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The Mount Rushmore of the LA Kings

Hello Make Way For the Kings’ readers!  My name is Jeff Duarte (aka @JDStylz_) and I am honored to be contributing to this great Los Angeles Kings’ news site and to be working with its emperor Ryan Cowley! I have to admit though that I struggled with coming up with a topic for my debut article. That is until last Monday when a friend of mine on twitter @19Lak11 asked me this random question.

Brilliant, my friend. I have always been fascinated with the national monument Mount Rushmore and the four perfectly carved granite faces of four American presidents that helped mold a nation to what it is today. Of course, there are many people throughout history that are also responsible for the development of the United States of America (some even forgotten with time), but it’s the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln that were forever enshrined as sculptures due to their contributions in such a breathtaking and mesmerizing display.

With the Los Angeles Kings recently celebrating the 50th anniversary of their initial inception (February 9, 1966) of when the NHL officially announced that the city of Los Angeles (or Inglewood) would be awarded with an expansion team, I couldn’t help but look back into the past 50 years of LA Kings hockey (which can be a scary task but I took one for the team), and pick out four individuals that made an impact with their contributions that directly molded the Kings to the franchise that they are and we know today. After much inner debating, yelling, slamming my fists on the table, calling myself names and pounding my chest while foaming at the mouth, I finally narrowed down the nominees and selected four men that I felt truly deserved sculptures of their own in my fantastical Mount Rushmore of the LA Kings. Oh, and by the way, I decided that no current LA Kings’ player, coach or general manager can qualify for this list. Members of the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup squads will have their day in the sun in time so with that out of the way, here we go!!!

Number 1 – Jack Kent Cooke

Okay, hear me out here. I acknowledge and recognize that this list has already become controversial right off the hop.  Known more for his eccentric ideas and poor decision making as the original owner of the Kings and the LA Lakers, Cooke made many dumbfounded blunders throughout his life but one major contribution that he did get right should solidify his position in any fantasy Mount Rushmore alone. It was such a powerful contribution that it is still felt strongly in the Kingdom today and has to be the most important and key factor in the history of the development of the Kings’ franchise and that is … he was the one that created the team and organization to begin with and was responsible for bringing NHL hockey to southern California! Boom!

Sure, without good ‘ole J.K.C, hockey would have probably still made its way to California at some point as the Los Angeles Rams’ owner at the time, Dan Reeves also had made a bid for an NHL expansion team but it was Cooke’s bid that impressed the NHL brass and got accepted. It was he that gave birth to the Los Angeles Kings in 1966 and to the “Fabulous/Great Western” Forum in 1967, so it’s safe to say that without Jack Kent Cooke, the Kings merely would not have existed and hockey in California (and possibly below the U.S. southern belt) would look tremendously different today.

Okay, sure he cared more about selling tickets than building a Stanley Cup contender (a plague that hindered the Kings for decades) and sure he made some strange business decisions like forcing every player on the Kings’ roster to have a silly nickname, (like “Cowboy” Bill Flett, Eddie “The Jet” Joyal and Real “Frenchy” Lemieux), believing that nicknames is what would sell hockey tickets and the game to Californians and sure former players and employees during his time roll their eyes in annoyance every time you bring up his name but because he is the father and original architect of a team and organization that we love so dearly in our hearts, love him or hate him, that has to be respected and honored. So thank you “uncle Jack” for giving us the Kings (and the Los Angeles Lakers for you basketball fans out there) and for that alone you get a sculpture in the Mount Rushmore of the LA Kings, (and no you can’t give the mountain a nickname.  Enough with the nicknames already!)

Number 2 – Marcel Dionne

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Goaltending sensation Rogie Vachon was the first real star to play for the Kings but it was Marcel Dionne that put the Kings on the map and helped them survive through some very tough lean years that would have and did knock out other expansion teams in that era.

Selected second overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1971 entry draft after being snubbed for number 1 by the Montreal Canadiens (who picked some dude named Guy Lafleur instead), the man known as the “The Little Beaver,” made his way to Los Angeles via a trade in 1975. There he would carve out a hall of fame career by scoring in bunches for the next eleven and a half years with little to no help for most of his tenure there (minus the “Triple Crown” years of course) and for a team that barely ever made the playoffs. Regardless of the team’s overall lack of success, Dionne always played to win and regularly would be in the top 3 or 5 of NHL point leaders every year, finally winning the Art Ross Trophy (over “rookie” sensation Wayne Gretzky) in 1980.

Eventually help arrived with talented wingers in Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer and together they formed the “Triple Crown Line” which became a force to be reckoned with.  In 1981, all 3 players achieved 100 points and were selected to that years’ all-star game but the Kings still couldn’t get beyond the second round of the playoffs as the team overall lacked in depth thanks to consistently poor management and inept coaching. The biggest playoff success that Dionne and the Kings would achieve and enjoy would be when they made the second round in 1982 after the defeating Gretzky and the Oilers in what is now known as the “Miracle on Manchester.”

In 1987, Dionne was traded to the NY Rangers and retired in 1989.  He was best remembered for his years as a King and was rewarded in 1992 by being inducted into the prestigious Hockey hall of fame.  Dionne to this day is still the LA Kings’ franchise leader in career points with 1,307 and finished overall in his career with 731 goals (which at the time was second to only the legendary Gordie Howe) and 1,771 points, (for the record, Lafleur ended up finishing his hall of fame career with 560 goals and 1,353 points. Now think about it, with Dionne being able to outscore Lafleur while playing for inferior teams then imagine if Dionne was selected first overall by the “Habs” instead of Lafleur and he got to play with that 1970’s all-star team that the Canadiens had? He possibly could have beaten Gordie Howe’s scoring records before Wayne Gretzky did! I HAVE A FEELING I’M GOING TO LOSE SLEEP OVER THIS TONIGHT!!!) Be as it may, as Kings’ fans we are honored and grateful to the hockey Gods that Dionne did spend most of his time in Los Angeles and took to playing there very seriously.  For this, Dionne easily gets selected to be enshrined in the Mount Rushmore of the LA Kings, (but seriously, imagine if he did play for the 1970’s Canadiens??? THEY COULD HAVE WON 10 STANLEY CUPS!!!)

Number 3 – Wayne Gretzky

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The next two selections are going to be obvious choices but of course it does not make these selections any less important so without further a do, my third choice to have his face engraved on this Kings’ Mount Rushmore is no other than “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky.

Jack Kent Cooke created the Kings and Marcel Dionne helped keep them alive but it was Wayne Gretzky that made them competitive and respectable Stanley Cup contenders. Already a legend and a 4 time Stanley Cup champion, Gretzky was traded from the Cup Champion Edmonton Oilers to their Smythe division rival Los Angeles Kings in 1988.  Unknown at the time, this trade and the success that came from having Gretzky play for the Kings ended up creating a ripple effect that changed the hockey landscape in not only California but for the NHL forever. Grassroots hockey in California became possible, as did further expansion for the NHL below the southern belt, including two more franchises in California with the San Jose Sharks and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim/Anaheim Ducks. (You’re welcome Shark and Ducks’ fans!)

Instantaneously the Kings went from a joke in the NHL to serious Stanley Cup contenders. Gretzky’s first two seasons in LA saw the Kings eliminating the reigning Cup champions in two straight seasons (Edmonton in 1989 and Calgary in 1990) and later in 1993, they made a playoff run for the ages by defeating the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks before winning an epic conference final battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs to finally qualify for the Stanley Cup final for the first time in franchise history.  The Kings lost that Cup final in 5 games to the Montreal Canadiens (who still didn’t have Marcel Dionne) but the hockey seed had already been successfully planted in the California sand.

With the Kings, Gretzky won another Hart Trophy for MVP in 1989 and three more Art Ross trophies (awarded to the player with the most points overall during the season), as well as breaking the long time career goals and points scoring records held by Gordie Howe.  In 1996, the Kings traded Gretzky to the St. Louis Blues and the franchise entered the “dark ages” of the mid to late ‘90s but Gretzky’s impactful mark remained and that seed he helped plant grew and blossomed into the successful state that is hockey in California today, (3 NHL franchises and 5 AHL affiliates y’all!)

One can only imagine how different things would be today if “The Great One” was never traded to the Kings but luckily for all of us (including you Shark and Ducks’ fans) he did, and for that we are forever grateful and will honor him with a well deserved spot on the Mount Rushmore of the LA Kings, (though Gretzky would also easily make the Mount Rushmore of the Edmonton Oilers … or the NHL… or Team Canada … or Canada … or …)

Last but not least, number 4 – Luc Robitaille

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What is left to say about the greatest player ever to be drafted, developed and play for the LA Kings than the hall of famer who became the highest scoring left winger in not only Kings’ history but in NHL history as well? Well lots obviously! With his hockey God given nose for scoring (lots and lots of) goals and his passion for the LA Kings’ team, organization and fan base, “Lucky” Luc is in my opinion, the true face of the Los Angeles Kings’ franchise.  Even with his current executive role with the Kings as the President of business operations, he is still greatly contributing to the organization and its history today as he’s the one that created the “legends” night ceremonies that pay tribute to former Kings’ star (and non star *cough* Mike Donnelly *cough*) players.

The all-time franchise leader in goals for the Kings with 557 goals and in the NHL for left wingers with 668, this scoring phenom was drafted late by the Kings as the 171st overall pick in the 1984 entry draft due to many teams snubbing him because of a believed notion that he had poor skating abilities, which he did have.  He more than made up for that with his above average scoring and leadership skills in what turned out to be a hall of fame career. I’m sure a lot of teams have ended up regretting that they snubbed Robitaille in that draft, (am I right Leaf, Red Wing and North Star/Star’s fans???).

With Gretzky and Dave Taylor, Robitaille helped lead the Kings to their first ever Stanley Cup final appearance in 1993 and twice more returned to LA as a player after being traded away at the end of the 1994 season.  His passion and pride for the Los Angeles Kings has always shined brightly and this makes him a no brainer to be enshrined as my final selection into the LA Kings’ version of Mount Rushmore.

Honorable mentions

Rogie Vachon

The first true star that the Kings ever had, Vachon was a short but big time reliable goaltender that won 3 Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens (but could have won more with Marcel Dionne, JUST SAYING), and also led Team Canada to victory at the 1976 Canada Cup, (now known as the World Cup of Hockey). In 1968, Vachon co-won the Vezina Trophy with teammate Lorne “Gump” Worsley and in time he became the Kings’ franchise leader in 171 wins and 32 shutouts, before some guy named Jonathan Quick showed up and broke those records.  In my humble (biased) opinion, Vachon deserves to be in the hockey hall of fame.  Vachon also became the general manager of the Kings in 1984 and was the intern coach three times.

Dave Taylor

Another member of the famed “Triple Crown” line, Taylor was the “iron-man” (not Robert Downey jr.) of the Kings, leading the franchise to this day with 1,111 games played from 1977-1994.  Taylor was also able to play through two different and important eras of the Kings by being a part of the “Miracle on Machester” while also helping Gretzky and Robitaille lead the Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup final.  Taylor finished his career with 431 goals and 1,069 points, all with the LA Kings.  He later became the team’s general manager in 1997 and was responsible for the Kings drafting important future Stanley Cup winning pieces (and future Mount Rushmore sculptures) such as Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick. (Taylor came OH SO CLOSE to making it to the monument but “Uncle Jack” talked me out of it and made me choose him instead when he honored me with a nickname!!!).

Rob Blake

A hall of fame defenseman, former (2 time) Kings’ Captain and 1998 Norris Trophy winner, Blake was a solid force at the blue line for the Kings.  He eventually (infamously) left the Kings in a forced trade in 2001 to the Colorado Avalanche and went on to win the Stanley Cup (and help eliminate the Kings in the second round) that season.  Blake returned to the Kings again in 2006 but left for the rival Sharks shortly after.  He is now the Kings’ assistant general manager and GM of their AHL affiliate Ontario Reign. No word yet on when Blake is going to bail on the Kings again. (Now I’m not bitter, who’s bitter?)

Well that is my four selections for the Mount Rushmore of the LA Kings and I hope you enjoyed it! I’m looking forward to hearing about which four individuals YOU would choose to honor on your own Kings’ national monument so please let us know in the comments below. Also thank you for reading my Make Way For The Kings debut article! I look forward to writing many, many more!

Okay, I’m out of here, GO KINGS GO!!!

*Special thanks to David J. Villa for the awesome featured picture that he created for this article.

About Jeff Duarte

Born and raised in Canada and surrounded by the sport of hockey for as long as he can remember, there is nothing Jeff loves talking about more than the past, present and future of his beloved Los Angeles Kings.

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