California is becoming one of North America’s hockey hotbeds. This is in spite of its location on the West Coast.
[media-credit id=20201 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]Only two states have three NHL teams. One is New York, which is an active part of the United States’ traditional Northeastern hockey market. The other is California, which gets little notice on the West Coast with games that begin at 10:30 EST, far away from the Eastern Conference teams that make up most of the core of the NHL. However, the two states’ six combined NHL teams match all of Canada.
It wasn’t always this way. Before the 1967 NHL expansion, which granted Los Angeles the Kings franchise and Oakland the California Seals, there were no NHL teams in California. The Seals toiled in obscurity from 1967-76, undergoing multiple name changes to disguise the ongoing shit-show that took place there. They made the playoffs twice in their existence, before vanishing into oblivion.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Sharks and Ducks came into existence, the Kings reached their pinnacle and hockey in California became relevant. In this series, I break down the three California teams. I’m starting with the Kings.
The Los Angeles Kings
Some of the greatest players in NHL history have put on the Kings sweater: Wayne Gretzky, Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne, Jari Kurri and Luc Robitaille, among others. Still, none of them achieved anything meaningful in Los Angeles other than individual acclaim.
The Kings have been one of the least successful franchises in the NHL. They have only made the Stanley Cup Finals once, losing to the Canadians in 1993. They missed the playoffs from 2002-10. Historically, the franchise has been plagued by poor management, terrible draft choices and underachieving players.
The organization has taken a complete 180. Former General Manager Dave Taylor tried his best to manage the team throughout the 2000s, but managed to run the franchise into the ground during the process. Former Sharks General Manager Dean Lombardi was brought in after the 2005-06 season to right the ship.
After a few years of rebuilding, the Kings have turned into a cohesive and successful group. After making the playoffs last year and getting knocked out in the first round, the Kings have started this season strong and currently sit atop the Western Conference standings, winning 12 of their 15 games this season and possessing a perfect 8-0-0 home record. ESPN has them ranked first in its NHL Power Rankings this week.
Thanks to a well-rounded defensive group, headlined by Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, quality goaltending from Jonathan Quick and a well-executed defensive system, they are allowing a league low 1.85 goals-per-game.
Up front, the Kings have a deep and varied group of forwards, with young talent like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown accented by quality veterans like Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams. The team is still developing, and everything is coming together for them right now.
The team’s top defenseman (Doughty) is 20 years old, their top forward (Kopitar) is 23 and their top goalie (Quick) is 24. Despite their success this season, they are not likely to stagnate in the years to come.
Dustin Brown (26), Wayne Simmonds (22) and Jack Johnson (23) are also valuable assets for the team. Hockey players generally don’t reach their prime until their mid-late twenties (26-28) and don’t drop off until their early-mid thirties (32-34), so there’s plenty of improvement yet to come.
The Kings also have an abundance of talented prospects worth mentioning who have yet to come into their own. Brayden Schenn is already on the roster at 19, Kyle Clifford is getting a regular shift as a 19-year-old and 22-year-old Jonathan Bernier is currently the team’s backup goalie, although he has the potential to be one of the top goalies in the league.
The future looks bright in Los Angeles.
Daily Nexus Hockey Columnist Josh Deitell loves the fact that 7:30 games on the West Coast start at 10:30 on the East. In the words of Tupac, “West Coast!”