From peasants to Kings – Five LA stories of perseverance and success

21 Comments

Professional sports can be inspirational as much as they are entertaining. After all, they’re made up of people with the courage to follow their dreams and the will to work hard through the good and the bad.

The Stanley Cup-winning 2012 Los Angeles Kings are full of such players, but five in particular stand out for sticking it out through the tough times.

Here are their stories:

Willie Mitchell — The Kings are, for the most part, a young team. However, they do have a few veterans and Mitchell is the most prominent of them. The fact that he’s won his first Cup at the age of 35 is significant enough, but it wasn’t long ago when his career was in jeopardy.

His 2009-10 campaign ended on Jan. 16 because of a concussion and, at the age of 33, he had to find a new employer willing to accept the fact that he was coming off of a head injury. Under the circumstances, the Kings took a risk when they signed him to a two-year, $7 million deal back in the summer of 2010, but it’s one that has paid off handsomely.

Dustin Penner — Earlier this season, Penner was a joke. A punchline. The guy that got hurt while eating pancakes. The guy that, in February, was taken out of the lineup because, in the words of Sutter, he “was horse(crap).” He was arguably one of the most overpaid players in the sport.

He’s also now a two-time Stanley Cup champion and not just because he was on a good team. Penner found redemption — in fact, he called it “vindication” — in the 2012 playoffs and became one of the Kings most potent offensive weapons. As Kings GM Dean Lombardi colorfully put it, “I kid him now; he went from BP — like the oil spill — to BP — as in Big Play Penner.”

Darryl Sutter — When the 2011-12 campaign began, it looked like his days in the spotlight were behind him. In December of 2010, he resigned as the general manager of the Calgary Flames after making a number of questionable moves, including the trading of Dion Phaneuf to Toronto for what ultimately amounted to nothing.

A year later, however, Kings GM Dean Lombardi offered to put his friend in a position he’d found much more success in: behind the bench.

“Oh, seems like a long time ago, middle of December, whenever it was,” Sutter said. “But you know what, you look at the big picture now, and I was right on how I thought about what type of players these guys were.”

He proved to be the missing piece of the Kings’ puzzle, leading them to a 25-13-11 record in the regular season and, of course, their first Stanley Cup.

Dustin Brown — It’s hard to believe at this point, but the Kings captain was seen as something of a disappointment earlier this season. It got to the point where, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Brown was “absolutely” being shopped by Los Angeles.

It just goes to show that sometimes the best move is the one you don’t make. Brown caught fire in late February and was a big factor in the Kings’ playoff run.

He got three points in Game 6 of the finals and became just the second American captain to win the Stanley Cup.

Jeff Carter — His story is perhaps the most popular out of those on this list. He’s a guy who, as recently as last year, probably thought he’d be a life-long Flyer. After all, you don’t sign an 11-year contract if you don’t feel a sense of loyalty and comfort with a franchise.

All the same, Philadelphia decided to go in a different direction and suddenly Carter found himself playing for the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets. He battled through injuries as well as a significant amount of shock and disappointment before he was traded again. This time he found himself in Los Angeles where he was reunited with former Flyers teammate Mike Richards.

Carter went on to play a key role for the Kings, scoring a number of big goals during their run to the Cup.

B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

Getty
Leave a comment

Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.

 

 

Ducks send Stoner to AHL on conditioning loan

AP
Leave a comment

Clayton Stoner is going to play some hockey again.

The Anaheim Ducks announced today that the 32-year-old defenseman has been assigned to AHL San Diego on a long-term injury conditioning loan.

Stoner has not played since Nov. 15. He had abdominal surgery in December, at which point the Ducks said he’d miss an additional 4-6 weeks. But a setback in his recovery extended the time frame.

“The setback was kind of just me trying to get back maybe a little bit quicker than I should,” Stoner told the O.C. Register recently. “And I wasn’t ready. Things have been good here for a little while so hopefully I’m just trying to string some days together and earn a spot back and kind of prove that I can be healthy and stay healthy.”

Panthers didn’t want to trade Crouse, but Bolland contract was ‘strangling’ them

Getty
Leave a comment

Interesting note here from Florida head coach Tom Rowe who, last night, watched former Panther prospect Lawson Crouse play in Florida for the first time since being traded to Arizona.

Crouse was the price the Panthers had to pay to unload Dave Bolland‘s contract on the Coyotes last summer. Rowe wasn’t involved with the Bolland signing, but was involved in dumping the contract — he was Florida’s assistant GM at the time the deal went down.

His take, from the Miami Herald:

Florida traded Crouse to the Coyotes last summer as part of a salary cap dump; Arizona took on the final three years and $16.5-million of Dave Bolland’s contract in exchange for a top prospect — in this case, Crouse.

“We got criticized for giving up on a great young prospect but we had to,” Rowe said. “That contract was strangling us, cap-wise. …

“When we traded him, our scouts were furious. I’m not going to lie. But we had to do something and that was trade Lawson. I’m sure, to this day, he’s still sour about it.”

Crouse, who Florida took 11th overall at the 2015 draft, has five goals and 11 points through 64 games this year, averaging 11:50 TOI per night. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but they do need to be taken in context — Crouse is only 19 years old, and the 10th-youngest player to play in the NHL this season.

Bolland, meanwhile, hasn’t played since December of 2015, due to a variety of back and ankle injuries. His time in Florida was largely forgettable — after scoring the $27.5 million pact, he played just 78 games in a Panthers uniform, scoring 28 points.  It’s widely regarded as the worst deal GM Dale Tallon has made during his time with the organization.

Shortly after taking on his contract, Coyotes GM John Chayka said Bolland wouldn’t be healthy for the “foreseeable future.” The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his deal, at $5.5 million annually.

 

Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

Getty
3 Comments

Arizona Senate President Steve Yarbrough does not expect a piece of legislation to pass that would give the Coyotes millions of dollars in public financing to build a new arena.

That being said, Yarbrough thinks the Coyotes may be able to gain some “traction” if they offer to put in more of their own money.

Under the current plan, the team has pledged $170 million of the arena’s total cost, which is estimated at almost $400 million. The difference would be made up by new sales taxes, plus $55 million from the still-to-be-determined host city.

“If you are getting no traction the way the bill is designed, you could see if the hockey team paid a greater portion,” Yarbrough told the Arizona Republic yesterday. “I have been around this business long enough to know that if it’s not working in this format, you change the format to make it more attractive.”

For their part, the Coyotes have not said whether they’d be willing to pay a greater portion of the project, only that they’ll continue to “work hard to find a viable arena solution in the greater Phoenix area, a market that both the club and the NHL believe is a strong hockey market capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise.”

Related: Bettman says Coyotes “cannot and will not remain in Glendale”