LOS ANGELES – Waiting to get into the Kings dressing room after Game 3, these A- and B-list celebrities passed by in succession: Mary Hart, David Beckham, Joshua Jackson, Tom Arnold and Matthew Perry. Then while entering Staples Center for Game 4, Janet Jones-Gretzky and family were having trouble getting past a security guard who asked her, “Is your husband a player?” I must say, Paulina Gretzky looks much better in person fully clothed than she does online, semi-naked surrounded by Jersey Shore wannabes.
As expected, the Kings bandwagon was bursting at the seams, largely because it was occupied with beautiful people and their entourages. There is no doubt that for a period of eight weeks, the Kings captured the imagination of the Southern California fan base by winning the Stanley Cup – something Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Marcel Dionne never did for L.A.
Through the Stanley Cup final, the media, or at least their bosses back at the office, were searching for the answer to the question: What does this mean for hockey in L.A.? To that end, the players were grilled on how often they got recognized in public and whether the magical run had translated into Kings fever.
From this corner, here’s what Los Angeles winning the Stanley Cup means. It means the Kings achieved a monumental feat. It means they did something very, very special. It means that forever more, the Los Angeles Kings will go down in history as the best team in the NHL in 2011-12. They’ll take a place in the history books as one of the most unlikely, most dominant playoff champions in league history. What the Kings did was the equivalent to an NFL team squeaking out a wildcard spot on the final Sunday of the season, then winning all their playoff games and the Super Bowl by an average of 30 points. And given the recent history of Stanley Cup winners, it means the Kings won’t win the Cup in 2013.
That’s all. Thinking it will have any kind of deeper meaning or make Los Angeles more of a hockey town reminds me of what people think when someone runs his or her first marathon. But contrary to popular belief, it means only that person has the fitness and endurance to run 26.2 miles. It doesn’t mean he or she can have another child, go back to school, change jobs or accomplish anything he or she tries.
The Kings will be the toast of the city for the summer and will see a spike in interest over the short term. But those who expect Southern California to become a hockey-mad Mecca will be disappointed. This team has been in the NHL 45 years and during its romp through the playoffs, the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page column explaining the rudimentary basics of the game. Among the pearls of wisdom: “The Kings use four ‘lines’ or platoons of players, each made up of three forwards, two defenders and a goaltender. Except for the goalie, they swap out every minute or so, in well-practised ‘line changes’ that resemble Azerbaijan hostage rescues.”
What is more likely to happen is the Kings will live off the fumes of this championship for a little while before settling into their usual existence as a team whose bottom line and recognition value depend on its on-ice success. And there’s nothing wrong with that, nor is it unique. Times are wonderful for the Pittsburgh Penguins these days with their shiny new arena and star-studded lineup, but even that market has never, ever demonstrated a willingness to support that team when it’s not successful.
The reality is the only non-Canadian franchises that can count on that kind of support are the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. Even Original Six members Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings have struggled during lean years. Until former owner Bill Wirtz died and the Hawks began to contend again, they were irrelevant in their market. And does anyone remember the early 1980s when then new Red Wings owner Mike Illitch resorted to giving a car away every game just to get people in the building?
Los Angeles is a big enough place that when the team is relatively good, it’s easy to find 18,118 people who want to go to a game. And there is little doubt that, like many other U.S. cities, the Kings have a maniacally devoted community of fans. More and more NHL-caliber players are coming out of the area every year. But if you went anywhere beyond the perimeter of the Staples Center and L.A. Live on game day, you would have had no idea the Stanley Cup final was even happening.
This Stanley Cup won’t have an enormous amount of staying power in what remains a niche market. And having Will Ferrell and Alyssa Milano show up in the playoffs won’t change that.
This story appeared in the July edition of The Hockey News magazine. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.