By Cam Charron
A team from Southern California won a championship. It doesn't matter which one, in which league, in which sport. Every celebrity, from the most famous A-lister to the local Santa Ana weather guy, wanted in.
The Staples Center prominently features three teams in the four major sports. Two of those didn't win a championship this year, leaving celebrity fans like Jack Nicholson and Ice Cube and Selena Gomez in bitter disrepair. With the Boston Celtics losing in Game 7 to the Miami Heat, the Red Sox missing the playoffs and the Patriots losing in the Super Bowl, even Bill Simmons was going to have to admit that a team he casually follows wasn't going to win anything.
But along came hope. A team generally known for a few C-listers. Wil Wheaton, a man known to many of us only because we were unfortunate enough to be caught watching TV with nothing but reruns of "The Big Bang Theory" on the dial. The guy who played Chandler in the most unfortunate, overrated sitcom in the history of television was also prominently on display all season.
At this point, you're asking yourself "Greg, why the hell aren't you actually talking about the Kings?" Well, for one I'm not Greg, and for two, I'm actually quite tired of talking about the Kings. I like the Kings, don't get me wrong. They're an excellent hockey team with a real shrewd management group who put together a team with 20 good pieces, signing or trading for their best players far below retail value.
There are the obvious Kings jokes: Two thirds of their second line are drunken party boys who were never supposed to successfully deal with the temptations they'd face in Los Angeles. The other member of their second line is fat, lazy and loves pancakes. Their coach resembles "Sloth" from "the Goonies" and nobody can actually find the country of origin of their star player on a map. The other is that their captain is statistically the best diver in the National Hockey League.
Career-altering addictions and geography aside, the Kings were relentless. The team was known for its star power in the past, featuring guys like Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille; but those three were all famous for not bringing the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles. Ironically, in the land of stardom and glamorized excess, the most successful team the Kings had ever was also its most economical and its most boring.
Frankly, I don't necessarily look at things like "boring" when I judge whether a team is good or not, or interesting to watch. There were lots of interesting characteristics about the Los Angeles Kings this season: their unflappable goaltending, their propensity to trade for any superstar on the market, their play-driving, high-scoring No. 1 centerman and their puck-moving defense.
Evidently, people covering the team didn't find as many fun things about this team as I did. One night, after writing a post about the post-Jeff Carter trade dominance of the Kings, I did a search on Getty Images for an appropriate picture about the Kings. My search for "Los Angeles Kings" yielded thus:
I hope the Kings become a dynasty. I really do. I like watching Jeff Carter and Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. I like how good they are, I like that a team found success after acquiring players without regard for their past or their character, just what they can do on the ice.
More importantly, I like how easy it is to make fun of the people who cover them. We all remember when the local NBC affiliate threw up a logo of the Sacramento Kings accidentally when discussing the major events at the Staples Center one glorious weekend in May:
I think the best part of this clip is not that the attractive (probably) failed actress Liz Habib makes a number of different mistakes in her likely first go-round with hockey highlights but that she began her clip by showcasing Alyssa Milano in the crowd at the Staples Center.
That's not all the mistakes that were made by a bunch of media folks pretending to be versed in hockey. Jonathan Swift is a good example, but my favorite may have been Mike Dunsmore getting all this great, pro-American, anti-Canuck tirade from whom he thought was Ryan Kesler, but turned out to be Kevin Bieksa.
So when an obvious Photoshop pops up (courtesy of The Royal Half, I believe is where I first saw it), people think it's real:
We remember Jack Johnson, the former third overall draft pick, a man Rudy Kelly described as a player who "doesn't do anything to positively affect a play when he's on defense; he's generally in the right place but he's not actively doing the things he needs to do to end that offensive possession. He's a buck-toothed pylon, basically."
This is a player whose own GM called him a star athlete but "awful as a hockey player" two years before he traded him away for one of the better players in the league. "You had no idea what position he was playing. But he had always been the star and he always got his numbers."
We remember Jack Johnson because Jack Johnson was the final piece of the Kings' puzzle. The removal of Johnson and subsequent addition of Jeff Carter, done a couple of months before the Los Angeles local media realized that Jack Johnson was more than a singer-songwriter, set this team on an unstoppable course going forward. Despite being an eighth-seed, the team was never an underdog.
We remember Ryan Smyth, the well-coiffed poster boy for rhinoplasty, who decided last offseason that "maybe I don't want to play in Los Angeles" and accommodated a trade off the Kings. The removal of Smyth's 23 goals and $6.25M cap hit allowed for general manager Dean Lombardi to make a trade for Richards the next time that Philadelphia's Paul Holmgren drunk dialed him.
We remember Smyth because he was so much of a detriment to the Kings' cap situation that they had to trade him not once, but twice, for players that the Edmonton Oilers didn't really want. Smyth, the grizzled veteran, is still without a Stanley Cup while, like Johnson, his exit paved the way for the Kings to win.
There are some great Kings fans out there; one a Toronto lawyer I watched three of the games with. Despite the Kings' looking at every instance like they'd win the series, she was still beset by bitter memories of Zigmund Palffy at one time being the star player on the strip. This is a team that was so bad through their history that they don't even have memorable playoff chokes or disappointments.
In the 2000s, the Kings goalie with the most wins and shutouts was Felix Potvin. The most goals and points belonged to Alex Frolov. Nothing against Potvin and Frolov personally, but they the hockey equivalents to Chandler Bing in how good of a character he was on TV, except they played for a lot less money.
So Congratulations to the Kings.
Congratulations to a fantastic cast of players brought aboard, and a systematic coaching staff that kept them in check. Congratulations to Darryl Sutter for winning a Stanley Cup-clinching game on his fifth try.
Congratulations to the bandwagoning local media who found the next trendy event to hijack.
Congratulations to Jack Johnson and Ryan Smyth, who were key players in reverse to one of the more impressive Stanley Cup teams in years. Congratulations to the players who were brought aboard this club after some other team decided that they weren't good enough to win anymore.
More importantly, congratulations to the passionate L.A. fans that supported the team despite being so bad for so long whom finally have a reason to cheer. I'm more than willing to do a few shots with you should our paths cross.
Congratulations to Will Ferrell, who memorized the entire "Los Angeles Kings#History" page in one of "Hockey Night in Canada's" most awkward interviews ever. With any luck, you'll be recognized as Geoff Cartier or Miles Richards, players on the only line in hockey that require a designated skater.
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