COHEN’S KINGS CATASTROPHES – CHAPTER 8
“If I had my way, we’d never go to the Olympics. We’re the only league that breaks up our season. Basketball plays in the winter, but they play Olympics in the summer. It’s ridiculous. The whole thing’s ridiculous.”
“It’s not good for our fans, it’s not good for our league, it changes the momentum… everything about it is wrong.”
“I’d like to see anything other than the Olympics. I mean, I hate‘em.”
These quotes are from Philadelphia Flyers Chairman, Ed Snider. His comments were made in reference to the 2014 Olympic Games held in Sochi, Russia but for Kings fans who can remember a time before 2012… he could very well have been talking about 2006.
CHAPTER EIGHT : Broken Rings
The lockout that had resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-2005 NHL season was over. The Los Angeles Kings had failed to make the playoffs the two seasons prior to the lockout and had seen a formidable team decimated by injuries and personality clashes. In an effort to return to the post-season, the Kings bolstered their lineup with veteran forwards Craig Conroy, Pavol Demitra and Jeremy Roenick and brought on a young tandem of Mathieu Garon and Jason LaBarbera to solidify the goaltending position.
The team also featured a trio of young forwards in Alexander Frolov, Michael Cammalleri and Dustin Brown, but it was clear that the pressure was on to make the playoffs. Heading into the Olympic break, the Kings were in 7th place in the Western Conference.
WHAT THE KINGS DID
The Kings had six players named to their respective International Teams for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy: Captain Mattias Norstrom (Sweden), Alternate Captains Craig Conroy & Aaron Miller (USA), Lubomir Visnovksy & Pavol Demitra (Slovakia), Alexander Frolov (Russia).
WHY IT LOOKED LIKE A GOOD MOVE
The Kings were in a playoff spot, the “CPA Line” (Craig, Pavol & Alex) was “putting up numbers”, Cammalleri and Brown were having impressive seasons and Lubomir Visnovsky was on his way to leading the team in scoring. Despite disappointing seasons from Roenick and Luc Robitaille, the Kings appeared poised to return to the playoffs and sending a large contingent to the Olympics was a sign that the franchise had talent and leadership in the lineup.
WHY IT WAS A TERRIBLE MOVE
Mattias Norstrom (concussion) and Aaron Miller (back) both had to opt out of participating in the Olympics. That left only Visnovsky, Conroy, Frolov and Demitra to represent the Kings in Italy.
Alexander Frolov and Pavol Demitra were both injured during Olympic competition. Frolov missed 10 games after suffering a separated shoulder in a round robin game against Kazakhstan and Pavol Demitra missed 6 games after being struck in the face with a puck during Slovakia’s Quarterfinal loss to The Czech Republic.
The Kings returned from the Olympic break and rattled off a 3 game winning streak. In order to bolster their lineup and secure a playoff spot, on March 8th they traded prospects Jeff Tambellini and Denis Grebeshkov to the New York Islanders for veterans Brent Sopel(D) and Mark Parrish(R).
Following the trade the Kings managed to lose 12 of their remaining 19 games (including 7 of their final 11) and finished in 10th place in the Western Conference. At the time of his injury, Demitra was the teams leading goal scorer with 22 and was second in team scoring with 57 points, he would only score 5 more points after returning from the injury.
WHAT THE KINGS SHOULD HAVE DONE
Refused to let their players leave the country.
Sabotage their flights.
Steal their equipment.
Whatever they had to do.
HOW IT WOULD LOOK TODAY
In 2006, The Los Angeles Kings entered the Olympic with a record of 32-23-5. They were in 7th place in the Western Conference. Their record in the 10 games leading up to the break was 3-5-2. The Kings had 6 Olympians, including their Captain and both Alternates.
In 2014, The Los Angeles Kings entered the Olympic break with a record of 31-22-6. They were in 7th place in the Western Conference. Their record in the 10 games leading up to the break was 2-8-0. The Kings have 6 Olympians, including their Captain and one of their alternates.
And now Kopitar is out with a mysterious illness….
HOW IT LOOKS IN HINDSIGHT
6 games from Frolov and 10 games from Demitra
A playoff spot in the 2006 NHL Playoffs
Obviously there was no way the Kings could have foreseen the injuries to Demitra and Frolov and it’s a bit oversimplified to blame their late season collapse on them, but the two previous seasons had seen the Kings hopes of playoff contention dashed on the rocks of record breaking injury plagued seasons. The 2002-2003 season the Kings lost a franchise record 536 Man Games to Injury. In 2003-2004 the Kings demolished the previous NHL record with a gut wrenching 629 Man Games Lost to Injury. Injuries had become such a blight on the team that fans came up with competing “Curse” theories to explain it. The switch from a shield to a crown on the jerseys and the erection of the Wayne Gretzky statue were the leading contenders.
WHO’S TO BLAME
That’s what made it so frustrating.
Miller played in only 58 games in the 2005-2006 season. He returned to the Kings the following season before signing with the Vancouver Canucks as a Free Agent in the summer of 2007.
Frolov played four more seasons for the Kings before signing as a Free Agent with the New York Rangers for the 2010-2011 season. It would be his last season in the NHL.
The Kings traded Conroy half way through the following season for Jamie Lundmark, a 4th round pick in 2007 and a 2nd round pick in 2008. Lundmark and the 2nd round pick would find their way back to the Flames via trade and free agency, but the 4th round pick in 2007 was used to draft Dwight King.
Visnovsky lead the team in scoring in 2005-2006, becoming the only Defenceman in franchise history to accomplish the feat. He was traded to Edmonton in the summer of 2008 for Matt Green and Jarret Stoll.
Norstrom was traded the following season to the Dallas Stars for former King Jaroslav Modry. Both teams exchanged prospects and draft picks in the trade and the Kings would go on to further trade those assets to acquire Dustin Penner.
In the summer of 2006, Pavol Demitra was traded to the Minnesota Wild for Patrick O’Sullivan and the 17th overall pick in the NHL Draft. The Kings used that pick to draft Trevor Lewis and later packaged O’Sullivan in a trade for Justin Williams.
Despite playing only 58 games in a Kings uniform, Pavol Demitra remains one of the most fondly remembered players in franchise history. His hat trick on “Free Hat Night” is still a vivid memory for many Kings fans.
Sadly, Demitra was among those who lost their lives when the plane carrying Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed in 2011.
The season was such a disappointment that Head Coach Andy Murray was fired during the season. General Manager Dave Taylor was released at the end of the season and current General Manager Dean Lombardi was hired to replace him. Their poor finish in the regular season meant they also had the 11th overall pick in the draft which they used to draft Jonathan Bernier.
The Phoenix that was the 2012 Stanely Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings was born out of the funeral pyre of the 2005-2006 season.
ROYAL REPUGNANCE RATING
(on a scale of -99 to +99)
It would be easy to simply consider the 2005-2006 season a flaming garbage heap and give a truly horrible rating… but it’s impossible to ignore the positive impact that flaming garbage heap had on the franchise. So we’ll start with an RRR of -95 and then add a +58 for all the good that came of it. Leaving us with