September 1, 2017, 8:01 PM ET [48 Comments]
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Recently, I wrote the Kings' entry for Puck Daddy's Alternate History series.
With the help of then-LA Kings Insider Rich Hammond, I tackled this question: What if the Kings had missed the 2012 playoffs?
I didn't take on the most obvious "What if" in franchise history, as I felt that McSorley's stick had been re-hashed enough. But let's kick that can once again.
Down 2-1 with 1:45 left in Game Two of the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, Montreal Head Coach Jacques Demers asked referees to check Marty McSorley's stick for an illegal curve. Los Angeles would be penalized if McSorley's stick was found to be against regulations.
But what if the curve had been legal?
Instead, the Canadiens would've been assessed a two-minute minor for delay of game. The Kings probably return to the Great Western Forum with a commanding 2-0 series lead. How commanding?
371 NHL teams have gone up 2-0 to start a seven-game postseason series. 49 teams have come back from such a deficit -- that's 13.2% of the time. Of these 49 comebacks, only 19 were authored by squads who had dropped the first two at home.
So with a 2-0 series lead, LA had about a 90% chance of hoisting their first-ever Cup. Let's say they close out the Canadiens -- no sure bet with peak Patrick Roy backstopping them. Is this the opening reel of a Hollywood hockey dynasty?
Among 1993's playoff crop, the Kings were the oldest:
Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, and Kelly Hrudey were 32. Marty McSorley was 29. Tomas Sandstrom and Tony Granato were 28. That's 2/3 of the team's top-six -- including their franchise player -- and their starting keeper
Even with a Cup in hand, the aging Kings probably still miss the following postseason. After all, in reality, they finished 16 points behind San Jose.
Winning a championship also wouldn't have halted owner Bruce McNall's impending financial downfall.
However, I wonder if LA would have been more hesitant to let Marty McSorley walk as a UFA after a championship. There would've been more pressure to "bring the band back" for the title defense.
While McSorley proved he wasn't worth the bloated contract that St. Louis handed out during the offseason, keeping the heart-and-soul defender would've at least prevented the later, disastrous Sandstrom for McSorley swap.
That championship glow might have also given management some pause before sending out Luc Robitaille for Rick Tocchet during the summer of '94. Tocchet was a downgrade from Robitaille. And Kevin Stevens, who Los Angeles would later acquire for Tocchet, would prove to be a further downgrade.
These moves -- Sandstrom for McSorley and Robitaille for Tocchet -- would contribute to LA missing the playoffs in 1994 and 1995. The next year, Gretzky demanded to be dealt to a contender.
While Los Angeles missed the postseason by a significant margin in '94, they were just a point out in '95. Would Robitaille and Sandstrom have put them over the top that season?
Let's say so. And coming off a playoff appearance, would Gretzky have been so eager to ask for a trade the following year? Maybe the Great One would've eventually retired as a King?
Regardless, between finances and aging, Los Angeles was a fading franchise, even in '93. Topping the Canadiens would probably have been the last hurrah for Gretzky's Kings, as losing in the Finals proved to be.