As it stands at this moment the Los Angeles Kings are just 2 wins short of being crowned the best hockey team in the world. However they are well aware the last 2 wins will be very difficult ones as they square against a proud New Jersey Devils squad. The question of the day, is it wrong for a San Jose Sharks fan to be pulling for the LA club? I say cheer away.
The Kings entered the NHL in 1967 along with the first wave of expansion. The league doubled by expanding to LA, along with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Minnesota, St. Louis and the Oakland Seals. The new teams were slotted in the a division of their own, the western division. Big League hockey was now entering long-time minor league markets. The St. Louis Blues won the West in their first 3 seasons. The Blues drafted a veteran-heavy squad including 2 of the finest goalies in the history of the league, Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante. The Blues bench boss was a young Scotty Bowman who would go on to be one of the greatest coaches in North American sports history. By virtue of winning the west the Blues were granted a ticket to the Stanley Cup finals. St. Louis was destroyed in short order by the Canadiens (twice) and the Boston Bruins.
In the years ahead The Philadelphia Flyers would win the first cup for an expansion team with wins in 1974 and 1975. The Pittsburgh Penguins would win 3 cups on the backs of stars such as Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin. Minnesota would move to Dallas in the 90's and would win their Cup in 1999. The Bay Area's first NHL team, the Oakland Seals struggled from the very beginning. They played out of the Oakland Coliseum. Un-commited ownership, poor attendance and the rise of the World Hockey Association spelled doom. The Seals imploded and they moved to the midwest, playing 2 seasons in Cleveland before merging with the Minnesota North Stars. This leaves just one team to mention: the Los Angels Kings.
The Kings have always had star-caliber players going back to the early days with such names as Terry Sawchuk, Bill Nevin and Bob Berry. Later the Kings would boldly trade for one of history's finest scoring machines, Marcel Dionne. In the years to come, LA acquired through trade players like Rogie Vachon and Charlie Simmer. The Kings drafting and farm system infused in to the lineup players like Dave Taylor, Larry Murphy, Bernie Nicholls and others. Prior to this year's post-season one player and one post-season run has defined the LA Kings. Wayne Gretzky and the 1993 trip to the finals.
Gretzky was moved by Edmonton in the summer of 1988 in perhaps the biggest trade in sports history. Picks, players and stacks of hard, cold cash went back to Alberta in exchange for the Great One. Gretzky gave the Kings instantly credibility. He was a huge star, and icon, in a city that craves star-power and celebrity. The Kings then began to build their club with sights set on a Stanley Cup. LA's best shot was in the spring of 1993. They punched a ticket to the finals to face the Montreal club, champs of the east. But the hockey gods smiled Montreal that spring. The Canadiens won 10 of their 16 wins that year in overtime.
But there are now new heirs to the throne in Southern California. Young, talented players like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick appear to be on the verge of claiming the franchise's first ever Stanley Cup.
While Sharks fans up north may be grinding their teeth in contempt, you must give the Kings their due. They play the game the right way, skilled, tough with tons of heart. And it appears Daryl Sutter is the right man for the right job behind the Kings bench.
So as the Kings take their very own trip down the yellow brick road, know that 45 years of hopes, dreams, success and failure may all soon be memories.