L.A. Sports Franchises: Los Angeles Kings
March 29, 2011 Leave a comment
Stanley Cups: None
Retired Numbers: #16 Marcel Dionne, #18 Dave Taylor, #20 Luc Robitaille, #30 Rogie Vachon, #99 Wayne Gretzky
The Kings franchise was founded in February 1966, joining the other five teams that began play as aprt of the NHL expansion in 1967. They began play in The Forum arena in nearby Inglewood, California, before they moved to their current home, downtown LA’s Staples Center, to start the 1999-2000 season.
In their first season, the Kings finished in second place in the Western Division, just one point back from the Flyers, another 1967 expansion team. They also boasted the only winning home record out of the expansion teams, but were eliminated in the first round of playoffs. In the franchise’s second season, the Kings clinched the final playoff berth in the division, but were swept out of postseason play in the second round by the St. Louis Blues.
After two particularly successful seasons for the brand new team, the Kings experienced a good amount of hardship, mostly due to poor management. Some poor trades would impede the team’s success for a number of seasons, hampering attendance in the process. It wouldn’t be until the early 1970’s that the Kings would experience postseason play again, as a few key acquisitions and smart coaching moves saw the program in the playoffs in 1974, where they went on to be swept in five games by the Blackhawks. However, this squad, led by former player and head coach Bob Pulford, would go on to build a 105-point season in 1974-75, which is still a franchise record.
After being eliminated from the first round of playoffs in 1973-74 and 1974-75, the key acquisition of center Marcel Dionne would prove to be a strategic move that would propel the franchise to the second round of playoffs in the next two seasons, only to be eliminated by the Bruins each year. However, in 1979, Dionne found himself on a new line with two young and relatively unknown players, sophomore winger Dave Taylor and left winger Charlie Simmer. Together, this created the “Triple Crown Line,” which would go on to become one of the highest-scoring line combinations in NHL history. However, despite the power generated by this line, along with key netminder Mario Lessard, the Kings still could not get out of the first round of the playoffs until 1982, when they ousted Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers in a historic and incredible come-from-behind five game series.
The rest of the 1980’s saw mediocre seasons in which the team either barely missed the playoffs, or was eliminated in a lackluster first round series. However, a major turning point for the franchise came in the 1988-89 season, when they, to the shock of the entire hockey world, acquired Wayne Gretzky from the Oilers. Gretzky’s impact was felt immediately, as he led the team to a second place divisional finish in his first season with the Kings.
Gretzky spearheaded the Kings to their first and only regular-season division title in franchise history in the 1990-91 season with a 46-24-10 record and 102 pointes, the second best total in franchise history. They beat the Canucks in the first round before losing to Gretzky’s former team, the Oilers. As a matter of fact, the next two seasons would also mark three consecutive years in which the Kings would fall to Gretzky’s former teammates in the playoffs.
In the 1992-93 season, despite Gretzky suffering a career-threatening herniated thoracic disk in the preseason, the Kings, under temporary captain and left-winger Luc Robitaille, the Kings went on to finish third in the division enroute to a conference championship and the only Stanley Cup Finals appearance in franchise history. The run ended there, however, as the Kings were ousted by the Montreal Canadiens in five games.
Due to this historic playoff run, Gretzky, Robitaille and the entire Kings team generated a buzz about hockey that had never been present before in Southern California. Almost overnight, the Kings became the hottest ticket in town, as The Forum was sold out almost every game until the team’s move to the Staples Center in 1998.
The Kings said goodbye to Gretzky in 1996, as he was traded to the St. Louis Blues due to his high demands and public statements about the franchise’s inability to help him win an elusive fifth Stanley Cup in his career. With the departure of “the Great One,” the Kings began to slip into relative mediocrity for the remainder of the decade, until the successful 2000-01 season, in which the team, led by right-winger Adam Deadmarsh and defenseman Aaron Miller, beat the heavily favored Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs before being eliminated by the Avalanche in the second round.
The 2001-02 season started off with tragedy as team scouts Garnet “Ace” Bailey and Mark Bavis were both casualties of the September 11th attack. The team honored the two by wearing “AM” patches on their jerseys. At mid-season, they held the 2002 All-Star Game while still fighting for a playoff spot in which they clinched seventh place in the Western Conference where they were matched with the heavily favored Avalanche yet again. After being bounced out of the playoffs in the first round, the next few seasons would be major disappointments, as the team failed to make the playoffs until the 2009-10 season, when a very young Kings squad went on to post many franchise records enroute to a six game series loss against the Canucks in the first round of the post-season. Stay tuned tomorrow as we discuss what’s next for today’s Kings franchise!