I just got out of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and really enjoyed it.
If you dig Tarantino's movies, I think you'll like this one, too. I guess they're saying it's potentially his last..?
It's a period piece set in 1969 Los Angeles. While I was watching it, I found myself thinking, "I wonder what the Kings were like at this time?"
So I did a little digging when I got home...
We know that LA broke into the league in 1967 as part of the NHL expansion, that took the league from six to twelve teams. It was also the largest expansion ever done in professional sports. They were joined by fellow clubs:
- California Seals (later renamed Oakland Seals and then California Golden Seals)
- Minnesota North Stars
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- St. Louis Blues
The first season for the Kings was very fruitful for an expansion team. Headed by former player and new coach, Red Kelly, they went 31-33-10 in 76 games. Good enough for second place (behind the Flyers) in the West Division - which was where the league placed all the newly expanded teams. Their success was certainly aided by Hall of Fame goaltender Terry Sawchuck (11-14-6) and young goalie Wayne Rutledge (20-18-4), who was claimed from the Rangers during the expansion draft. They were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the North Stars.
Here's a cool video of Rutledge talking about those early days. How about that mustache, glasses and flannel combo? Rocking the hipster look before it was "cool."
The Kings hit a bit of a sophomore slump in the 1968-69 season, where they had a record of 24-42-10. Surprisingly good enough for fourth in the division - two ahead of the Penguins in fifth (20-45-11) and the North Stars in sixth (18-43-15) - and another crack at the playoffs.
For an expansion team in a non-traditional hockey market, the Kings found success through their first two seasons. However, the wheels would really come off in the third year. Prior to the 1969-70 season, Red Kelly left to be the bench boss for the Penguins and LA subsequently crashed and burned, going 14-52-10.
Let that record set in a minute...
They had numerous long stretches of staggering poor play in '69. One of the most eye-opening stats was going 0-13-4 from late January to early March. That's 17 games without a win.
When I look at the roster of that Kings team, there''s only a couple guys from hockey's past that I recognize. Outside of Rutledge, I know Eddie Shack, who led the team in goals with 22, Butch Goring, who led in assists with 23 and Gerry Desjardins (who had some cool masks over his career) but racked up a record o7-29-5 with 3.89 GAA..
There was also Dick Duff...besides the awesome name, Duff played a little over a one year with the Kings and went on to get inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006 - having played the majority of his career with TOR and MTL, with stints on the Rangers and Sabres.
While I couldn't find any attendance numbers/statistics, 1969 must have been a brutal time for LA hockey. With only two years under their belt at that point, trying to nurture an organization with miserable play, AND in a non-hockey market pre-internet, had to to take it's toll. They were far from the status of hockey royalty, for which owner Jack Cooke named them ("Kings").
In fact, they would struggle for the next few years, until they made the playoffs again in the 1973-74 season - helping end a four year drought of post-season action.
Their fortunes would start to change around this time by adding guys like Rogie Vachon (traded in 1971 from MTL), Marcel Dionne (traded in 1975 from Detroit), etc...
I think one of the Kings biggest contributions to hockey in those early years was their colors. Those original sweaters composed of yellow and purp--I mean..."Forum blue and gold"-- were so unique and cool. Not to mention, they were the first ever in NHL history to feature purple. Looking back now, I kind of wish they never changed to black and white in 1988.
Not to mention...the original crown has always been way cooler looking to me than the modern adaptations.
[Image from sportsecyclopedia.com]
[Image from sportsecyclopedia.com]
If there's any guys on here that were in LA, or followed the Kings during this era, I'd love to hear what the vibe was like surrounding this team. Was there a good following? Was hockey viewed as more of a novelty there until it started to take off a bit years later? The game was really a niche sport (even more so at that time), so I'm really curious what it was like in a place like Los Angeles all those years back...
Hope you guys are surviving this awful, dead zone time of the year that all hockey fans dread - commonly referred to as "summer."