The blades of their skates cut deep and wide now, far beyond the chilly ice and raucous fans at Staples Center, far past even the highest of hopes for a black-shirted hockey team in a bright and sunny land.
When Alec Martinez slapped a shot past the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist in the second overtime Friday night to give the Kings their second Stanley Cup championship in three years, a large scrum of fans leaped and hugged and screamed.
That was at Dodger Stadium.
As the Kings flooded the ice to engulf Martinez in bear hugs and howls in celebration of the best three-year period of any NHL team in 16 years, a mass of fans were bumping and banging and dancing.
That was at the Underground Pub & Grill in Hermosa Beach.
Perhaps the most compelling part of Friday’s party of Kings was that it included Angelenos in Clayton Kershaw jerseys and Kings caps, board shorts and Kings jerseys, flip-flops and Kings flags. Although the rules regarding the definition of a hockey dynasty are sketchy, it’s a pretty good bet that a Southern California hockey team that has somehow managed to put a chill in its chilling public is becoming one.
You read that right. Dynasty. Los Angeles Kings. Same sentence. Happening now.
This once-forlorn club that required 45 years to win its first Stanley Cup championship has not only been the best team in hockey over the last three seasons, but the first team to win two titles in three-year span since the Detroit Red Wings won consecutive titles in 1997-98.
No team has been better than the Kings at figuring out what was supposed to be something of an anti-dynasty salary cap that was instituted in 2006 and has led to seven champions in nine seasons. No team has a similar championship combination of great young players and long-term contracts. And, of course, no other team has a coach like Darryl Sutter, the Alberta farmer who mumbled and winced and squinted his way to at least a spot in a conference final in each of his three seasons here.
How much has Sutter kept this young program grounded as it’s skated around unprecedented adversity toward greatness? Did you hear him when he finally complimented them after the clincher?
“You’ve got to give these guys full marks,” Sutter said.
That was it. Full marks. And this was for a postseason that included a historic three Game 7 wins on the road and an opening-round comeback from a three-games-to-none deficit. Full marks, and legitimate marks, the Kings have essentially dominated most of the last three Stanley Cup playoffs, with injuries being the main thing that slowed them last season in the conference finals loss to the champion Chicago Blackhawks.
“After we won that first one, all we wanted to do was win another one,” explained defensive leader Drew Doughty. “We kind of messed that up last year. … we wanted it back so bad. We felt like it was ours. We got her back and we’re happy now.”
We felt like it was ours. Players on dynasty teams talk about championships like that. They think like that. They play like that.
Since the NHL’s landmark 1967-68 expansion, there have been only three traditional dynasties. The Montreal Canadians won four straight championships from 1976-79. The New York Islanders won the next four consecutive titles. The Edmonton Oilers won five during the next seven seasons. In historical terms, then, the Kings are barely halfway to dynasty status.
“We’ve got a long ways to go before that,” said Jeff Carter, mirroring the team’s grinding attitude.
But in the salary-cap era, the dynasty bar has been lowered. If a team like Carolina can show up out of nowhere and win a championship, then the Kings’ current run is impressive indeed, and even one more title in the next couple of years should make them a modern-day NHL dynasty.
It could happen. Just looking at the players ages and their contracts, it’s hard to argue that this team won’t be great for several more years. There are 14 players who have been with the Kings for both Stanley Cup titles, and that many could easily remain together for future runs.
Dustin Brown (29), Jonathan Quick (28), Drew Doughty (24), Jeff Carter (29) Slava Voynov (24) and Mike Richards (29) are all signed for at least the next five seasons. Anze Kopitar (26) is signed for two more seasons, and twice-clinching hero Martinez (26) and veterans Jarret Stoll (32) are signed through next season. Amazingly, of this group, all but Carter and Stoll were drafted by the organization, so this is a core whose success has been related to their ability to grow together.
"[Winning] is a result of us, our management, keeping us together and us pulling together,” said Doughty. “It’s really hard to go with a cap, but we found ways to have guys come up and play well.”
And the kids just keep coming. Tylor Toffoli (22), Tanner Pearson (21), Kyle Clifford (23), and Jake Muzzin (25) will be restricted free agents after next season, meaning they are still in the club’s control if the Kings choose to keep them.
The Kings could be losing Marian Gaborik and Willie Mitchell to free agency this summer, but both players came from other places, and there’s no reason to think that General Manager Dean Lombardi won’t maintain his magic touch in plugging in just the right player. Lombardi seems to have a perfect feel for the kind of guy who can inspire and enhance his close-knit dressing room, even from the bench.
Kings officials were glowing Friday night when captain Dustin Brown’s first handoff of the Stanley Cup went to Robyn Regehr, a guy who arrived here in a trade with Buffalo last spring. Regehr was given the highest of honors not only because he had never won the Cup, but because he had became an integral part of the team even though injuries prevented him from playing one moment of the Final.
“Even though now with the cap and the money and the influences — 14-year-olds, they’ve got agents and everything else — deep, deep down it’s still the same,” Lombardi told reporters Friday night. “They’re still boys, and they want to win championships deep down. And you gotta tap into that.”
Oh, his team has tapped into it all right, the Kings digging right through ice and hitting sand, hitting Hollywood, hitting the Southland in a heart that many thought would be forever frozen to the idea of falling in love with a team playing a Canadian sport in a cold rink.
They have won two Stanley Cup titles in three years over the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers. Yet for the Kings, for your Kings, perhaps winning over Los Angeles is dynasty enough.