we have 15,000 season-ticket [plans] now. ... With the lockout looming, I don’t know how many of those season-ticket holders are going to be season-ticket holders if we start in November, December or later. ... We have all this momentum going; again it goes back to 45 years of frustration and now everyone is excited about hockey in Los Angeles. With the possibility of no hockey, we won’t be able to capitalize on the momentum we’ve built up the last couple of years."
A glorious summer, one highlighted by bringing the Cup to his hometown in late June, gave way in the past few weeks to the stark realization of what lays ahead.
It’s not that Brown didn’t monitor CBA talks all summer long -- he certainly did -- but in the past few weeks the countdown to the expiration of the CBA has made it hit home.
"The last few weeks I’ve started to think about it more and more," Brown said. "As a player, there are decisions to be made, about what you’re going to do, you think about the length of the lockout, you have to think about all the options. For me personally, a lot of decisions are based on what’s best for my family."
On the ice, Brown knows what lies ahead. The Stanley Cup hangover, in different forms, has held true for most of the Stanley Cup champions of the past decade. The Bruins went 3-7-0 in October last year before getting their act together. The Blackhawks the year before also struggled. Brown has talked about the Cup hangover with GM Dean Lombardi (the Mad Professor has done a ton of research on it this summer, to no one’s surprise).
"The key for us, whether it’s in October or whenever, and I’ve talked to Dean about it -- what it’s going to take to avoid the hangover," Brown said. "As the defending Cup champions, everyone is gunning for you. You have to get your game to that next level quickly. We have a target on our back. We know that and want to prepare for that."
I personally wonder whether a delayed start to the season wouldn’t, in some twisted way, actually help the Kings. Players on the past few Stanley Cup champions have told me that the short summer hasn’t allowed their bodies to totally recharge in time for the start of the next season. Heck, Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks told me that the year after they won the Cup his body was never quite 100 percent recovered from the Cup year. So having said all that, perhaps scrapping October wouldn’t be the worst thing ever -- physically -- for the Kings.
If Brown had his way, a new CBA would be negotiated fairly in a timely fashion, and Kings fans would get their banner-raising in October as planned.
If only life were that simple.