If only Rogie Vachon's election to the Hockey Hall of Fame had happened a year or two ago, when he and wife Nicole could have enjoyed the good news together.
Cruelly, she couldn't share his joy Monday when the former Kings goaltender got the news that he had told himself would never come. For Vachon, 70 years old and nearly half a lifetime past an outstanding career, it was a wondrous moment but sadly imperfect.
"I wish my wife Nicole would be here," Vachon said, his voice wavering. "She just passed away in February. I wanted to share this stuff with her but she's no longer here. But she would be proud."
Vachon, a member of three Stanley Cup champion teams with the Montreal Canadiens and still near the top of many of the Kings' career goaltending categories, was joined in the class of 2016 by bruising power forward Eric Lindros, skillful Soviet winger Sergei Makarov and former Kings and Canada Olympic coach Pat Quinn, who was honored posthumously as a builder.
They will be inducted Nov. 14 in Toronto.
Vachon's credentials had long testified to his excellence: a record of 355-291-171, a goals-against average of 2.99 and 51 shutouts in 795 games with the Canadiens, Kings, Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins. He probably was overlooked because he spent much of his prime in Los Angeles after asking to be traded. After seeing a tall kid named Ken Dryden lead the Canadiens to the Cup in 1971, Vachon knew he'd have to leave to be a starter.
He was traded Nov. 4, 1971, for Denis DeJordy, Dale Hoganson, Noel Price and Doug Robinson.
"Most of the reporters were back East and all the players were playing there, and that diminished a little bit what we accomplished in the West," said Vachon, who later became the Kings' general manager and was 4-3-3 in three coaching stints.
A battler at 5 feet 7, he was acrobatic, had a quick glove and became a fan favorite ... with good reason: The 1974-75 Kings, backstopped by Vachon and Gary Edwards, earned 105 points, still a club record. Vachon was runner-up for league most valuable player honors in 1975 and was MVP of the 1976 Canada Cup tournament.
"It worked out very well," he said of the trade.
He remains a seminal figure for the Kings, who next season will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their NHL debut.
"What great timing to be able to celebrate the guy that we feel, if it wasn't for him, we don't know if the L.A. Kings would still be on the map," said Hall of Fame left wing Luc Robitaille, the Kings' president of business operations who was drafted by Vachon in 1984. "You think of the California Golden Seals — disappeared. The Colorado Rockies disappeared. Kansas City disappeared. He was the first true superstar the Kings had."
Lindros was projected to become a star from childhood. Brawny at 6-4 and 240 pounds and uncommonly skillful, he snubbed the hockey establishment by refusing to play for the Quebec Nordiques, who had drafted him No. 1 in 1991, and forced a trade to the Philadelphia Flyers. Later plagued by repeated concussions, he had a tense relationship with Flyers General Manager Bobby Clarke, though Clarke recently lobbied for Lindros' election. Lindros had 372 goals and 865 points in 760 regular-season games, many with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg on Philadelphia's feared "Legion of Doom" line.
"It just feels full circle, if you can understand that," Lindros said of waiting six years for admission.
Makarov won eight world titles, two Olympic gold medals and a silver medal with the old Soviet Union, teaming with Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov on the famed "KLM" line. He wasn't allowed to leave for the NHL until 1989 and was 31 when he was voted rookie of the year with the Calgary Flames in 1990. The rules were then changed to restrict players' Calder eligibility to under 26 by Sept. 15 of their rookie season. Makarov, who wasn't available for comment, last played in the NHL in the 1996-97 season.
Quinn, who died in November 2014, played seven NHL seasons but was better known for coaching the Flyers (1980) and Vancouver Canucks (1994) to the Cup Final and leading Canada to Olympic gold in 2002. He coached the Kings for three seasons and was under contract to them when he signed to become the Canucks' general manager. The NHL banned him from coaching the Kings the rest of the 1986-87 and from coaching elsewhere for three years. He coached 1,400 NHL games, compiling a 684-528-188 record.
Vachon didn't win the Cup with the Kings but they gave him a version of their 2012 ring. Soon, he will get a Hall of Fame ring. "It must have been a mistake that he wasn't in," Robitaille said.
That, at long last, has been corrected