Duck Dominance: SoCal's Kings Of Hockey Don't Wear Crowns

Anaheim's performance has earned their prominence in Southern California. - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the Ducks and Kings preparing to renew their rivalry outdoors this week, what better time could there be to take look back and see how the Freeway Faceoff has developed.

The passage of years and decades allows for evolution and succession, while also giving a special spot to those things prominent at a past point in time. Bottles of wine from a certain vintage, classic cars, collectibles like toys and sports cards, essentially anything that is aged has a special quality to it granted by antiquity. However much in the way that a Model T is now looked at as a novelty to restore for (generally aged) car buffs, even the refurbished versions simply don't have the same power and performance of modern automobiles. The rosy rear-view of the past can make for many happy memories, but the fact is in general modern products simply perform better.

So when Jack Kent Cooke brought NHL hockey to Los Angeles in the 1967 season, with it began the arc of frozen history in the Golden State. Perhaps it's appropriate that the Kings first game wasn't played in LA since the Fabulous Forum had not yet completed construction, but it was played at the Long Beach Arena. It's befitting for a franchise whose balance of history has been one of disappointment. From an original color scheme borrowed from the owner's more successful basketball team to winning a grand total of six playoff series in seven full seasons while employing the NHL's most prolific scorer in history, the Kings were California's hockey standard simply by default for much of their existence.

With the way the two teams have developed ... that first year finish has proven prophetic

Enter the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1993. Sure the beginnings were cringe-worthy in review with the Disney-ified graphics and a 'family entertainment' focused presentation, but the opening season finished with an NHL first-year record 33 wins and a finish in the standings five points above the Kings. With the way the two teams have developed since the Ducks joined the league, that first year finish has proven prophetic- now in the twentieth season of Anaheim Ducks hockey, the franchise has simply out-performed Los Angeles to earn the distinction of top club in Southern California. It's a point that if stated to a Kings fan will likely illicit some sort of angered, belittling response, and probably start a major argument.

In a rivalry when you consider the psyche of fan bases, it's often the team that's had the lesser amount of success that tends to negatively fixate on the opposition. Take for example the Chicago-Detroit rivalry, where the Blackhawk fans have long stared up to the rafters in Detroit in want for their but three Stanley Cup wins before 2010 and are the side most noted for their negative chants. The New York Rangers may be an Original Six franchise, but after watching the Islanders run off four straight Stanley Cup championships in the early eighties and achieving a level title total in 1994 their fans still delight in jeering a defenseman from those dynastic years on Long Island. The same is true in most every league, at every level of competition.

It shouldn't surprise then that when attending a game in the Freeway Faceoff series, the majority of the verbal hostility comes from Los Angeles. Perhaps its because the Kings are the least successful of the original expansion franchises that are still in the league. Their 27 playoff appearances trail Pittsburgh's 28, Minnesota/Dallas' 29, and St. Louis and Philadelphia's 36; only the California (Golden) Seals had a worse track record, making the playoffs twice in the 11 years the franchise existed in Oakland plus an addition two in Cleveland as the Barons before being folded into the North Stars. At least to the Kings credit, after 2012 it's now just the St. Louis Blues from that expansion class who have yet to hoist the NHL's ultimate prize.

If one narrows the scope to the 19 seasons since the Ducks joined the league, the comparison between the franchises shows why Angelenos bristle at their Orange County rivals. Anaheim has finished above LA in the standings 12 times and reached the postseason nine times, while in that time frame the Kings have qualified eight times. The Ducks have won 11 playoff series while Los Angeles only seven, and six of those series wins have come in the last two years. Anaheim has made two trips to the Stanley Cup Final and three to the Western Conference Final, while the Kings have made just one and two. A simple look to the rafters shows the Ducks with more banners; two Pacific Division championships, two Western Conference Championships, and the California first orange 2007 Stanley Cup Champions banner. Meanwhile before 2012 Los Angeles fans were stuck looking at two banners on a wall nearly entirely filled with the purple and yellow of the Lakers, relegated to sharing real estate with the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks and Arena Football League's LA Avengers. Even now, over the entire life of the franchise LA has one fewer division champions banner.

The signs of LA fan neurosis brought upon by being surpassed could fill a dissertation

The Kings Stanley Cup win in 2012 put Los Angeles on closer to level footing with the Ducks than they'd been since Anaheim joined the league. It still reverberates through the fan bases though the sense that the Kings are trying to play catch-up to the Ducks. Why else would Dieter Ruehle so oft lead chants of "Ducks suck" and "Anaheim sucks" on the STAPLES Center organ? Why would pockets of fans continually break out in choruses of "Hey Ducks fans, you suck" or dress up in silly costumes? The signs of LA fan neurosis brought upon by being surpassed could fill a dissertation. It's a tribute to the Ducks fan base that most all of the chanting and cheering (aside from the occasional silly, unproductive pockets of "ref you suck") is of a positive nature in support of the club. The manner in the stands is a solid reflection of the balance of play on the ice since joining the league.

So while hockey fans may get wistful on occasion thinking back to watching "forum blue" and gold eyesores on ice, they're also probably are happy to have replaced Kodak flashcubes and home versions of Pong with more effective and powerful modern technologies. It's the way of the world that as progress powers forward certain items of antiquity are replaced in prominence by newer, simply better products. Anaheim's celebration of their twentieth season is one of evolution, and earning on the ice the distinction of Southern California's most successful hockey franchise.

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