LOS ANGELES – We know the Los Angeles Kings are an outstanding hockey team, one of the greatest of this era. What is left to determine now that they’ve won two Stanley Cups and made it to the Western Conference final a third is whether or not they qualify as a dynasty by today’s NHL standards.
As of the 14:43 mark of the second overtime period, when Alec Martinez scored to give the Kings the most beautiful trophy in the history of sports, the conversation has begun. At franchise that stumbled and bumbled around in the dark looking for a Stanley Cup for 45 years only had to wait two years to find another one.
So does that make the Kings a dynasty? Well, it depends on your definition of a dynasty, which is, of course, totally subjective. The Ming Dynasty in China lasted almost 300 years but those guys never had to go up against Joe Thornton, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Getzlaf. Even the New York Islanders, the last real dynasty to ever rule the NHL, did it in an era when there were nine fewer teams in the league and a lot of talent was still being siphoned by the World Hockey Association.
An unscientific straw poll conducted in the press box between the third period and overtime was inconclusive. I got responses ranging from, “small ‘d’ dynasty,” to “absolutely,” to, “not a chance.”
So perhaps the Kings are not a dynasty yet, but two Cups in three years in the salary cap era is an incredible accomplishment in and of itself. And when you look at this team, you get the distinct feeling this won’t be the last time this group is standing at center ice holding the Cup over their heads.
“Once we won the first one, all we wanted to do was win another one,” said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. “We kind of messed that up last year and we lost the Cup to another team and we wanted it back so bad and we felt like it was ours. So we got it back and we’re happy now.”
Kings coach Darryl Sutter said the key to winning the Cup was not overcoming a three-game deficit in the first round against the San Jose Sharks. It was finding a way to wrestle the Cup away from the Stanley Cup champion.
“We had to figure out at the Olympic break how to go through the Chicago Blackhawks,” Sutter said. “And we got to play them and we were fortunate enough to beat them.”
GM Dean Lombardi has built this team to win championships and he has done an outstanding job in that regard. You get the feeling the road to the Stanley Cup is going to go through either Los Angeles or Chicago for a long, long time.
“People overlook at how young Doughty was last time, (Anze) Kopitar, (Dustin) Brown was still growing,” Lombardi said. “And Doughty is only going to get better. I mean, he’s not done. He’s only 24 years old. (Ray) Bourque didn’t hit his prime until he was 27. Same thing with Kopitar.”
Friday night was the Kings 64th playoff game since they embarked on their first Stanley Cup run in 2012. That leads the NHL by a large margin and puts the Kings in the top four teams in the NHL each of the past three seasons. Nobody has won two Cups in four years in a salary cap era, so they’ve got that going for them. And the way they did it has to count for something, shouldn’t it? They came back from a 3-0 deficit in the first round, won three straight overtime games and won all three of their home games in the final in overtime. They played a soul-grinding 26 games to win the Cup and with the overtime included that total is actually almost 28.
The Kings are as close to a dynasty as you’re probably going to see in a long time, but does that make it so? They probably need one more Stanley Cup in the next year or two to turn the doubters into believers.
And there’s no reason to believe the Kings aren’t capable of doing just that because this team isn’t going anywhere. It may never win a President’s Trophy or even a division title, but it is built to win in the playoffs. There’s a theory out there that since GM Dean Lombardi took the job as the Kings GM, most of the players he has acquired have been single guys with no family commitments. The thinking goes that Lombardi can live with his young players living in Manhattan Beach and enjoying life during the regular season, as long as they do it together.
It promotes team bonding and gives the Kings a sense they’re all in it together. And the difference between this team and say, the Boston Bruins of the 1970s, is this team knows exactly when the party is supposed to end and the work begins.
The Kings are, quite simply, one of the most skilled ‘heavy’ teams the NHL has ever seen. They are supremely skilled at finding the smallest crack, the smallest crevice of weakness in their opponents and exploiting it. They impose their will on the game like few teams can and are one of those few outfits to whom a multi-goal deficit is nothing more than a minor annoyance.
And the Kings have been built the right way. Most of their talent is homegrown, thanks to the amazing work of Michael Futa and Mark Yannetti, who took over as co-directors of scouting in 2007. Since then, the Kings have drafted Wayne Simmonds, Dwight King, Alec Martinez, Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, Andrei Loktionov, Brayden Schenn, Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson and signed Jake Muzzin as an undrafted free agent. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick and Trevor Lewis came on as draft picks in years prior.
The Kings have much of their core committed to long-term deals with Doughty, Brown, Quick, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Voynov all inked for the long haul. Kopitar’s deal comes up in two years, but it’s hard to believe their leader would be able to find a better opportunity to win elsewhere. And when it comes to signing free agents, the success the Kings have had is sure to make them a prime destination for veterans who are looking to win a Stanley Cup. That, of course, could sometimes be more of a curse than a blessing, but the Kings have been good enough and lucky enough – they lost out on Ilya Kovalchuk and Brad Richards – to manage that part of their roster.
So whether or not you believe the Kings belong in the Dynasty Conversation yet, you can bank on one thing – they’ll be part of it for a long, long time to come.