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Handshake Line: Living In Epochal Times

In an era where nearly every NHL team has qualified for the playoffs in a five-year stretch, those who've remained near the top are even more impressive through the scope of history.

Jonathan Quick has helped lead an era unlike any other in Los Angeles hockey history.
Jonathan Quick has helped lead an era unlike any other in Los Angeles hockey history.
Harry How

If one began following hockey in the first season of play for the Los Angeles Kings, they'd be looking at a league dominated by the two Canadian clubs. Montreal (12) and Toronto (11) claimed 23 of the NHL's first 41 Stanley Cup championships, with Chicago's three titles (the last in 1961) level with the Rangers for fewest. Over the next four decades the Canadiens' dynasty would grow, and others would emerge in the Islanders, Oilers, and Red Wings. All the while for their first 43 years of competition the Kings would win only 11 playoff series, but once advancing to the Conference and Stanley Cup Final stages.

That backdrop has allowed a certain semi-snarky blogger to tweet shots like these:

Coming in to this year, Anaheim and Los Angeles have had similar amounts of success over the lives of their franchises despite the Ducks 26 seasons fewer in the league: one Stanley Cup, two Western Conference Championships, and three Western Conference Final appearances. So with the first ever playoff series between the two tilting in favor of the Kings, and another Western Conference Final berth as a result, the overarching scales of success seem tilted back towards the silver and black for the first time in several years. That is thanks in large part to what is currently the greatest core that Los Angeles has ever known.

Kings Of Kings

That is thanks in large part to what is currently the greatest core that Los Angeles has ever known.

It's really remarkable what the group of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, and Matt Greene have been able to accomplish since returning LA to the postseason in 2009-10. In this five year run LA has three times equalled it's franchise record of 46 regular season wins initially set in 1990-91. The eight playoff series wins thus far earned over the past three seasons account for greater than 42% (8/19) of the postseason triumphs during the life of the team.

Quick has all but taken the title of greatest Kings goalie ever. With the most regular season wins (176) in Kings history besting the mark of number-retiree Rogie Vachon (171) this season, he sits just one back of Vachon's regular season team shutout record of 32. Quick has earned more playoff wins (37) than the next two goalies on the list in Kelly Hrudey (26) and Felix Potvin (10) combined, while his eight playoff shutouts dwarf the franchise's other five cumulatively earned by Potvin (3), Vachon (1), and Terry Sawchuck (1). Plus, he has that Conn Smythe from backstopping the Angelenos to their first title to his credit too. Kopitar now sits seventh on the Kings all-time regular season points list (546) and his 53 career playoff points put him in position to possibly catch Dave Taylor (59) for third in franchise history. No Kings defenseman has put up more points in the playoffs than Doughty's 41, which currently slot him seventh amongst all skaters in club history with Marcel Dionne (43) and Tomas Sandstrom (45) in his sights.

These three players are a tribute to management's ability to scout and develop talent, all drafted and risen through the ranks as Kings, with the likes of Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson continuing to carry that banner. Players like Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Marian Gaborik exemplify the fearlessness of general manager Dean Lombardi to make deals that bring in big name players to augment an already solid core. Darryl Sutter  has helped turn a team loaded with potential when he took over in the midst of the 2011-12 season to a perennial Stanley Cup contender. After flailing at success behind the benches in Chicago and San Jose through the 90's and early 00's, his near miss with Calgary is outshone by his successes in Los Angeles that serve as a crown for a last name that's already hockey royalty.

Bow Down

While all of this doesn't address anything from Los Angeles' series win over Anaheim, the series can be viewed as yet another example of the incredible transformative era which hockey in Southern California and the NHL as a whole are undergoing. With both clubs continually supporting the game's growth at grass roots levels and reaching out in the community, not to mention racking up record performances on ice, the profile of the sport continues to grow. The area is producing players, and the teams are competing for and winning championships.

These are the best of times in the history of the Los Angeles Kings, and it's against that tidal swell that the Ducks fell to a more experienced side that flat-out dominated the seventh game of the first ever playoff Freeway Face-Off at Honda Center. The series showed that the margin between the two teams is not as large as many may have thought, but the Angelenos are the standard bearer for California hockey. Of the remaining 1967 expansion class it's only the St. Louis Blues who have yet to hoist the league's greatest prize. The NHL's perennially dormant historical doormat on the west coast has turned into a contemporary measuring stick against which all but a few teams can currently be measured.

It's a delicious irony then that the rhetorical hockey fan from 1967-68 would see their long languishing Kings contesting the similarly historically sorry Blackhawks for status as THE elite in the league today. A second Stanley Cup this season for LA and all of a sudden the discussion shifts from "Chicago Dynasty" to a bipolarity of dominance between the two teams. Make no mistake though, the Ducks are once again on the ascendant and will have their say in the discussion in the future.

But we are currently in the epoch of the Kings.