The Los Angeles Kings built a legacy that did not start until professional ice hockey had been around for over six decades. Many people who follow their respective hockey teams may be able to cite starting rosters, prospects, team history, and recent play; however, how many people can cite when and where the birth of professional hockey took place? Perhaps a few. For those who cannot, professional hockey began in 1903-04, where the Portage Lake Hockey Club became the first organization to pay all of its players. Below, see the construction of the famous Amphidrome, where the first professional ice hockey team would eventually play.
According to cchockeyhistory.org, the iconic arena could pack in over 1,000 screaming fans; however, this is not an article about the Amphidrome; this is an article about the history of the Los Angeles Kings. Yet, very little could be said of the Kings’ history without paying credence to the birth of professional hockey because the Portage Lake Hockey Club established the foundation for which NHL history has been made.
Hockey Comes to Paradise
Currently, the Kings are playing in their 45th season as a professional hockey team. At THW, contributors not only report the latest hockey news, but also take pride in writing about history. This article speaks not about the Kings’ impressive current season, prospects, trades, or current events; rather it tells the story about where the team’s legacy began and how it has evolved over time. Please enjoy, courtesy of THW, a timeline of the Los Angeles Kings. A thank you in advance to kings.nhl.com for the supporting information.
On February 9, 1966, Jack Kent Cooke brought ice hockey to the beautiful beaches of southern California when he was awarded a professional hockey team. Having already owned the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association, Cooke’s new ownership of the Kings brought an expansion to the NHL that helped double the total team count to twelve, from the Original Six teams.
Cooke named the team the “Kings” because he wanted to bring forth an air of royalty. On October 14, 1967, the Kings played and won their first game at the Long Beach Arena against the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-2. Cooke had quite a reputation in Hollywood, as he fully intended to glamorize and brand his new team. Most notably, and as a result of not having any “brand name” star players on his new team, Cooke insistently gave his players nicknames to make celebrities out of them. 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. Finally, Cooke would change the course of the history of the Kings by building the Forum, or better known to Hollywood locals as “The Fabulous Forum,” where the team would play the next 32 seasons.
The Kings went on to finish their first season 31-33-10, one of the best records ever completed by an expansion team. The decades to come would bring many more stories of royal success to California as the Kings continued on their journey.
This decade would bring much more success to the Kings organization starting with the acquisition of future Hall of Famer Bob Pulford. A seasoned veteran, Pulford not only brought a sense of leadership to the Kings’ locker room, but also infused a sense of legitimacy and respect to the team’s lineup. Over the years, the Kings have continued to honor Pulford and his impact on the team.
After Pulford completed his final two seasons in the NHL with the Kings, he went on to coach the team through what will have been the most successful five seasons it had ever seen. Under Pulford’s first season as coach, the Kings posted a team-best 42-17-21 record with all-star goalie Rogie Vachon and intense checking players such as Butch Goring, Mike Murphy and Bob Nevin. In 1977, the Kings made their first significant trade, acquiring superstar Marcel Dionne, who would go on to finish his career with 1,771 points in 1,348 games. Dionne brought major legitimacy to the organization and broke many records, including being the first forward to score 50 goals.
Ending a decade of success, Cooke would sell the Kings, Lakers, and “The Fabulous Forum” to Dr. Jerry Buss in 1979.
This decade would start out with the sizzling hot trio of Dionne Marcel, Dave Taylor, and Charlie Simmer. The NHL would later deem this trio “The Triple Crown” following their combined 328 point campaign in the 1979-80 season.
In the 1980-81 season, the trio became the first line combination in NHL history where each member surpassed 100 points (Dionne-135, Taylor-112, Simmer-105). Later in the decade, the Kings brought in a host of young talent that would eventually contain a plethora of future legends. 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.
Related: 1982 – The Miracle on Manchester
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. In August of 1988, the Kings’ future would be forever changed when they acquired Wayne Gretzky, heavily regarded as the greatest hockey player of all time.
Gretzky set a team record with 168 points (54 goals, 114 assists) during the 1988-89 season and his first with the Kings. In the remaining two years in the decades, the Kings saw success qualifying for the playoffs and eclipsing 40 wins in both seasons (42 and 46 respectively).
This decade brought the Kings to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance during the 1992-93 season against the Montreal Canadiens. That season and under head coach Barry Melrose, the team continued to be underdogs in each round of the playoffs, which they eventually advanced. While that season marked history, California’s royalty did not see a championship after eventually falling to the Habs after five games.
The Kings failed to attain the same intensity following their 1992-93 championship campaign, as their next three seasons were disappointing. Subsequently, the team changed owners out of bankruptcy, placing the title in the hands of Philip F. Anschutz and Edward P. Roski, Jr. The team entered into a “re-building” phase with their first move being the appointing of legendary King Dave Taylor to General Manager. Under Taylor, the STAPLES Center was built, and in 1999 it became the new home for the Kings.
Additionally, the team acquired a new $24 million training facility (Toyota Sports Center) in El Segundo, CA. While the decade did not end in championship attainment, it was a major building transition for the team.
The Kings started out the decade with an impressive 92 point season, despite controversial roster moves including trading long-time captain Rob Blake and acquiring struggling goalie Felix Potvin. Despite the unpopularity of these changes, the team continued to turn heads that season making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Championship yet again.
Most notable in these playoffs was the team’s comeback against the Red Wings in the first round. After being down two games to one, and trailing 3-0 in game four with eight minutes left in the third period, the Kings scored three unanswered goals. These efforts eventually led the team to a series victory against the Wings in game five. Nonetheless, the Kings would fall to the Avalanche in Game 7 of the finals.
In 2002-03, the team had a more disappointing season finishing with only 78 total points. Through 2005-06, the team continued to struggle despite maintaining a strong fan base. In 2006, the Kings made Dean Lombardi the new President/General manager. Under his tenure, the club has seen a number of major developments.
During his first three seasons in office, Lombardi did not see his team qualify for the playoffs; however, he made many moves that again infused the club with a wealth of young talent.
The first three seasons of the Lombardi-led Kings did not result 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 (highlighted 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 season brought the team its first playoff appearance since 2002. This decade would end in success again, as L.A.’s royal team had concocted a winning recipe.
From 2010 to today, the Kings have been one of the more successful franchises in the NHL. Their winning ways commenced during the 2011-12 season, when the upstart bunch went on a 15-4-3 run in March and April to squeak into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Led in regular season goals (25), assists (51) and points (76) by Kopitar, not much was expected in the playoffs from the youthful squad from the “City of Angels”.
Not only did the Kings defeat the top-seeded, Vancouver Canucks, in the first round, they utterly dismantled them in five games. Brimming with confidence, the silver & black then proceeded to annihilate the second-seeded, St.Louis Blues, in a four-game sweep. They refused to lay off the gas in the Western Conference Final, where they lambasted their Division rival, the Phoenix Coyotes, in five games.
In their first Stanley Cup Final since the Gretzky-led, 1992-93 team, the Kings accomplished what their predecessors were unable to do. Backstopped by eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Quick, the Kings blew past the Peter DeBoer-led, New Jersey Devils, in six games. It was the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup.
The historic season marked the donning of a new era in Kings history. Laden with talented young stars like Kopitar, Quick and (Dustin) Brown, coupled with the ever-developing, fruitful partnership of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, this was a team that was not going to be a “one trick pony”. They enjoyed the sweetness of drinking their favorite beverages out of Lord Stanley’s “Mug”, and were determined to have another round in the future.
Riding the ultimate high of the preceding season, the Kings managed to secure a respectable fifth spot in the Western Conference and buccaneered their way into the Western Conference Final. Unfortunately, they were ousted by the soon-to-be successor to their throne, the Chicago Blackhawks, in five games.
Despite having a sour taste in their mouth from not being able to repeat as champions, the Kings managed yet another respectable regular season in 2013-14; finishing with 100 points and slotting in as the number six seed in the Western Conference. Much like their Stanley Cup year, the team was lead in goals (29), assists (41) and points (70) by budding superstar, Kopitar. The team decided to bolster their lineup with the addition of prolific forward, Marian Gaborik, from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
To say that their imminent playoff run would be a grind would quite the understatement. The Kings were pushed to their limits in seven-game series victories over the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, and, newly formed rival, the Blackhawks. The final challenge was to defeat the New York Rangers, who had not been in the Stanley Cup Final since winning it back in 1994-95. Challenge accepted. The Kings throttled the Rangers in five games to take home their second Stanley Cup in three years.
Although the Kings have not hoisted the Stanley Cup since the 2014 playoff run, they have been a perennial threat. With the incumbent core still very much intact, coupled with youngsters like Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson flourishing, and a minor-league system stocked with talent, the Kings have been the epitome of successful. That does not look like it is going to change anytime soon.
Needless to say, Jack Kent Cooke would likely be very proud.