Sunday, August 11, 2013

Los Angeles Kings National Hockey League of Nations

I always find myself playing along with these Puck Daddy games, so I figured I'd go ahead and post my thoughts here. Here we go:

Los Angeles Kings National Hockey League of Nations

Canada- Wayne Gretzky

This is an easy choice. Enough has been said about the acquisition of Gretzky 25 years ago changing the hockey landscape in Los Angeles and helping the NHL expand into warmer American climes, but that's not what this is about. This is about who is the best Canadian to ever wear a Kings sweater and the answer is obviously Gretzky. He won scoring titles, made superstars out of his teammates (I'm looking at you, Bernie Nichols), and led the Kings out of the 2nd round of the playoffs for the only time in the franchise's first 44 years, and all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Sure, he made hockey popular in L.A., but it was his impact on the ice that gives him this honor.

I will admit that I wrestled with potentially naming Marcel Dionne or Luc Robitaille the best Canadian in Kings history. Both were among the greatest players of their generations and kept the Kings exciting in the pre- and post-Gretzky eras, and while both accomplished great feats on the ice (they are the franchise leaders in points and goals respectively), they will unfortunately have to remain in Gretzky's shadow. Nevertheless, they deserve mention in the conversation (and should probably have statues outside Staples Center).

United States- Jonathan Quick

This is an even easier choice than Gretzky for Canada. Say what you will about Dustin Brown or Tony Granato, Jonathan Quick is the single biggest reason a Stanley Cup banner hangs from the rafters of Staples Center, and that matters. In five short years, Quick has grown from a mistake-prone prospect whose job was to keep the crease warm for Jon Bernier to being the best goalie in the game today who should own that Kings net for the next decade. I cannot fathom what another American would have to do to knock Quick from his perch as the greatest American in L.A. Kings history.

Russia- Slava Voynov

There has been a multitude of great Russian hockey players in the NHL since the Iron Curtain started to pull back over 20 years ago from Larionov and Fetisov in the '80s to Bure, Mogilny, and Fedorov in the '90s, and the current crop of guys like Datsyuk, Malkin, and Ovechkin. The Kings never really got in on that. Almost by default then, the talented young current blueliner gets the nod here. I don't mean to diminish what he has done in his first season and a half (really, it's about one season thanks to his midseason call-up in '12 and the lockout-shortened '13 season) because he has been phenomenal at times, but it would be nice to include someone with a more substantial body of work. But seriously, who else was I gonna go with, Vitali Yachmenev? Vladimir Tsyplakov? No, I'll stick with Voynov. (Ok, there is an argument for Alex Frolov, but his time in L.A. was cut short and he did not pan out as he was expected to).

Sweden- Mattias Norstrom

As you start trying to fill out an exercise like this with the L.A. Kings, you start to realize just how few European players have actually skated for them! There are really only two options from Sweden: Nortstrom and Tomas Sandstrom. Sandstrom was one of the great scorers in Kings history and played a pivotal role in the '93 Cup Final run. He was also one of the most injury-prone players I can recall ever seeing play the game! He would spend half the season hurt with a broken leg or a broken jaw or something, but still pot 40 goals playing with #99. If it weren't for the defensive stalwart and first European captain in team history, Sandstrom would get the nod here. But Matty Norstrom was a rock on the back end for Kings teams throughout his tenure in Los Angeles. He bone-crunching hits and solid defense made him the Willie Mitchell of his era. If only Smolinksi's shot had gone in at the end of the 2nd period of Game 7 in 2001 against Colorado and the Kings had not subsequently collapsed in the third, Matty very well could have been the first Los Angeles King to touch the Cup!

Finland- Jari Kurri

Another country with slim pickings for the Kings. It's basically either Kurri or Aki-Petteri Berg. I'm gonna go with Kurri! Berg was another in a long list of bad draft picks made by the Kings in those lean years after the '93 run to the Final. Jari Kurri, on the other hand, was a former superstar who never achieved the same sort of greatness he had shown in Edmonton, but still played a vital role in getting the Kings to the Cup Final, especially early in the '92-'93 season when Gretzky was hurting.

Slovakia- Ziggy Palffy

Finally, a European country with a veritable cornucopia of Kings stars! Palffy, Pavol Demitra, Jozeph Stumpel, Lubomir Visnovsky, Michael Handzus. Of that group, Palffy was the cream of the crop for sure. A veritable superstar, he made the Kings an exciting team to watch at the turn of the century. I will never forget in the 2001 playoffs, the end-to-end goal he scored against Detroit in the first round that sounded the death knell for the Red Wings and then a play where he undressed the legendary Ray Bourque in round 2 before slipping a puck by Patrick Roy. It was a real shame that that piece of shit Todd Simpson made the dirty hit in the 2004 season that basically ended his career and that Dave Taylor bungled contract negotiations with him so badly that he ended his NHL career with a brief stint in Pittsburgh instead of as a King. Palffy really was one of the greatest players of his generation, one of the best Kings ever, and a treat to watch on the ice in purple and black.

Czech Republic- Jaroslav Modry

Talk about a winner by default! It was Modry or Roman Cechmanek here. And it wasn't gonna be Cechmanek. I guess Modry isn't the worst possible choice.

Rest of the World
Slovenia- Anze Kopitar
Ok, so he is one of only 2 Slovenians to ever play in the NHL. He is also one of the league's best players and was the best player not named Jonathan Quick in the Kings' Stanley Cup victory last year.

UK- Byron Dafoe
I always kinda liked Lord Byron when he played for the Kings. I guess at the time I didn't realize that a goalie with a 3.87 GAA during the regular season is probably a major reason why your team is not going to the playoffs…

France- Cristobal Huet
You might have thought he was Quebecois with a French name, but nope, Huet was actually from France.

Japan- Yutaka Fukufuji
That's just a joke, but yes the Kings had a goalie who really was from Japan.

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