The Los Angeles Kings have dispatched the top two seeds in the Western Conference in nine games. They are playing the best hockey in the NHL playoffs and are now heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup at 2-to-1 odds.
While goalie Jonathan Quick is getting much of the credit, LA’s success is actually thanks to someone else.
See if you can follow along.
1988: The Kings acquire NHL legend Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers in a blockbuster trade, intent on winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
1996: After early success with the Kings, but no Stanley Cup, Gretzky is traded to the St. Louis Blues in the middle of the 1995-96 season. In exchange for Gretzky, the Kings receive a 1997 draft pick, Roman Vopat, Patrice Tardif and Craig Johnson. Vopat, Tardif and the eventual draft pick (Matt Zultek) have forgettable careers, but Johnson plays left wing for the Kings for eight seasons.
2002-03: LA loses its last player acquired in the Gretzky trade, as Johnson’s time as a King ends.
2003: In the NHL draft, the Kings have four picks in the first 44. They use them to pick two left wings, a center and a right wing.
2004: In the 2004 NHL draft the Kings only have one pick in the first two rounds and use that on a right wing.
2005: With their first two picks in the ’05 draft, the Kings select a center and a left wing. That’s 7-of-7 early picks in the past three drafts used on forwards, and 3-of-7 on left wings, no doubt all part of the Kings’ plan to replace Johnson. With the 60th overall selection, the Kings move on and pick a defenseman. Twelve picks later, with the loss of Johnson addressed -- the same Johnson who was originally acquired in exchange for Wayne Gretzky -- the Kings pick a goaltender by the name of Jonathan Quick.
It couldn’t be more clear. If not for Wayne Gretzky, the Kings may have never gotten Jonathan Quick. So it’s no stretch to say that Wayne Gretzky is close to finally winning the Kings a Stanley Cup, 16 years after leaving the team and 13 years after retiring from hockey.
Great One indeed.