As the rafters of STAPLES Center become the focal point of semi-regular Stanley Cup banner unfurling ceremonies, it’s no coincidence that the mantles of Kings players are becoming cluttered with some of the most prestigious hardware in sports. Hockey may be the ultimate team sport, but, as any cliché-loving coach will tell you, in order to win, you need your best players to be your best players.
That time-honored piece of coach-speak provides a nice shorthand on how the Kings have become the kings of the NHL. Indeed, their best players have been among the NHL’s best.
To see the connection between a singular player coming up big and a team reaping the benefits, look no further than Jonathan Quick’s Milford, CT, home, or Justin Williams’ off-season place in New Jersey; both abodes are home to multiple replica Stanley Cups and a replica Conn Smythe Trophy.
If you’re still bitter that the 1974-75 Hart Trophy was awarded to Philadelphia’s Bobby Clarke instead of the Kings’ Rogie Vachon, take heart. Time, the presence of the Great Wayne Gretzky in a Kings’ uniform for seven-and-a-half seasons, and the skills of Dean Lombardi and predecessor Dave Taylor as talent evaluators, have brought both honor and honors to Los Angeles.
Quick -- who also claimed the 2013-14 William Jennings Trophy as the goaltender for the team that allows the fewest goals -- and Williams aren’t the only Kings whose trophy cases have burgeoned while the Stanley Cup has made Los Angeles its western home: Captain Dustin Brown was the 2013-14 recipient of the Mark Messier Leadership Award.
The Stanley Cup era trophy dash has made the Kings players, not only on the ice, but at the league’s annual awards ceremony in Las Vegas. Over the course of the franchise’s history, a member of the Kings has had his name inscribed on one of the NHL’s top trophies 19 times over the years, led by Conn Smythe winners Quick and Williams.
While Gretzky was sharing the puck to the tune of 1,963 assists in Los Angeles, he was hoarding NHL hardware, taking it home seven times while becoming the franchise’s only NHL MVP when he claimed the 1988-89 Hart Trophy. Additionally, Gretzky’s LA awards haul includes three Lady Byng Trophies (1990-91, 91-92, 93-94), and three Art Ross Trophies as the NHL’s leading scoring in three seasons, 1989-90, 1990-91, 1993-94.
The only other King to earn the Art Ross Trophy was Marcel Dionne in 1979-80, who ironically tied with Gretzky (then an Edmonton Oiler) for the scoring league with 137 points, but was awarded the scoring title and Ross Trophy by virtue of having scored more goals (53 to 51) than Gretzky.
Rob Blake (1997-98) remains the lone King to win the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman, while Luc Robitaille (1986-87) is the franchise’s only Calder Trophy honoree as Rookie of the Year. Meanwhile Bob Pulford (1974-75) holds the team’s sole Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year.
Three Kings -- Butch Goring (1977-78), Bob Bourne (1987-88) and Dave Taylor (1990-91) -- were honored with the Bill Masterston Memorial Trophy, for best exemplifying perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
The Kings’ award winners may soon have added company. As the second half of the 2014-15 inches its way toward the postseason, the Kings have several players in contention to come up winners when the awards are presented in Las Vegas.
No King has ever won the Vezina Trophy, presented annually to the league’s most outstanding goaltender, but Jonathan Quick ranks among league-leaders in shutouts, goals against average and save percentage, making him a top contender. A Vezina would be a nice addition to a resume that includes two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy. If Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, the early favorite, Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury or Montreal’s Carey Price derail Quick’s hopes this season, the 29-year-old has plenty of time to add this award to his burgeoning collection.
After scoring four goals and recording eight points in last spring’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, winger Tanner Pearson got off to a fast start with seven goals in his first eight games to take the early lead as the NHL’s top rookie. Despite remaining near the top of the list among NHL rookie goal-scorers for much of the first half of the season, Pearson’s pace slowed and then the injury hit. Robitaille remains the only King to win this award.
Drew Doughty was a finalist for the Norris Trophy, emblematic of the league’s top defenseman, as a 20-year-old back in 2009-10, and the rearguard has appeared to be on a collision course for the honor ever since. Will this be the season Doughty breaks through? If it is, voters will need to overlook scoring stats and place a premium on ice time; Doughty, who logged a record 747:33 minutes of ice time in last year’s playoffs and would have been a deserving Conn Smythe Trophy recipient were it not for the heroics of Williams, has led the league in ice time (nearly 30 minutes per game) all season. Doughty faces a crowded field that includes Nashville’s Shea Weber, Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang, Calgary’s Mark Giordano, Montreal’s P.K. Subban, and last year’s winner, Duncan Keith of Chicago among others.
This trophy, awarded to NHL’s top defensive forward, would seem to have Anze Kopitar’s name all over it, but the two-way center has never had his name actually engraved on it. For Kopitar to finally receive the award he seems destined to win, he will need to wrestle the trophy away from Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, who won the Selke last season and also claimed the trophy in 2011-12. The strong field also includes Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk, a three-time winner, and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews.
Quick won this award last season. This trophy is awarded to the goalie or goalies who have played in a minimum of 25 games for team that allows the fewest goals.