wayne gretzky

How Gretzky trade changed the hockey landscape in LA

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On the 23rd anniversary of the Wayne Gretzky sale trade, it’s only natural to take a look back at the trade’s importance on the league. Stephen Brunt wrote a good book about the entire deal in “Gretzky’s Tears” and Peter Pocklington was able to get his side of the story to the public in an even better effort: “I’d Trade Him Again: On Gretzky, Politics, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Deal.” Plenty has been made of what the trade meant for Sunbelt hockey, the Edmonton Oilers, and Canadian hockey as a whole. But what gets lost in the mix is the immeasurable impact Gretzky’s trade had on the local Southern California market. Outsiders understand that it was a big trade—but people don’t quite understand how it completely shifted sports landscape of the entire region.

The obvious, immediate impact was at the box office. From his first game of Gretzky’s first season in Los Angeles, attendance at the Forum skyrocketed to levels that only Bruce McNall had dreamed of. Gretzky was the biggest name in a game that was still a regional sport in the United States. People may not have known about offsides, line-changes, or icing—but they knew about Wayne Gretzky. Instantly, he put the Kings on equal footing with Magic and the Lakers, Gibson and the Dodgers, USC football, UCLA basketball, and whoever the Raiders/Rams were trotting out onto the field. The team had a marquee name—more importantly, they had the only name in hockey that could transcend all sports and entertainment.

The old, recycled joke from comedian Alan Thicke captured the lack of interest in the pre-Gretzky era pretty well:

“What time does the Kings game start?”

“Depends, what time can you get there?”

Might not be the greatest joke from Kirk Cameron’s on-screen Dad, but it was painfully true. But everything changed when the Kings had their own superstar to grab the sports headlines away from the teams that dominated the LA sports landscape at the time: Lakers and Dodgers.

In the year before he arrived, the Kings averaged only 11,667 fans per game. In his first year, attendance shot up 27% to 14,667 fans per game. In the six consecutive playoff appearances for the Kings after Gretzky arrived, there wasn’t an empty seat for even a single game. The attendance peaked in 1991-92 when the Kings sold out every single game of their 40 game schedule. Not bad for a team that was used to playing to two-thirds capacity in the mid-1980s.

The Kings finished the 1987-88 season with a 30-42-8 record that was good for 18th in the 21 team NHL. In the year before Gretzky’s arrival, the Kings were 5th in the league in scoring—but dead last in defensive. Gretzky was expected to bring more than just a boatload of points; he was expected to bring wins.

Just important as the success in the stands, was the success on the ice. In the three seasons before Gretzky arrived in LA, the Kings had averaged 64 points per season. In the three seasons after he arrived, they averaged 89 points (including the second best record in franchise history in 1990-91). The Kings went from a near .500 team at home to one of the more difficult places to play. Did the fans show up because they won? Or did they win became more people showed up? Most likely it was a little bit of both.

Both the success at the box office and on the ice can still be seen at Staples Center today. There’s an entire generation of fans who are buying season tickets today because their parents jumped on the bandwagon when Gretzky came to town. John Hoven from the fantastic Kings blog Mayor’s Manor shows that the new fans have provided the gift that keeps on giving:

“In the years that followed the Kings found record attendance and Wayne Gretzky continued to re-write the NHL record book. However, his most significant impact on the hockey landscape is probably just now starting to be felt, some 20+ years later. Over the last few years, more and more California-born (and trained) players have been taken at the NHL Draft, including four last year and five this summer. Just another example of Gretzky giving back to the game of hockey, long after he’s retired.”

As time goes on and success continues to elude the Kings, many of the fans can still look back to the Gretzky era for their fondest memories. Gann Matsuda of Frozen Royalty is a perfect example:

“Looking back to before I started writing about the Kings and the NHL, I was a fan of The Great One and had been since his days with the Oilers. I remember back in those days that whenever the Kings and Oilers were on TV, I would make sure to get home and watch so I could marvel at his extraordinary skill—talent that we had not seen before. And after Gretzky was traded to the Kings, I rarely missed a game on television.

I was in attendance at the Great Western Forum on March 23, 1994, when Gretzky broke Gordie Howe’s career NHL goal-scoring record against the Vancouver Canucks. I remember leaping to my feet, arms raised high over my head, cheering loudly along with everyone else. What a great memory that was.

Of course, there were many others, including the amazing Stanley Cup run in 1993 where he put the team on his back and almost willed the Kings to their first championship.”

But most obviously, the biggest change to the hockey landscape in Southern California was the addition of another team. Before Gretzky arrived, hockey fans were usually transplants that had two choices: the Kings or the team from their old hometown. Often times, they chose the latter. With the buzz Gretzky created in the media, the success the Kings achieved on the ice, and McNall’s willingness to open his market (for a one-time cash grab), the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were born. Fans in Orange County and the Inland Empire suddenly had a much closer option to satisfy their hockey fix. Ticket prices had exploded as demand increased for the Kings—there were a segment of season ticket holders who jumped at the chance to cut down on their tickets prices and drive time.

It’s been a divided region ever since. Hard to believe that a region that had a hard time supporting a single team for two decades was able to add a whole new franchise only four years after his arrival.

Crouse brings the ‘total package’ of size, skill and speed to Coyotes

FT. LAUDERDALE, FL - JUNE 25: Lawson Crouse attends the Top Prospects Media Opportunity at the Westin Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort on June 25, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Lawson Crouse has joined a talented group of young forwards in Arizona, after the Coyotes acquired the 2015 first-round pick from the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

The Coyotes had to take on the contract of injured forward Dave Bolland, but in their minds, it was worth it to get a player like Crouse, who certainly brings size up front at six-foot-four-inches tall and 212 pounds. He had 23 goals and 62 points in 49 games this season with Kingston in the OHL.

“He’s a unique guy because usually when you add a guy with the type of size he has you usually give up a little bit in skating or you give up a little bit in skill,” said general manager John Chayka, as per the Coyotes website.

“He’s a guy that you add the size and he actually enhances that for your entire group. In our opinion, it was a guy that’s rare to find, difficult to obtain. Certainly, once they become established in the league, those players are locked up well into their 30s and then you end up trying to maybe overpay for a player that has these attributes that’s not in the prime of his career.”

Crouse, who turned 19 years old in June, now joins the likes of Max Domi, Dylan Strome and Anthony Duclair as part of Arizona’s group of up-and-coming young forwards. He has familiarity with all three from playing in the OHL or for Team Canada at the world juniors.

“He can fly. He’s fast and he hits and he scores goals. You kinda get the total package,” Strome told Sportsnet.

The Las Vegas Desert Knights? Maybe . . .

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  New Las Vegas NHL franchise owner Bill Foley addresses the media during the Board Of Governors Press Conference prior to the 2016 NHL Awards at Encore Las Vegas on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The NHL's board of governors approved expanding to Las Vegas, making the franchise the 31st team in the league. The team will start play during the 2017-18 season and play at the newly built T-Mobile Arena.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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There’s been another possible development in the search for a team name for the Las Vegas NHL franchise.

The Las Vegas ‘Desert Knights’ could perhaps be a thing.

Maybe.

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

Last week domain names were registered that might be an indicator that the NHL team scheduled to begin play in 2017 could be called the Las Vegas Desert Knights.

Last week the domains lasvegasdesertknights.com, vegasdesertknights.com and desertknightshockey.com were privately registered to Moniker Privacy Services, which is the same company that procured the domain name to NHL.com.

DetroitHockey.net first reported the new domain name Thursday morning.

Foley said via text message he had no comment regarding the process when reached by the Review-Journal.

As the Las Vegas franchise continues to hire key members for its hockey operations department, there is growing intrigue when it comes to the search for a new name.

What will this new franchise be called?

The wait continues, and there has been a lot of space dedicated to speculating and discussing the possibilities.

It’s been reported that the expansion franchise could use one of at least three ‘Hawks’-orientated names. Owner Bill Foley also said this summer that Las Vegas can’t use a ‘Knights’ nickname is Canada, because London’s OHL franchise was also named the Knights.

Stay tuned . . .

Las Vegas hires former Panthers director of player personnel Scott Luce

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 24:  Director of scouting Scott Luce of the Florida Panthers smiles before day one of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 24, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Scott Luce has gone from the Florida Panthers to the Las Vegas expansion franchise.

The new NHL organization — still searching for a team name — announced Thursday that it has hired Luce as its new director of amateur scouting.

Luce spent the last 14 years in Florida, as a scout and as director of player personnel.

Luce was let go earlier in the offseason, as the Panthers underwent massive change within their front office, with the promotion of Dale Tallon to president of hockey operations and Tom Rowe to GM, and more attention to analytics.

Report: Avalanche bring Rene Bourque in for a PTO

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 27: Rene Bourque #18 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 27, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After announcing the hiring of Jared Bednar as their next head coach, the Colorado Avalanche have brought in forward Rene Bourque on a professional tryout, according to James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail.

Bourque became an unrestricted free agent at the beginning of July, after his six-year contract worth a total value of $20 million expired. The annual cap hit on his previous deal was $3.333 million.

He spent last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring three goals and eight points in 49 games. He was placed on waivers at the end of February.

During the 2014-15 campaign, he spent time with the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks and the Blue Jackets, before a back injury sidelined him for the remainder of that season.