1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s
In a sports culture that has been centered on outdoor sports like baseball, basketball and football, the Los Angeles Kings are in the midst of their 44th season in sunny Southern California. Ever since February 9, 1966, when Jack Kent Cooke (All-Time Owners) was awarded a new National Hockey League franchise, ice hockey has been played at the highest level in a city that rests among the beautiful beaches of the Pacific Ocean.
Cooke, a Canadian-born entrepreneur who made most of his fortune in various media investments, was driven to bring the sport he loved to the town where he already owned the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association. Wanting his new hockey club to take on an air of royalty, Cooke named his team the "Kings" and was part of six new teams that would double the size of the NHL from the "Original Six" franchises to 12 teams, starting with the 1967-68 season. Part of Cooke’s plan was to build a new state-of-the-art sports and entertainment facility, which coincided with the Kings opening in Los Angeles that same season. The building was soon dubbed the "The Fabulous Forum" (All-Time Arenas) and became the home for the Kings for the next 32 seasons. With the new building scheduled to open in mid-season, the Kings played their first regular season NHL game on Oct. 14, 1967, against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Long Beach Arena where they were led by Brian Kilrea’s two goals and defeated the Flyers 4-2. For more than two months they split their home games between Long Beach and the Los Angeles Sports Arena until Dec. 30, 1967, when they hosted the Flyers at the new Fabulous Forum. Led by Head Coach Red Kelly, the Kings finished their first season in second place in the Western Division, a mere one point behind Philadelphia. Their 31-33-10 record remains one of the best ever by an expansion team in any professional sport.
Without a "big name" player to carry the torch for the new franchise, Cooke set out to make celebrities of his players with clever nicknames, which he personally crafted. On to the Forum ice came Eddie "The Jet" Joyal, Eddie "The Entertainer" Shack, Bill "Cowboy" Flett, Juha "Whitey" Widing and Real "Frenchy" Lemieux to name a few.Bob Pulford in 1970 brought some new respectability to the Kings lineup, and by the 1972-73 season, Pulford took over behind the Kings bench as Head Coach and guided the Kings to five of the franchise’s most successful seasons.
The next two seasons would bring about two of the most significant strides in the Kings early history and helped put the Kings on the map in Los Angeles and throughout the NHL. Led by All-Star goaltender Rogie Vachon and a band of hard-working, hard-checking players, including Butch Goring, Mike Murphy and Bob Nevin, who played Pulford’s intense style of hockey, the Kings posted a 42-17-21 record in 1974-75, the fourth best mark in the NHL that year, and set team records that still stand for most points (105) and fewest losses (17). Vachon remains one of the most popular Kings-ever and his No. 30 sweater was the first to be retired by the club in 1985.
The following season saw the Kings make their first significant trade (All-Time Trades) that brought a bona-fide NHL superstar to Los Angeles in Marcel Dionne. Already an established scoring talent, the 24-year old Dionne went right to work on the Kings record book, setting new standards for goals (40), assists (54, tying Widing’s mark) and points (94) in his first season in Los Angeles. A year later, Dionne became the first King to score more than 50 goals and 100 points in a single season with 53 goals and 122 points.
Dionne’s star-status went to new heights when he was placed on a line with two young relatively unknown players named Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer. Taylor was a college graduate from Clarkson University who the Kings drafted in the 15th round in 1975, and Simmer, who played mostly in the minor leagues, was having a difficult time cracking the Kings everyday lineup. They joined forces for the first time on Jan. 13, 1979, in Detroit where Dionne netted four goals playing with his new linemates. During that following off-season in 1979, Dr. Jerry Buss purchased the Kings, Lakers and the Forum from Cooke for $67.5 million, in what was-then the largest business transaction in sports history.
But the combination of Dionne, Taylor and Simmer didn’t change and their line eventually became known as the "Triple Crown Line" ( Video) and went on to enjoy a run that lasted more than two full seasons at its height, scoring like few forward lines in NHL history ever have. They hit full-stride in 1979-80 as Dionne won the NHL scoring title with 137 points (53 goals, 84 assists), Simmer set a franchise record with 56 goals (to go with 45 assists) including a modern-day league record 13-game goal-scoring streak that still stands, and Taylor added 90 points of his own (37 goals and 53 assists). Under Head Coach Bob Berry, the 1980-81 club enjoyed one of the best seasons in Kings history going 43-24-13, still the second-most wins in a season by the Kings. That same year, the Kings hosted the 1981 NHL All-Star Game ( '81 All-Star Game) with Dionne, Taylor, Simmer and goaltender Mario Lessard (Kings All-Star History) all taking part in the festivities. By the conclusion of the regular season, Dionne, Taylor and Simmer became the first line in NHL history where all three members surpassed 100 points (Dionne -135, Taylor - 112, Simmer - 105), but a badly broken leg sustained by Simmer on March 3, 1981, marked the end of the trio’s most successful time together. Together, Dionne (58-77=135 points), Taylor (47-65=112 points) and Simmer (56-49=105 points) combined for 161 goals and 352 points.
The 1981-82 season was disappointing in that the Kings had a less-than-memorable regular season going 24-41-15, but what happened in that season’s playoffs remains one of the great moment’s in franchise and NHL history. Facing the heavily-favored Edmonton Oilers in the best-of-five first round of the playoffs, the Kings pulled off two huge upsets -one, in winning the series, three games to two, and two, in winning Game 3 of the series, forever remembered as the "Miracle on Manchester." Down 5-0 in the third period of that game on April 10, 1982, the Kings steadily chipped away at Edmonton’s commanding lead until Steve Bozek sent the game into overtime, knotting the game at 5-5 with five seconds remaining. At 2:35 of the extra period, unheralded rookie Daryl Evans ripped a shot over Grant Fuhr’s shoulder to seal an improbable end to an incredible game. After losing Game 4 at home, the Kings took the series with a 7-4 victory in Game 5 in Edmonton. During the next few seasons, Dionne carried on as the Kings leader on and off the ice, but a wave of young, talented players also joined the ranks of the regal Forum Blue and Gold. Bernie Nicholls, Larry Murphy, Jim Fox, Mark Hardy, Jay Wells, Bozek, Doug Smith, Brian MacLellan, Grant Ledyard and Garry Galley were among the favorites of Kings fans in the mid-1980s. Three talented youngsters represented the Kings on the NHL’s All-Rookie Team in 1986-87 - Luc Robitaille, Jimmy Carson and Steve Duchesne. The Dionne era in Los Angeles ended when the Kings traded the center to the New York Rangers on March 10, 1987, and he went on to earn the ultimate honor in 1992 with his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. His retired Kings jersey No. 16 rests on the south wall of STAPLES Center.
A little over a year after the Kings dealt their first bona-fide superstar in Dionne, another superstar came to Los Angeles, taking hockey to heights never encountered before in Southern California. Aug. 9, 1988 - the date that changed the future of hockey in Los Angeles. The Kings acquired Wayne Gretzky, regarded by most as the greatest hockey player of all time ( Gretzky Trade). The effects of Gretzky in a major media market like Los Angeles were felt immediately, giving the Kings front-page status on a regular basis for the first time in club history. A ticket to a Kings game went from being one of the easiest to acquire to one of the toughest. Kings merchandise, thanks in part to the new silver and black team colors, soared to high levels in popularity across North America. Southern California ice rinks, on the verge of extinction, found new life as more were built to accommodate the skyrocketing number of youth hockey participants.
In his first season as a King (1988-89), Gretzky set a team record with 168 points (54 goals and a then-club record 114 assists), leading the club to a 42-31-7 record and an exciting first-round elimination of Edmonton in the playoffs. Gretzky’s efforts earned him his ninth Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. Nicholls shattered the Kings record for goals in a season with 70. Two years later under Head Coach Tom Webster, the Kings won their first division title in franchise history as Los Angeles took the Smythe Division with 102 points, including a club-record 46 victories.Barry Melrose, the Kings were an underdog in each round of the playoffs as they battled past Calgary, Vancouver and a historic seven-game series with the Toronto Maple Leafs that landed the Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately the Kings succumbed to the Canadiens in five games (that included three straight overtime losses), giving Montreal their 23rd Stanley Cup Championship, but not before the Kings had spread hockey fever throughout Southern California.
The following three seasons proved to be a disappointment for Kings fans as the club failed to recapture the fire and intensity that led to their historic run in 1992-93 and then-Kings owner Bruce McNall sold the franchise to Joseph Cohen and Jeffrey Sudikoff.
A large turnover of the player personnel led to a depletion of talent and Melrose was relieved of his duties at the end of the 1994-95 season. That summer, Kings ownership filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but the club continued to operate and Hall-of-Fame defenseman Larry Robinson was hired to replace Melrose. It was at this time that Philip F. Anschutz and Edward P. Roski, Jr. purchased the Kings out of bankruptcy and began a rebuilding phase to bring the Kings back to respectability. Nearing the end of his contract, and seeking to win a championship to cap off his storied NHL career, Gretzky asked to be traded to a contending club and was dealt to the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27, 1996, in exchange for three players and two draft choices (he later signed a free agent contract that off-season and finished his remarkable career with the New York Rangers in 1999).
|Legendary King Dave Taylor took over as GM in 1997.
The Kings were now faced with a "rebuilding phase" and then-General Manager Sam McMaster (All-Time GMs) was relieved of his duties and replaced by three-year understudy and legendary King Dave Taylor. Another shot-in-the-arm for the franchise came when Robitaille was re-acquired by Taylor from the New York Rangers at the start of the 1997-98 season. Unfortunately for Robinson, this period only brought one winning season (1997-98, the club’s first trip to the post-season in five years) and his contract was not renewed after the 1998-99 season.
With Taylor pulling the strings, a new era for the Kings was on the horizon. After a detailed search that involved a number of candidates, Taylor placed his chips on former Canadian National Team Head Coach Andy Murray, who had spent the previous season coaching his young son at Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Faribault, Minnesota. Murray, with more than 25 years of coaching experience, became the 19th head coach in Los Angeles Kings history. Murray would go on to become the franchise’s all-time leader in victories by a head coach.
With Taylor and Murray at the helm of the hockey club, and an infusion of new talent - including Ziggy Palffy -- on the roster, the new Kings ownership was committed to rebuilding the franchise with patience and an investment in youth and environment. Led by the vision of Anschutz, Roski and new team President Tim Leiweke, a state-of-the-art downtown arena was constructed in a record 18 months and STAPLES Center opened on Oct. 20, 1999, as the Kings and Boston Bruins skated to a 2-2 tie. That same year, the finishing touches were made on a new $24 million training facility in El Segundo, and the Toyota Sports Center became the new permanent training grounds for the Kings in January of 2000.Rob Blake (All-Time Kings Captains), a free agent-to-be, was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche. A controversial move at the time, the Kings received right wing Adam Deadmarsh and defenseman Aaron Miller in return. That same week, the Kings acquired struggling goaltender Felix Potvin from the Vancouver Canucks for future considerations, and the Kings, despite the many late season changes, finished the campaign with an impressive 92 points, the first back-to-back 90-point seasons in club history.
This was only the tip of the iceberg, however, as the Kings faced the high-flying Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the post-season. Down two games to one and trailing 3-0 with eight minutes remaining in Game Four of the series, the Kings scored three unanswered goals, including Bryan Smolinski’s game-tying marker with 53 seconds remaining that sent the STAPLES Center crowd into a frenzy. The Kings carried the momentum into overtime and rookie Eric Belanger’s goal at 2:36 of the first overtime evened the series at two games apiece and added another chapter to the Kings history books. The "Frenzy on Figueroa" became the catalyst for the underdog Kings as they went on to win Game Five in Detroit and closed out their first playoff series victory since 1993 in Game Six at STAPLES Center when Deadmarsh scored back-to-back goals including the game-winning goal in overtime sending the Kings into the second round against the Avalanche. Again the underdog, the Kings took the powerhouse Avalanche the distance and eventually lost in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion.
The 2001-02 season saw the Kings host the NHL All-Star Game ( Video) for the second time - and the first time at STAPLES Center - and a mid-season acquisition of Boston center Jason Allison proved invaluable as the 6-4-pivotman led the Kings in scoring with 74 points while playing in all 73 remaining games for the Kings. He also helped the Kings to their third straight 90-point season as well as their third consecutive trip to the playoffs.
The 2002-03 season saw the Kings open the year with great promise. Beginning with the official retirement of Gretzky’s No. 99 jersey (Ceremony Photos) at STAPLES Center on Oct. 9, 2002 (the fourth jersey retired by the Kings franchise), the Kings opened the season with a 5-2-2 mark and seemed to be headed for a season of great success. However, a series of never-ending injuries, including major setbacks to Allison (knee and concussion) and Deadmarsh (post-concussion syndrome) severely hampered the squad as they set a franchise record for man-games lost to injury with 536. Following the season, Taylor acquired several veteran players, including Robitaille again, to help bolster the Kings lineup, but a record amount of injuries - 629 man-games, the most in NHL history - could not be overcome by the Kings, who remained in contention for a playoff spot up until the final few weeks of the season. Allison (whiplash) and Deadmarsh (concussion symptoms) never played and Palffy missed the final 42 games due to a dislocated shoulder.
However, Robitaille in 2003-04 returned to his familiar form and led the team in points with 51, and on March 22, 2004, he became the NHL’s all-time leader in points by a left wing when he assisted on Jozef Stumpel’s goal in a game at STAPLES Center versus Edmonton. In addition, second-year forward Alexander Frolov not only led the team in goals with 24, but also was voted as the club’s Most Popular Player.
At STAPLES Center, the Kings continued to receive tremendous fan support. They played to an average of 17,878 fans per game, and they sold out 30 contests. On Dec. 27, 2003, the Kings had a standing-room only crowd of 18,743, which is the largest crowd to view a hockey game in the state of California.
|Luc Robitaille had his jersey retired in 2007 and has moved to the Kings front office as the Kings continue to build toward a Stanley Cup contender.
The NHL lockout put hockey on ice in 2004-05, and though the team ultimately struggled on the ice in 2005-06, loyal Kings fans continued to fill STAPLES Center as the team had 27 sellouts and an average attendance of 17,821, the second highest in franchise history. Despite adding a lot of veteran talent the Kings, after a strong start, faded in the second half of the season, and major changes following that season, including a revamping of the front office and the dismissal of the entire coaching staff.
Lombardi and his staff went to work quickly, with the first order of business being the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. The Kings made nine selections - including two in the first-round - as the new management team looked to restock the club’s reserve list. Then, in free agency, the Kings made headlines by signing Blake, a key member of the Kings’ Stanley Cup finalist squad in 1993.
On the business side of the club, Robitaille - who had his popular No. 20 retired by the team on Jan. 20, 2007 (Ceremony Photos) and in 2009 would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November of 2009 (Kings in the Hockey Hall of Fame) - was named as team President of Business Operations.
The first three seasons of the Lombardi-led Kings did not resulted in trips to the post-season but significant strides were made as the club stocked its system with promising young talent, especially on the blueline ( Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty to name two players) and in the net (hightlighted by Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier). At the forward position, the Kings feature several key players - Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Wayne Simmonds - who have yet to hit their prime, and veterans like Michal Handzus, Jarret Stoll, Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams.
The next phase of the turnaround took place last year when the Kings made the playoffs for the first time since 2002, with then second-year veteran head coach Terry Murray playing a key role. Off the ice, the Kings sold out 27 total games and a few months later hosted the NHL Entry Draft for the first time.
So many individuals have been a part of the Kings past, but each one has played an important role in carving out a memorable story that has yet to be completed, with so many exciting times, of course, still to come for the most loyal and passionate sports fans in Los Angeles.