As 2012 comes to a close, the promise of a hockey season remains in the lurch. It might be hard to forget that 2012 was actually a great year for the NHL, especially the Los Angeles Kings. Here is a look at the top five Kings moments from the most important year in franchise history:
5. Acquisition of Jeff Carter
When February rolled around for the Kings last winter, it was clear what was needed to take the team to the next level. Scoring at league-record-low clips, the Kings were goal-starved and knew it. The heat was on General Manager Dean Lombardi to make a move to push his underachieving team into a playoff spot, and he delivered. While it came at the price of the young and dynamic Jack Johnson, the trade for Jeff Carter immediately set the Kings lineup straight. Los Angeles started scoring with a balanced lineup, a harbinger of what was to come in the playoffs. Perhaps Lombardi’s biggest risk as GM yielded the greatest reward, as the Kings went 29-9-3 to finish its championship season (including the playoffs) once Carter was acquired.
4. Successful offseason
After some teams win the Stanley Cup, they are unable to retain core elements from their championship rosters because moves during previous seasons created an unsustainable salary situation. This was the issue for the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks, who had to offload many players simply because of the cap constraints it faced. Much of the Blackhawks’ inconsistency to this date can be traced to their decisions in the summer following the Cup victory, as they have yet to compile as deep and balanced of a roster as their 2010 squad.
The Kings avoided those issues because Lombardi prudently (and slowly, as it seemed to fans) built the Kings from the ground up through sound draft picks. The roster is full of young players from the minors and reasonably-priced superstars, which allowed Lombardi to keep the entire team together for the 2012-2013 season with only three signings (Colin Fraser, Jarret Stoll, and Dustin Penner). If hockey does resume this year, one has to figure they will be at an advantage for a shortened season since there will be instant chemistry throughout the lineup.
3. Kings set all sorts of playoff records
It wasn’t just a championship season for Los Angeles, it was a record-setting championship season. The first 8th-seeded team to ever win the Cup, Los Angeles toppled the top three seeds in the Western Conference en route to the Stanley Cup Final. Also the first team to ever go up three-games-to-none in all four playoff series, the Kings set an NHL record for consecutive road wins in one playoffs with 10, and consecutive road wins overall in the playoffs with 12 (dating back to the 2011 series with San Jose). Kings netminder Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy, the first King ever to do so.
2. Darryl Sutter
What changed for the Kings during 2012? What pushed them into a playoff position late in the season after months languishing at the bottom of the Western Conference? Darryl Sutter had one of the largest roles to play. He was hired at the end of December, and while it took a little while for Los Angeles to commit to his playing style, by March the Kings were a brand new hockey team. Sutter’s impact cannot be understated given that the Kings seemed hopeless under former coach Terry Murray. Lombardi’s hire changed Los Angeles’ attitude and performance in time for a spectacular end-of-season run.
1. Kings win the Stanley Cup
Obviously, the top moment in 2012 for the Kings is the club’s first Stanley Cup victory. In their six-game defeat of the New Jersey Devils, the Kings won two overtime thrillers on the road, and two blowout games at home. A couple of hard-fought 2-1 losses challenged Los Angeles, but it was clearly the best team throughout the 2012 playoffs. Marching through the postseason with a 16-4 record, the Kings finally ended their franchise-long championship drought, which dated to 1967.