During the summer of 2002, my good friend and I decided it was time. We had been to a handful of Kings games over the past few years; free tickets from my parents’ connections, a 3 game gift pack from a boss, an Ebay-bought Game 6 playoff ticket versus the Avalanche that sent the series back to Colorado. The first time I truly understood the power that Tivo held was during a playoff series against the Av’s, when the pizza arrived and my friend paused the live game to pay the delivery guy. In 2002, we decided to become Season Ticket Holders. Well… Half Season Ticket Holders. Because 41 games is way too much.
I had been a Kings fan since 1988, when Wayne Gretzky arrived in Los Angeles and changed the landscape of hockey forever. I was 12. The thrill of making it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993 was the high that I have continued to chase for the past 15 years… with each new season, the hope is always there. Maybe, just maybe, this is the year. Little did I know, that becoming a Half Season Ticket Holder was the biggest mistake I could ever make as a fan of the Kings.
Since that fateful first season in 2002, the Kings have not made the playoffs. 6 glorious years that ended each time in early April. (Well 5 seasons plus the lockout.) We survived Andy Murray, John Torchetti and Marc Crawford. We got to see the great LAPD line, Palffy, Deadmarsh and Allison, but unfortunately due to injuries, they were never playing at the same time. Across various years, our playoff hopes had been held in the gloved hands of such trade deadline pickups as Dmitry Yushkevich, Anson Carter and Mark Parrish. Make that the stone hard gloved hands of Carter and Parrish. Don’t even get me started on the goalies we’ve seen. Oh alright:
This franchise has never had a “Plan.” They’ve always ended up in the Black Hole of the NHL Standings. Not good enough to make the playoffs, but not horrible enough to get a high draft pick that changes everything ala Ovechkin or Crosby. It’s actually quite impressive how well the Kings have drafted during these past 6 years… Brown, Kopitar and Frolov all came out of this Black Hole. But it wasn’t until last year that they hit rock bottom. Or at least 2nd to the bottom. The team couldn’t even come in last place right. And now we have our future franchise defenseman to go with our future franchise goalie to go with our young up and coming forwards.
So Dean Lombardi has a “Plan.” I can’t say I agree with all of it. I would have liked to find a way to keep Cammalleri. Maybe Dean shouldn’t have given Visnovsky such a large contract before trading him away… because he had such a large contract. (I know that AEG has been tightening the budget and that was the main cause for the Lubo trade, but still, come on. Seven million a year?) But today, October 7th, Dean made me believe in the “Plan”; re-signing Patrick O’Sullivan for just under what Dustin Brown makes. 3 million a year. This leaves the money available for Kopitar, Johnson and who ever else out of this crop of young players the team will need to re-sign over the next few years. But getting O’Sullivan for that price helps a fan believe that maybe the players are excited to be a part of this “Plan.” Maybe in a few years, we might have a shot at making it back to those finals.
But that is definitely in the future. At least a year or two in the future. Can any fan really sit there and think that this 2008-2009 squad is going to place higher in the standings than San Jose, Anaheim or Dallas? Or even Phoenix? No. They are not.
This is what sets my Half Season Ticket Holder partner and myself apart from a lot of the other fans at Staples Center. We love the Kings. We love to cheer when they score. We love to talk about how bad they are. We love the pretzel dogs and Nachos Camachos. Eventually we might even have a winning team to cheer about. But for now, I take one look at the defense pairings and the goaltender options (yes, yes Bernier is the 2nd coming, but LaBarbera and Esberg are the now) and I know that me and my buddy are in for a long season.
But for a quick flash, as I’m reading hockey preview articles on Kukla’s Korner or watching experts talk on the NHL Network, I think maybe they’ll get it together. Maybe Terry Murray is the perfect coach for this team; not flashy, a teacher, patient. Maybe the kids will click and Doughty and Johnson will outplay their expectations. Maybe LaBarbera will be the same goalie he was when he first started with the Kings. Playoffs. I just want playoffs. Maybe they’ll make it?
And then… I watch the Kings 2008-2009 preview on FoxSportsWest. And I see this:
And I realize it is going to be a long fucking year.