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Manifest Hockey Destiny

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings

There is fate, and then there is destiny. The former has a negative connotation, referring to something that unavoidably befalls a person, while the latter is all about winding at the exact right place at the precise right time.

Ten members of the Kings Stanley Cup Finalists - Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi, Colin Fraser, Brad Richardson, Jarret Stoll, Justin Williams, Matt Greene, and Simon Gagne - came west join to the Kings from different organizations. When they arrived in LA, they had no idea if they were fated or destined to be Kings.

As the Kings prepare to host Games 2 and 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, the ten outsiders have become key insiders in the locker room and on the ice, and just might have destiny on their side.

The most recent additions, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, are new to Los Angeles this season, but they are no strangers to Stanley Cup playoff success. Two years ago, the duo teamed up to help Philadelphia reach the Final.

As winners and point-producers, Richards and Carter are two are big pieces to the puzzle, game-changers who have altered the look and feel of the Kings.

Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi was able to swing deals for the pair of All-Stars by accumulating assets through the NHL Entry Draft. Lombardi, who built the core of his team from within, has been reluctant to deal homegrown talent. But when the Flyers put Richards on the market last summer, Lombardi was ready to deal, sending popular Wayne Simmonds and promising Brayden Schenn to Philadelphia in exchange for the Flyers’ captain.

“There are very few players I would trade Schenn or Simmonds for,” Lombardi said. “Mike Richards is one of them.”

At this season’s trade deadline, Lombardi made another big-time move, shoring up the Kings’ dormant offense by getting Carter, who has been a 46-goal scorer, out of Columbus in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round draft pick.

Lombardi pulled the trigger on those deals, but he says the decision wasn’t really his.

“Your players downstairs tell you when it’s time (to made a deal),” Lombardi said. “Once those guys downstairs see that they are a good team, they are looking to management to upgrade. Then it becomes incumbent on you to get help.”

Lombardi provided the kind of help he knew would help the Kings qualify for the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. In the process, he also built a team capable of making a deep run in the postseason tournament.

While the Richards and Carter trades had the highest profiles, there were other, less heralded acquisitions that made those deals possible.

Back in September 2006, in one of his first moves with the team, Lombardi acquired the rights to defenseman Jack Johnson from Carolina in exchange for Tim Gleason and Eric Belanger. Six years later, Lombardi flipped Johnson to Columbus in the Carter transaction.

At the time of the deal, the Kings were battling for a playoff berth, but Carter knew he was joining a team that would not settle for merely making a playoff appearance.

“At the start of the year, I looked at the Kings as a team that could really do some damage,” Carter said. “I was thrilled to come here. When you find out you are coming to a team like the Kings, you are excited.”

Carter is not the only one who has been thrilled this spring. The energy at STAPLES Center has been electric. Homegrown or import, everyone on the roster is a King of Los Angeles these days.

“There is a different feeling in the building for the playoffs,” Carter said. “There’s a little bit of nervous energy, a little bit of adrenaline, kind of all boiled up in one. It’s pretty special.”

The makeup of this Kings team has been special too, with great chemistry both on and off the ice. That has been possible, largely because players brought into the fold from outside the organization have assimilated seamlessly into the fabric of the Kings’ team concept. Some of them also brought invaluable Stanley Cup experience.

Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene, who came from Edmonton in a June 2008 deal for Lubomir Visnovsky, were both part of the Oilers’ 2006 run to the Cup Final.

“We were very well coached, very well prepared and we peaked at the right time,” Stoll said. He was speaking of the Oilers, but the same could be said of the Kings this year.

Justin Williams, picked up in a deal with Carolina in March 2009 for Patrick O’Sullivan, was part of the Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup winner. In addition to playoff savvy, Williams has brought the Kings hard numbers: He scored two goals and had 11 points in the first three rounds of the playoffs after netting 22 goals and picking up 59 points during the regular season.

Brad Richardson landed in LA in 2008, after three years in Colorado. Richardson is listed at 5-11, 192 pounds, but his grinding style of hockey plays much bigger. And his ability to bounce back from an appendectomy has provided non-stop inspiration.

A year ago, Dustin Penner was obtained in a trade deadline deal with Edmonton that was hailed as a bold move that could help the Kings become one of the postseason’s elite teams. A year later, Penner has been a huge part of the Kings’ success, potting three playoff goals, including the unforgettable game-winner in overtime of Game 5 to send the team the Stanley Cup Final.

Colin Fraser, who had his name etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup two years ago as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, came to Los Angeles via Edmonton in exchange for Ryan Smyth.

The signing of Simon Gagne last summer gave the Kings a bona fide offensive threat. A two-time 40-goal scorer, Gagne suffered an early season concussion that has forced him to miss the playoffs.

Mitchell and Scuderi came to Los Angeles by choice, signing as free agents. Scuderi had won a Cup with Pittsburgh and Mitchell had been a stellar stay-at-home defenseman in Vancouver before joining the Kings. The two signings brought experience and stability to the blue line and sent a signal that the Kings were a team on the brink and Los Angeles had become an attractive destination for free agents.

Richards and Carter, of course, had no say in the matter, coming to town through trades. Richards, in fact, was initially circumspect when informed he would changing his address last summer. It took him all of one day, spent on the sand of Manhattan Beach, to realize his fortunes had changed for the better.

“You start to realize that this is not a bad place to be, and not a bad place to restart a career,” Richards said of his rapid adjustment to the West Coast. “I always loved coming to L.A. to play. There’s just a buzz in the arena.”

Never has that buzz been greater than this spring. Richards is among several members of the organization who believe STAPLES Center was at its absolute loudest in the last two minutes of Game 4 vs. St. Louis as the Kings completed their sweep of the Blues.

As an Olympic Gold Medalist, a Memorial Cup champion and a Stanley Cup finalist, Richards has a reputation as a winner who plays his best as the games grow in importance.

“The bigger the game,” Richards said, “the more exciting it is, and the more excited you are to play in those games. As the games get bigger, the excitement around it gets bigger, too. As a hockey player, that’s about as good as it gets.”

He and Carter, his old Philly teammate both know they have a chance to make hockey history by being part of the first team to bring the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles.

“This,” Carter said, “is what every guy plays for. We have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.”

With the Kings appearing in the Stanley Cup Final, Richards, Carter, and the other players who joined the Kings from other organizations are playing for something else, too.

Win one more series and they will all find their hockey destiny in Los Angeles.

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