Steady Will (Hopefully) Win the Race for the Kings
The NHL already killed off nearly three months of the season, so what's another several days? The Kings held a press conference this afternoon at STAPLES Center to help kick off the new season which is set to drop on January 19. For the Kings, stability and familiarity will be the key to get through the truncated 48-game season sprint.
While waiting for the presser to start, it was obvious Anschutz Entertainment Group really wanted to get out a message. The AEG employees coordinating this presser were flustered making sure they got seating for the "special guests" correct. It was a bit puzzling why all of this fuss was being paid to these folks. Were they going to be the new owners with AEG up for sale?
It turns out these folks represented the four charities the Kings will be donating to in an effort to reach out to the community and atone for the lockout. With their new presenting sponsor McDonalds matching funds, the Kings Care Foundation will be donating a total of $1 million to the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California, Boys and Girls Club of America and City Year Los Angeles.
As for free beer or discounted concessions for the fans similar to what the Pittsburgh Penguins are doing?
"I know our fans, and I know what they want," Kings governor Tim Leiweke said. "They want us to win. They want us to raise the banner. They want us to bring this team back and the nucleus of this team intact. And that's what we're doing."
So no free beer or free hot dogs?
"We're not going to play little games and do little things that ultimately look past that," Leiweke continued. "We're committed to spending whatever it takes to win again. We're committed to spending whatever it takes to keep this nucleus together. We're committed to doing whatever we need at the end of the day to try to win another Cup. That's what our fans want out of us. That's what they expect out of us."
So no free beer or free hot dogs?
"Our fans don't want a free beer or a free hot dog. They want another Cup. We get it."
So no free beer or free hot dogs.
That said, the Kings did manage to keep the nucleus of the team together. In fact they became the first team to win a Stanley Cup who returned every player of their championship team the following year.
"The mental toughness they displayed throughout those playoffs and getting into the playoffs through some tough times, there's no doubt in my mind that they will build upon that," general manager Dean Lombardi said.
One could be wary of no roster changes as having a potential for stagnation.
"That's the down side," Lombardi admitted. He did entertain the thought of tinkering with the roster. "The Lakers kind of did that to keep them hungry. They go and get a [Karl] Malone and a [Gary] Peyton. So those teams that had a dynasty, there is a school of thought in that area."
Lombardi didn't entertain the thought very long as he ultimately decided to stand pat. With the thin free agent market as one of the reasons, he ultimately saw the team's youth and still untapped potential as the reason to let it ride.
"This is a really good group and they're young. There's still a lot of upside in this group. So there's a lot of growth to be done. One of the things that keeps you from being stale is getting better everyday.
"Arguably how are you stale when ten of those guys at a minimum have upside and should be getting better?"
One thing that might rock the boat of the team is the sale of AEG. With the pricetag to be reportedly upwards of $8 billion, there is a possibility that the new owner will break up the company. Leiweke emphatically denied any notion of any potential instability
"There is zero instability," Leiweke said. "In fact I would say, if anything, there is even a stronger dedication to take advantage of the moment."
The season is tentatively scheduled to open at STAPLES Center on Jan. 19 at Noon with the ring and banner ceremony. As opposed to the Lakers and Sparks banners hung on the wall, the Kings championship banner will hang from the rafters of the arena. "Tim wanted us to do something special," Kings president Luc Robitaille said.
The Kings will also give away replica banners on opening afternoon and a replica championship ring at a later date. Fortunately thanks to Leiweke's daughter Francesca, the public got its first glimpse fo the ring.
Everyone said the right things for the most part. They want to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, write a new story, start with winning the first game. But even with head coach Darryl Sutter at the helm of this shorten season, the only head coach to have also coached the truncated 1994-95 season, it a completely different game. The rules are different, and the speed of the game is faster.
Like Sutter said, "We're shooting in the dark."
One thing that is universally acknowledged is that there is no luxury of riding out a slump. The team has to be sharp and has to win starting out of the gate. Like Lombardi said, this team has been through adversity and has proven they have the mental toughness to win a championship. But given the choice of this situation or what the Chicago Blackhawks dealt with after winning the Cup in 2010 having to get rid of players because of salary cap issues, Lombardi knows what he wants.
"I'll take this."