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.

Flyers’ Neuvirth (lower body) will be between the pipes vs. the Devils on Saturday

Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth (30) of the Czech Republic stops a shot from the Dallas Stars in the third period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Michal Neuvirth will make his first start of the month in Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Devils.

The 27-year-old missed five games with a lower-body injury. He was activated off the injured list earlier this week and served as Steve Mason‘s backup in Thursday’s game against Buffalo.

Neuvirth has an 11-6-2 record with a 2.14 goals-against-average and a .933 save percentage in 2015-16.

He’s put up some solid numbers against the Devils in his career. Neuvirth has a 5-2-4 record with 2.03 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage in games against New Jersey.

Steve Mason, who’s coming off a 41-save performance in a win over Buffalo, hasn’t been as good against Saturday’s opponent.

Mason is 0-7-0 lifetime against the Devils.

Puck drop is at 1:00 p.m. ET.

 

The Sharks could be looking to acquire a goalie before the trade deadline

San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Stalock (32) blocks a shot in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh Sunday, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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In his first season in San Jose, Martin Jones has provided the Sharks with some steady goaltending.

The 26-year-old has 25-15-3 record with a 2.38 goals-against-average and a .915 save percentage in 44 games.

Jones isn’t problem, but the depth behind him could be.

After another ugly performance from backup Alex Stalock against Calgary on Thursday night, The San Jose Mercury News suggests the team could be in the market for another goalie.

Stalock has appeared in just 13 games this season, but with a busy schedule ahead, San Jose will have to rely on someone other than Jones down the stretch.

“My trust level’s good,” DeBoer said of his faith in Stalock. “You can see how important this guy is to the group, how hard they play for him. That’s a situation (on Thursday) where if they didn’t care about him as a teammate, they probably don’t battle back the way they did, so I think that’s a huge testament to what kind of guy this guy is.”

The 28-year-old has a 3-5-2 record with a 2.94 goals-against-average and a .884 save percentage in 2015-16. He’s also given up three goals or more in seven of his 13 appearances.

The Sharks are comfortably in a playoff spot, but the Ducks are just one point behind them for second place in the division.

Whoever finishes in second will get home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Video: Leafs prospect Marner scores an amazing goal that you’ll have to see to believe

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have something special in prospect Mitch Marner.

The 18-year-old’s talent was on full-display on Friday night, as he scored this incredible goal for the London Knights of the OHL.

Marner made Blues second rounder Vince Dunn (no. 4) look pretty ridiculous on the play.

The Leafs prospect was one of Canada’s best forwards at this year’s World Junior Hockey Championship.

He’s second on the Knights in scoring with 32 goals and 86 points in 41 games.

Earlier this week, Snoop Dogg wore a Marner jersey on stage during his show in London.

Not a bad week for the teenager.

Schwartz scores in his return, Blues top the Panthers 5-3

St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz celebrates after scoring during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Associated Press
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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Jaden Schwartz‘s return to St. Louis’ lineup may be just what the Blues offense needs.

Schwartz, David Backes and Robby Fabbri scored in the first period and St. Louis rolled to a 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

After missing 49 games with a fractured ankle suffered during a team practice, Schwartz scored his first goal of the season to put the Blues up 2-1 at 15:57 of the first period.

“I didn’t know what to expect, so it went well. It was fun being a part of the team again and contributing,” Schwartz said. “It was a good line rush. (Tarasenko) made a great play to (Colton Parayko). He shot and I kind of went to the net and got a lucky bounce on my stick there.”

Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen also scored for the Blues, and Parayko had two assists.

St. Louis had scored just 10 goals in its last seven games, including one or fewer in five of its last six.

Winning goaltender Brian Elliott said Schwartz brings a spark.

“Yes, especially when everybody is pulling for him,” said Elliott, who had 29 saves in his 13th straight start. “He’s been watching games for I?don’t know how many months now, so it’s good to see him get back out there and put it in right away. We obviously can’t expect that every night, but he’s a big piece to our puzzle.”

Derek MacKenzie, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau scored for Florida, and Jaromir Jagr had two assists.

Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo moved past Glenn Hall into sixth in career NHL games played with his 907th appearance. He had 10 saves before being replaced after the first period by Al Montoya. Montoya stopped 13 of 15 shots.

“It was just to shake up the team,” Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. “We weren’t happy with how we were playing. It actually worked a little bit in the second.

“They come hard. They play their game. We just didn’t play physical enough in the first. After the first, I thought we were fine.”

Gallant said he would decide Saturday if the 36-year-old Luongo would return to face the Nashville Predators for starts on consecutive nights.

The game featured a matchup of two of the league’s stingiest defenses, with Florida second-best in allowing just 2.26 goals per game while St. Louis’s 2.32 ranked fifth.

However, the first period was all about St. Louis pushing forward and taking advantage of Florida’s defensive breakdowns.

MacKenzie scored 5:05 in with his third goal against St. Louis this season, but then the Blues blitzed Luongo and the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers with three goals in a 7:25 span.

Backes ended a 10-game scoreless drought with his 13th goal at 12:16 by beating Luongo on the stick side.

“That was a big monkey off my back. It’s great to contribute offensively,” Backes said.

Schwartz put the rebound of Parayko’s shot past Luongo at 15:57 for his first of the season.

Fabbri scored on the power play with 19 seconds left for his 12th goal.

Tarasenko scored his 27th goal on a rebound at 8:00 of the second period to make it 4-1 before Ekblad’s 11th goal at 10:44 cut into the lead.

Huberdeau trimmed the margin to one goal when he tallied his 11th by tapping in a pass through the crease from Campbell at 10:47 of the third.

Steen roofed his 16th goal at 12:17 to help St. Louis regain the two-goal margin and beat the Panthers again in Florida, where the Blues haven’t lost since 2011.

“They’re just a sound team,” MacKenzie said of the Blues. “They have guys who can put the puck in the net.

“When you makes mistakes or spend too much time in your end zone, sooner or later it’s going to burn you.”

NOTES: St. Louis D Alex Pietrangelo (knee) is expected to miss at least three weeks. … Last season, the Blues were an NHL-best 21-8-3 in play outside of the Western Conference but entered their game with Florida just 10-9-5 against the Eastern this year. … The Panthers recalled F John McFarland, a 2010 second-round pick (33rd overall), from Portland (AHL). The 23-year-old McFarland was scratched from the lineup. … Florida top-line center Aleksander Barkov (upper body) missed his second consecutive game after being injured in Detroit. … The club sent down F Corban Knight.