Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's on the line in Vegas this weekend?

As the Kings head to the desert of Nevada for Saturday's 12th annual Frozen Fury, they have little left to worry about. The major changes to the team took place earlier this summer. However, with opening night just a little over a week away, there's still plenty on the line as management continues to tinker, massage and carefully piece together the overall make-up of what is becoming the 2009-10 Los Angeles Kings.

Is this one game going to make a huge difference? Probably not. The top lines have pretty much been established. Jon Quick is the starting goaltender come opening night. Add in five solid defenseman and things are fairly set.

So, overall, the game itself won't really mean much. Save for one key area - the special meaning it has for thousands of Kings fans that make their annual pilgrimage to Sin City and the awkwardly shaped Grand Garden Arena. It's a weekend of drinking, debauchery and plenty of gambling loses (come on, nobody really wins in Vegas except the casinos). Somehow it's all just a prelude to what every hockey junkie is primed and ready for, preseason to end and the real games to get underway.

With that said, there actually are a few tidbits worth paying attention to.

In no particular order:

* On the Avs side, 3 things stand out - Sacco, Hannan & Foote.

Make no mistake about it, the Avs are not a good hockey team. They're in phase one of what will probably be a long rebuilding project. Thus, they have nothing to lose and that usually leads to people taking chances and liberties. They also have a new head coach, former Duck Joe Sacco. And you know what they say, once a Duck always a Duck. BTW - that isn't a compliment!

Scott Hannan is the the missing ingredient that would have put the Smyth deal over the top. On one hand, I'm glad Dean didn't part with a young D-man to include him in the deal. On the other hand, I'm still bummed Hannan signed that deal in Colorado in the first place. I just KNEW Dean was going to sign him up on July 1st of last year. Of course, it didn't happen as Scott's free agency came a year too early for the Kings. Just imagine if he was on the open market this summer instead. Things probably would have turned out differently. Anyway, for whatever reason, Hannan didn't have the best season in Colorado last year so look for him to rebound with a more typical solid performance.

Adam Foote - really? That's your captain? Don't like him.

* The Sports Books - Vegas says the Kings wont even make the playoffs this year. I say they're wrong. Find a way to put a little cash on the Kings now. These are going to be the best odds you'll see all season. As the months go by more and more people will be wising up to what's on the horizon in LA.

* Fine, you've been waiting for me to get to it... Westgarth.

If there is one lasting memory from last year's Frozen Fury it was the (somewhat) coming out party of Kevin Westgarth. He was pure energy and excitement. His two fights were just part of the story. Skating by the Avs bench and cupping his ear was pretty priceless for a preseason game. Heck, that's money in the bank for any game. One of his dance partners from last year, Scott Parker, has left the Avs. However, Chris Stewart is still around. Is there a sequel in the making?

Finally, let me just wish everybody safe travels that's heading to Vegas this weekend. Hope to see many familiar faces. Be safe and don't do anything stupid. Most of all, make other Kings fans proud. The franchise is turning a major corner this season, lets all celebrate together!

I'll be posting reports all weekend on my twitter account. Then, I'll be back next week with my official predictions for the Western Conference standings.


photo by Michael Zampelli of

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kansas City - Loving Hockey since 1928

So you think you've had it rough as a long suffering Kings fans? I know, misery since 1967, with few bright spots along the way. Well, how about the fine folks of Kansas City - they were awarded their first pro team back in 1928. In January of that year the Pla-Mors of the American Hockey Association opened up their inaugural season. Nothing good has really happened in KC since, at least hockey wise. Teams have folded, been sold, skipped town, changed leagues and pretty much come and gone more like trade shows arriving for a weekend at the local Convention Center, rather than teams setting up shop for the long haul.

The NHL got into the action in 1974 with the debut of the KC Scouts. However, KC's link to the Kings began a few years earlier when the Kings and St Louis Blues were part of the NHL's "Expansion Six" in 1967. To help support the big club, the Blues put a CHL team in KC named...the Kansas City Blues.

Several players from the Kings inaugural run in '67-68 eventually ended up skating with the KC Blues. Guys like Bob Wall, Brent Hughes, Larry Johnston (all of 4 games) and Terry Gray all played in Los Angeles during that first season only to later end up in KC.

Later Kings teams featured players that had previously done time in KC - Doug Barrie (LA '71-72), Frank St. Marseille (LA '72-77), Sheldon Kannegiesser (LA '73-77), Darryl Edestrand (LA '77-79) and another "just four games" member - Bart Crashley ('75)

Then there was Rick Lapointe, having skated in KC earlier in his career, he ended up playing nearly 100 games with the Kings between '84-86 before calling it a career.

While the expansion teams in KC and Washington were certainly news back in 1974, the biggest change came with the league restructuring into four divisions. The Kings would now play in the Smythe Division. Nearly 20 years later, the Kings would win their lone division title, before newly appointed commissioner Bettman and the NHL changed things again - this time going with the (supposed) more fan friendly Pacific division.
Random Ramble - I'm usually not in the same camp as people clamoring for the "old days" of sports. I'm not a hard core traditionalist. I will say though, one thing I sure wish they would bring back are the traditional names of the divisions. I highly doubt one more fan follows hockey today because of the divisional name changes. Hockey - and most sports in general - have such a strong sense of history, I liked it better when the Kings played in the Smythe. Thankfully, they never changed the name of the Stanley Cup.
Keeping with the fine hockey tradition of KC, those Scouts didn't last long back in the mid-seventies. They played just two seasons in KC before packing up and heading to Colorado. Long before the baseball Rockies were hitting home runs in Denver, there were the Rockies on ice. Some of the KC "magic" must have come with them, as by 1982 the moving vans were in town again. The franchise was on its way to New Jersey and well, the rest is history...with three Stanley Cups to show for their troubles.

While success for the former KC team was being achieved in Jersey, KC hockey was back on the map again in 2004. The KC Outlaws of the UHL debuted with head coach Darryl Williams. Although the ties to the Kings weren't strong, they were there - with the coach having played a whopping TWO games in Los Angeles (coincidentally during the infamous 92-93 season). During 2004-05, their only season of operation, KC finished last in the Western Conference. Sound familiar?

In a footnote that Ron Hextall could appreciate, Michel Plasse of the KC Blues was the first professional goalie to record a goal on Feb 21, 1971. However, Plasse apparently doesn't share the gift of gab with Hextall. News reports after the game quoted Plasee as saying "I wasn't trying to score, I was just clearing the puck out of our zone." Come on guy, have some flare. At least say you were aiming for the net and got lucky it went in or something.

Kansas City's link to LA continued last year when the Kings arrived in town for an exhibition game in the area's new AEG arena. It was a memorable night for a few of the young Kings - Davis Drewiske scored the first goal in the new building, wunderkind Drew Doughty made his NHL debut and Jon Quick stopped all 19 shots he faced. And the Kings won.

What type of new links will be formed tonight?

The Mayor

photo courtesy of

Monday, September 21, 2009

Three round holes, Seven square pegs

At the mid-way point of pre-season a few things have become clear...while others are getting muddier with each shot on goal, body check in the corner and late game face off. In my Training Camp Opens blog I wrote about the top three lines being pretty much set and the real competition would be for the prized forth line. At that time - yes, just a little over a week ago - it looked like the race was between Harrold - Westgarth - Ivanans - Moller - Zeiler - Richardson - Lewis.

You can remove two guys from the discussion. It looks like Coach Murray was out in front of his own story when he told us back at Hockey Fest that Oscar Moller probably wouldn't make the team this year (he was sent to Manchester yesterday). And, it looks like Zeiler failed his essay assignment (see previous blog).

The somewhat unexpected thing is two eighteen year olds - thought to not have even a chance of making the team this year - are pressing the hockey ops group with some tough decisions. Kyle Clifford, the consensus MVP of the recent prospects camp, continues to wow team officials. Equally, and perhaps even more, impressive has been the play of the Kings top draft pick this past June, Brayden Schenn.

As noted in previous blogs, kids this young are usually better served NOT playing in the NHL. They should continue to develop their game elsewhere, while their bodies (and minds) also mature. That's taking nothing away from what they've been doing in camp. Wayne Simmonds and Oscar Moller came in last year and forced their way onto the team. Schenn and Clifford are pushing hard for a repeat.

In addition to the age and development discussion though, ice time in LA is closely connected. For these two to develop their offensive game, they need ice time. This just isn't going to happen in LA on the fourth line. With Stoll possibly missing some time at the beginning of the season, perhaps one of the kids could sneak in that spot for a few games. Or it could be Lewis getting the nod. Either way, that probably isn't a permanent roster spot.

Which brings us back to the fourth line. If Ivanans isn't traded, you probably have him as part of a five guy group that rotates in and out of the line-up. Meaning on any given night you'll see three of Ivanans, Westgarth, Harrold (who can also play D), Richardson and Clune manning the fourth line. Oh yea, did I mention Richard Clune?

Four games and less than two weeks to go. Then it's all for real!

Remember - You still have until midnight tonight to win FREE tickets to the game on 10/6 vs. San Jose at Staples Center (go here for more info).


Last chance for FREE Kings tickets

With pre-season in full swing (finally!), the race for the Eddie Joyal Award is heating up. Who's going to win this inaugural honor? Guess right and you could be going to see the Kings take on the Sharks in a few weeks for FREE!

More of the kids were sent down over the weekend so the big boys will start to see increased ice time in the games this week, beginning tomorrow night in KC. This should put pressure on current leaders Williams & Johnson.

If you want FREE tickets to the game on 10/6 vs. San Jose at Staples Center, its pretty easy to win. Simply guess the Kings player that will lead the team in scoring this pre-season by posting your guess in the original thread (click here for details).

Today is the last day to enter. Good luck.