The unthinkable has happened for a team that has been around for 44 years. The Los Angeles Kings have won a Stanley Cup title. Not since 1993 has the 'City of Angels' been this close to winning the greatest trophy in all of sports. That year they were expected to win. They acquired 'The Great One' Wayne Gretzky just 4 years earlier from the Edmonton Oilers.
Their luck ran out that year as they were defeated by the Montreal Canadiens in 5 games. This year was quite different. The Kings were expected to be contenders, but it was a rough start to the season. Their offense was stagnant. It looked as if their Vezina candidate Jonathan Quick would run out of steam towards the end of the season. Yet, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi made two bold moves that would change their fortune.
Terry Murray, who was the Kings previous head coach the last 3 seasons was let go after a 13-12-4 start to the year. His replacement John Stevens was named on an interim basis and was 2-2-0. Lombardi hired Darryl Sutter who has been around the NHL for many years. He led Chicago, San Jose and Calgary to the playoffs in 10 out of the 12 seasons he's coached. One of those years was a Stanley Cup appearance with Calgary in 2004.
However, the last time he coached was in 2006. Would he be the right guy to jump start the Kings into contenders? Lombardi wasn't done making moves. He then traded away one of the teams best defensemen in Jack Johnson to the Columbus Blue Jackets before the trade deadline for Jeff Carter. In the offseason the Kings acquired Carter's former teammate from Philadelphia in Mike Richards. Carter was subsequently dealt to Columbus.
The move was shrewd at the time, but it made a lot of sense. Carter and Richards immediately made each other better and Dustin Penner began to awaken towards the beginning of the playoffs as well. That trio was perhaps their best line of the entire playoffs. They combined for 39 points, including 15 goals.
Sutter knew which buttons to push and it resulted in the Kings finishing the season with a 25-13-11 record in the 49 games Sutter was behind the bench. They defeated the No. 1 seeded Vancouver Canucks, who were also the defending Western Conference champions. Next they swept the No. 2 seeded St. Louis Blues. And had no problems defeating their division rivals, the Phoenix Coyotes in 5 games.
The New Jersey Devils weren't an easy foe in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Kings nearly swept them, but New Jersey caught fire thanks to Martin Brodeur's stellar play in net for Games 4 and 5. New Jersey's hill though was too far to climb as they fell in Game 6 on Los Angeles' home ice. The Kings fans had never experienced a Stanley Cup victory before and it was a once in a lifetime experience.
Congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings and their fans. You could see the makings of a championship team many years ago. The moves made in the last 3-4 years by Dean Lombardi though are a sign that the Kings should remain contenders for many more years to come.