Sports

The Los Angeles Kings and their fans have seen it all in the last five decades

One of the newest NHL owners wonderfully mixed his metaphors when the league embraced expansion after a historic meeting Feb. 9, 1966, growing from six to 12 teams.

"I feel like I've just been elected King of England!" Jack Kent Cooke told Canada's national newspaper, The Globe and Mail.

The Kings' coronation, however, would have to wait a few more years.

They finally won the Stanley Cup in 2012, more than 15 years after Cooke, their original owner, died.

Since debuting in October 1967, after Cooke paid $2 million to join the NHL, they've had 24 head coaches, eight general managers and four ownership changes.

The first team featured a nickname-heavy cast — as per Cooke's wishes — with the likes of Eddie "The Jet" Joyal and Bill "Cowboy" Flett joining players with less politically correct monikers.

Four players with a significant Kings' affiliation are in the Hockey Hall of Fame: Marcel Dionne (inducted in 1992), Wayne Gretzky (1999), Luc Robitaille (2009) and Rob Blake (2014).

From their quirky early days to the more recent glory days, much has unfolded for the Kings.

A decade-by-decade look at the highs and lows of an often eclectic franchise, which was once in bankruptcy, had a former owner (Bruce McNall) land in prison and a coach (Pat Quinn) suspended by the league for accepting a job with the Vancouver Canucks while still employed by the Kings.

1967 to 1977

Highlight(s): Rogie and Marcel.

There were two superstars to savor in the first decade: Goaltender Rogie Vachon and the gifted scorer Marcel Dionne, who oozed charisma.

Vachon arrived first in 1971, via a trade with the Montreal Canadiens, and Dionne came on the scene in 1975. The Kings acquired Vachon on Nov. 4, 1971, for Denis DeJordy, Dale Hoganson, Noel Price and Doug Robinson.

Before goalie Jonathan Quick came along, Vachon held franchise marks for games played, wins and shutouts. In the 1974-75 season, The Hockey News named him the league's player of the year as he had 27 wins, six shutouts and a goals-against average of 2.24.

Though the Kings' famed Triple Crown line — Dionne centering Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor — wasn't assembled until the team's second decade, the roots were put down when the Kings acquired Dionne's rights from the Detroit Red Wings on June 23, 1975.

General Manager Jake Milford traded Terry Harper, Dan Maloney and a draft choice for the rights to Dionne and Bart Crashley, a defenseman with a perfect hockey name.

Dionne electrified the Forum, in the 1976-77 season becoming the first player in team history to score 50-plus goals (53) and put up 100-plus points (122).

The Triple Crown line, first formed in the seventh game of an eight-game trip in January 1979, combined for 161 goals in the 1980-81 season.

Times columnist Jim Murray, taking note of the goal-scoring proficiency, quipped that the threesome maybe should have been called The Red Light Line.

Lowlight: Without a doubt, the 1969-70 team set the franchise mark for futility on several levels.

Fewest wins: 14. Fewest road wins: two. Most losses: 52. Most road losses: 30.

Those marks still stand. The Kings finished with 38 points and won three games in January and none in February.

Pursuing trivia: Legend has it that Gene Carr, acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers in the 1973-74 season, provided the inspiration for his friend Glenn Frey of the Eagles to write the song "New Kid in Town," which included this lyric: "Johnny come lately, the new kid in town; Everybody loves you, so don't let them down."

1977 to 1987

Highlight: Miracle on Manchester.

Reportedly, then-Kings owner Jerry Buss had seen enough in a playoff game against the Edmonton Oilers in 1982 and left the Forum … and missed a comeback for the ages.

The Kings trailed, 5-0, after two periods in Game 3 of the best-of-five-game series against Wayne Gretzky and Co. They were feeling disrespected by the Oilers and chipped away at the lead and tied the score with five seconds left in regulation.

Daryl Evans, the team's current radio analyst, scored the winning goal in overtime, giving the Kings a 6-5 victory, and they went on to upset the heavily favored Oilers in five games.

Lowlight: Dance Party.

Kings Coach Don Perry was suspended for six games by the NHL in the 1981-82 season for directing enforcer Paul Mulvey to leave the bench to join a brawl in a game at Vancouver. Mulvey refused. There were several reported variations of what he allegedly said to Mulvey. Most were along the lines of, "Go out there and don't dance."

So you get the idea. …

Pursuing trivia: The Kings drafted not one but two future Hall of Famers in 1984. One was Robitaille in the ninth round. The other, a fourth-rounder named Tom Glavine, never played a minute in the NHL but won 305 games as a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets.

1987 to 1997

Highlight: The blockbuster trade for Gretzky in the summer of 1988.

Then-owner Bruce McNall stunned the sports world by pulling off the biggest deal in NHL history, acquiring Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley from the Oilers in exchange for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three future first-round draft picks and $15 million.

Very soon, celebrities flocked to the Forum. The Kings went from 68 points in the 1987-88 season to 91 in 1988-89. Gretzky and Co. upset the Oilers in the opening round of the 1989 playoffs. The pinnacle would come in 1993, when the Kings beat the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. They won Game 1 against the Canadiens but lost the next four.

Lowlight: The fun-loving, heady days of McNall's empire came to a crashing halt when the owner went to prison in 1997 after a federal criminal investigation into his banking practices. This followed the Kings' bankruptcy in 1995 and Gretzky's departure, via a trade to the St. Louis Blues in February 1996. Thus, the once-successful merger of hockey and Hollywood was shelved for more than a decade.

Pursuing trivia: The Kings led late in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in Montreal when McSorley was caught with an illegal stick. They lost in overtime and then dropped the next three games too.

Since then, no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup.

1997 to 2007

Highlight: This was widely considered a lost decade in terms of playoff success with the exception of one stirring spring. That would be 2001, starting with a first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings. They beat the Red Wings, four games to two, prevailing in overtime of Game 6.

In the next round, they staved off elimination by winning in double overtime of Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinal against the Avalanche, 1-0, but had little left in Game 7, losing, 5-1, at Colorado.

Lowlight: The Kings made the playoffs in 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2002 — winning one round — and did not reach postseason play again until 2010. There was a 69-point season in 1998-99 and a 68-point effort in 2006-07, which happened to be the first season of Dean Lombardi's tenure as general manager as he attempted to sift through the wreckage.

The lowest point may have been the end of the 2003-04 season, when the Kings lost their last 11 games, going 0-9-0-2 during the longest losing streak in franchise history.

Pursuing trivia: Three key cogs in the Kings' Cup-winning seasons — captain Dustin Brown, center Anze Kopitar and Quick — were drafted under the regime of then-General Manager Dave Taylor.

2007 to present day

Highlight(s): The first Stanley Cup is always the sweetest and the Kings had to wait 45 years for it, beating the New Jersey Devils in six games in 2012. They went 16-4 in the playoffs and did not lose a road game until Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Their second Stanley Cup championship in 2014 was a far tougher path, a testament to their survival skills. Three times the Kings won Game 7 on the road, rallying from a 3-0 series deficit in the opening round against the San Jose Sharks.

Lowlight: What seemed like continuation of a dreadful run, in fact, ended up benefiting the Kings. They recorded a 71-point season in 2007-08, using seven goalies along the way. And who doesn't remember the vaunted Daniel Taylor and Jean-Sebastien Aubin?

Still, that lowly result, enabled the Kings to pick No. 2 at the entry draft in Ottawa in 2008 and they snapped up Drew Doughty, a franchise defenseman. Maybe even a generational defenseman when all is said and done.

Pursuing trivia: Steve Bernier. Not a King, of course, but part of Kings lore. The Devils fourth-liner took a five-minute major penalty in the first period for boarding in Game 6 in the 2012 Final. The Kings, who had scored a mere six power-play goals in the playoffs, promptly scored three times on the major penalty en route to a 6-1 victory.

Lisa.dillman@latimes.com

Twitter: @reallisa

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 09, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "The Kings at 50 - First five decades have included everything from epic failures to championship parades" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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