Damn you Wayne Gretzky.
Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988 in the most historic roster transaction in the NHL to date. It is no secret that Gretzky brought hockey to L.A. In fact, if ever there was an understatement, that is it.
I started playing street hockey at age 8, in 1991, in Orange County, CA, because that's what the neighborhood kids were doing. To my knowledge, at that time, there was not a high prevalence of competitive in-line hockey leagues in the area.
After playing ice hockey in Illinois, I moved back to California in 1997. I was excited to learn that my high school was starting an in-line hockey team. Soon, every high school in the area had teams competing against each other and still do a decade later.
It is impossible to say whether or not The Great One himself was responsible for the booming popularity of hockey in Southern California, but it is also impossible to say that he didn't at least help.
He was definitely the main reason that as my passion for the game was spawning, I became a fan of the Los Angeles Kings. But aren't the Anaheim Ducks in Orange County?
Indeed- starting in 1993, and they didn't have a Wayne Gretzky. In fact, even though I enjoyed the Mighty Ducks movies, I always thought it was a pathetic idea to create a professional sports franchise based on a kids' movie.
This still represents the most prolific exploitation of ancillary marketing the entertainment industry has ever seen.
Enter Henry Samueli, another Orange County resident. Samueli purchased the Ducks in 2004 and as a hockey fan with some money to spend, brought the first Stanley Cup to California just two years later.
What I find interesting is that he was a professor at UCLA while Wayne Gretzky was playing for the Kings. Perhaps The Great One's hype caught the eye of Samueli during his era and sparked his interest in the sport.
If this is the case, Gretzky's hockey contributions to California carry on to this day, even while he coaches the Phoenix Coyotes.
Why then, did I begin the article condemning the Deity of hockey to Hades?
Simply because now I'm stuck with the Gretzky-less Kings, and the 2008-09 season might be the most painful one to date.
Lubomir Visnovsky was one of the few bright spots on a young and developing Kings roster. He has been one of my favorite players on the Kings for years and I think he is one of the most underrated players in the NHL.
His numbers speak for themselves, as he has, with the exception of last season, always been among the top defensemen in point production. Aside from this fact, he has always been a reliable defenseman and might be pound for pound one of the toughest.
I can recall many instances in which he had to leave the ice after a blocked shot but returned every time, and one time I think he had a broken bone in his foot. Upon the signing of his 28 million dollar contract, he went from underrated to over-paid? I think not. At an average of 5.6 million a year, he is well deserving.
As if this weren't enough, the Kings play in arguably best division in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, and even the Phoenix Coyotes are improving. The worst part of all of this is that since the 2007 trade deadline these teams have been adding mightily to their already stacked line-ups.
San Jose acquired the highly sought after Brian Campbell at last season's trade deadline and went without a loss in regulation in March of 2008. Dallas made an even bigger deal at the end of last season adding former Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards to their roster.
In the free agent market they grabbed former King and cause of a new amendment in the NHL rule book, Sean Avery. Even Phoenix signed franchise center Olli Jokinen. The Ducks had enough trouble keeping their young stars, and were able to resign Corey Perry.
Indeed, the Kings are making headway to being a strong, young, all-around team, boasting some of the best young talent in the league in Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson, and my choice for the potential savior of the team, Anze Kopitar. L.A. also has a strong pool of prospects in defensemen Thomas Hickey, Drew Doughty, Colten Teubert, and goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
None of these facts shine positive light on the outlook for the 2008-09 season. It takes a few years to mold any highly regarded prospects into superstars, and this is especially true of defensemen and goalies.
With the Kings having to play the aforementioned Pacific Division teams no less than 8 teams each this year, it will be a miracle if they win more than 20 games all year.
I'm hoping the Kings achieve the one thing they could have acquired last season; #1 overall pick in the draft. Of course it's a lottery but we all know how that goes down. If Los Angeles starts the 2009-10 season with Jonathan Tavares on the roster, things will start looking up much sooner.
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