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.

NHL schedules hearings for Stars’ Oleksiak, Sens’ Borowiecki after separate incidents

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 10: Jamie Oleksiak #5 of the Dallas Stars in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Two NHL players will have disciplinary hearings Sunday with the league’s Department of Player Safety for separate incidents that occurred Saturday.

The league announced Saturday evening that Jamie Oleksiak of the Dallas Stars will have a hearing for an illegal hit to the head of Philly’s Chris VandeVelde during the third period of the Flyers’ win.

There was no penalty called on the play.

The league also announced that Ottawa Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki will have a hearing Sunday for a boarding penalty he took against Kings forward Tyler Toffoli.

The incident occurred early in the first period. Borowiecki received a major penalty, but remained in the game. Toffoli left the game to undergo concussion protocol, but he did eventually return.

The Avalanche ‘got our ass whooped tonight’ versus the Habs

MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 10:  Artturi Lehkonen #62 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates his first period goal during the NHL game against the Colorado Avalanche at the Bell Centre on December 10, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Yikes! Well, at least it’s over now.

The Montreal Canadiens, led by four goals from Max Pacioretty, destroyed the Colorado Avalanche by a final score of 10-1 on Saturday, this result coming just over a month after the Habs allowed 10 goals against Columbus.

The Habs led 5-0 before the midway point of the first period. They had six goals before the end of the first period. Hitting double digits seemed like an inevitability, as the Canadiens skated their opponents into the ice, making the Avalanche look foolish in their own end.

Frustrations boiled over late in the game when Alexei Emelin threw a massive hip check on Joe Colborne, adding further insult for the Avalanche.

The last time Montreal scored 10 or more goals in a game? Feb. 24, 1990, per the NHL.

Lots of fun for the Habs and their fans. But that was a completely miserable display from the Avalanche, which can fall to last place in the league’s overall standings, depending on the outcome of the Arizona-Nashville game tonight.

This was a game you would think the Avalanche would get an additional boost for. Jarome Iginla was playing in his 1,500th career game. Gabriel Landeskog returned from injury.

Nope. Didn’t happen. The Avalanche manufactured a lousy 16 shots on net. Goalies Calvin Pickard and Semyon Varlamov were both pulled in this one.

“It was embarrassing and we got our ass whooped tonight,” said Landeskog, per Mike Chambers of the Denver Post.

This is the third time in two weeks that an Avalanche core player or coach has ripped the effort or performance of the team. This is a core group that is no stranger to criticism for poor performances over the last few years, going back to Patrick Roy’s tenure.

After this, what is left to say?

“I’m going to take the blame for that one because we weren’t prepared to start the game,” coach Jared Bednar told the Denver Post.

“They’re the best team in the league with the best record at home and we’re all the way down in the standings and we weren’t prepared to play. So that one’s on me.”

Bill Dineen, former NHL player and coach, passes away at age 84

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TORONTO (AP) Bill Dineen, the hockey icon who played with and later coached Gordie Howe, has died. He was 84.

The American Hockey League confirmed in a statement that Dineen died Saturday at his home in Lake George, New York.

Dineen, born in Arvida, Quebec, played 324 games in the National Hockey League with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, winning two Stanley Cup championships in Detroit alongside Howe. Dineen made more of an impact as a player in the AHL, where he was a four-time 20-goal scorer over six seasons with Buffalo, Cleveland, Rochester and Quebec.

“Bill Dineen devoted his career to our sport, winning two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, shaping the lives of numerous players during decades of coaching and crafting a hockey legacy that carries on today through his sons,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The National Hockey League sends heartfelt condolences to the Dineen family on the passing of this distinguished and greatly respected individual.”

Dineen went into coaching after retiring as a player, taking the reins of the WHA’s Houston Aeros for six years starting in the 1972-73 season. He helped the Aeros win Avco Cup titles in 1974 and 1975 with teams featuring Howe and sons Mark and Marty.

Dineen was named the WHA’s coach of the year in 1977 and 1978. He spent a final WHA season as coach of the New England Whalers but was fired after 71 games with the Whalers in fourth place.

Dineen later coached the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers for the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons, giving him a chance to coach son Kevin.

He also spent six years as coach of the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings, leading them to league titles in 1986 and 1989. Dineen was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2014.

Dineen’s sons Shawn, Peter, Gord, Kevin and Jerry all went on to professional hockey careers. Kevin Dineen, a veteran of 1,188 NHL games, is a former head coach of the Florida Panthers and is currently an associate coach with the Blackhawks. Gord Dineen played 529 games in the NHL and is an associate coach of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

Report: Sens protesting Kings goal after clock issue

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 10:  Trevor Lewis #22 of the Los Angeles Kings scores a goal on Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators to take a 3-2 lead as Marc Methot #3 and Anze Kopitar #11 react during the second period at Staples Center on December 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There was more than one controversial moment during Saturday’s game between the L.A. Kings and Ottawa Senators.

Sens defenseman Mark Borowiecki was given a major penalty for slamming Tyler Toffoli from behind into the boards, causing the Kings forward to undergo the league’s concussion protocol before he eventually returned to the game.

Later in the evening, there was a report from Darren Dreger of TSN that the Senators are protesting the Kings’ third goal of the game, which came with two seconds left in the second period. It was a pivotal moment in the game, as L.A. took a two-goal lead into the third period, before eventually winning 4-1.

Senators coach Guy Boucher didn’t place blame on a clock issue, but instead he put the onus on his team to not get scored on in that situation late in the period.

From LA Kings Insider:

“I’ll be honest with you, at that point for us we’ve just got to shut it down. We keep it at 1, it wasn’t about getting a goal there it was about getting off the ice. We had done the job in the second period, we had looked very good, we had the momentum, we needed to get into the third period with a one-goal lead. We’ve done it so many times this year coming back so I was confident we could come back, so no. I’m not looking at clocks, I’m not looking at penalties, I’m looking at ourselves just doing better.

The Kings now begin a stretch of nine games away from home. They play seven of those games before the holiday break, before resuming the trip on Dec. 28 versus the Canucks. The trip ends the following night in Edmonton.