They have not won a division title since 1991, so logic would suggest that after 25 years, it’s about time that the Los Angeles Kings hung another division banner to the rafters.
Or is it?
Calling themselves division champions, especially after so long, would certainly be nice for the Kings but let’s be honest: if a new banner were to hang from the rafters of STAPLES Center, the silver-and-black may as well go for the one that truly matters. After all, after raising two of them already, anything less would be a disappointment.
Since the season-long lockout of 2004-05, six of the 10 Stanley Cup winners won their division en route. The 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2015 Chicago Blackhawks were two exceptions in addition to one team who won Lord Stanley’s Chalice twice without a single division crown: the Los Angeles Kings.
Between 2012 and 2014, the Kings had home-ice advantage for just two of their 11 series and, while they did win both, they were even more impressive as the lower seed winning eight of the nine series starting away from STAPLES Center.
Let’s take a look at the Detroit Red Wings of the mid-1990’s as an example.
From 1994 to 1996, the Red Wings finished not only first in their division but first in the Western Conference during the regular season. In fact, the latter campaign saw the club rack up a league-record 62 wins. It was, however, all for naught as in each of the said three seasons, the Red Wings were bounced out of the playoffs. But when the 1997 playoffs rolled around, the Wings, who had finished third in the West, were not on anyone’s list to contend for the Stanley Cup, much less win it.
In addition to the juggernaut Colorado Avalanche, the Dallas Stars caught the curiosity of many as did dark horses like the Edmonton Oilers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The Red Wings’ time had seem to pass. But it didn’t. The Wings would go on to win the Stanley Cup that June before repeating the following year while, again, entering the playoffs with very little fanfare. That may not have been the same route that the Los Angeles Kings took but it was nonetheless similar.
Whether it was four summers ago, today or 10 years from now, what gives this writer great pride is knowing the road the Los Angeles Kings took to win their first Stanley Cup. They had become the first eighth seed to eliminate the top three seeds in their conference to win the Stanley Cup while losing just four times — and once on the road — en route to said prize.
A division crown is certainly a respectable achievement but had the Kings won their division in 2012 and 2014, we would not be glowing about the unprecedented runs in both campaigns. As mentioned, there would be no last seed to take out each of the top seeds or no three Game 7 wins on the road. There would be no expectations, thus there would be no resiliency and, in turn, there would be no mystique that is the Los Angeles Kings.
To use a current-day colloquialism:
I’ve always dreamed of winning a division, said no one ever.
There is one dream and one dream only for hockey players young and old and that is to win the Stanley Cup. After all, to win the Cup, teams have to bring their best during a time when we find out who the best players really are; who are boys and who are men. Regular-season success is great, but it pales in comparison to that of success in the playoffs and whoever suggests otherwise is, simply put, short on championship rings.
Besides, a second- or third-place finish for the Kings would mean, barring any rapid, unforeseen changes, an opening-round series matchup with either of their California rivals. Frankly, there is no better way to kick off a postseason than that.
2012 and 2014 were very special years for the Kings and no fan would trade those for anything in the world, and why would they? In hockey — in sports, for that matter — there is no better feeling than winning when no one expects you to, and a division title would only be a detriment towards such a victory.
The Los Angeles Kings have proven that they are a good regular season team, but a great playoff team, and the latter is what is needed to be a championship team. The Los Angeles Kings have already proven that. Twice.
A division title is like a silver medal. Few, if any, remember the division winners. Instead, Stanley Cup winners are remembered forever — and the Los Angeles Kings will be remembered forever. Twice… at least.