This is a unique entry in our second NHL Saturday miniseries, as we take on the Los Angeles Kings—an expansion team that entered the league in 1968 and won two Stanley Cups in the 2010s. Yet neither of those Cup-winning squads is on our Top 5 list here, which is pretty weird. The 2014 team rated out sixth, so it just missed out, and the 2012 team was middling until it caught fire near the end of the regular season and romped to a championship. Sabermetrics can be shocking, of course, though … Enjoy!
No. 5: 2017-18 Los Angeles Kings
Finishing fourth in the Pacific Division with 98 points doesn’t seem that impressive, but it was a tough division during this season. The Kings posted a 45-29-8 record and finished No. 7 in the SOS, so that’s how good the grouping was as L.A. was the best defensive team in the NHL in terms of giving up goals. The offense was pedestrian, however, ranking 17th in goal scoring. That hurt the Kings in the first round, as they got swept by the upstart Vegas Golden Knights—scoring just 3 goals in the series total.
Center Anze Kopitar was the only real scoring threat (35G, 57A), as no other skaters came within 30 points of his stat line. Defenseman Drew Doughty (10G, 50A) did have a stellar season, too, however. In net, aging veteran Jonathan Quick (33-28-3) posted 5 shutouts, but his backups really played well, too, combining for a 12-1-5 record and 3 more SOs. In the Vegas matchup, though, the Kings lost four one-goal games, including a double-overtime defeat in Game 2 which somewhat broke L.A.’s spirit.
No. 4: 1980-81 Los Angeles Kings
We go back to the early ’80s for this entry, before hockey was even popular in L.A. These Kings posted a 43-24-13 record for 99 points and a second-place finish in the old Norris Division. The team finished third in scoring and eighth in scoring defense, so it was close to being a Top 5 team in the league. However, L.A. was upset by the New York Rangers in the first round, a team that posted just 74 points during the regular season. The Kings lost a best-of-five matchup in four, as the goaltending just collapsed.
C Marcel Dionne (58G, 77A, 70 PIMs), right wing Dave Taylor (47G, 65A, 130 PIMs), left wing Charlie Simmer (56G, 49A, 62 PIMs), and rookie D Larry Murphy (16G, 60A, 79 PIMs) paced the high-scoring squad that was rarely out of any game it played. G Mario Lessard (35-18-11) was the main netminder, but four other guys saw action, too, in a collective effort. The Rangers outscored the Kings, 22-12, however, in the short playoff series, exposing the goaltending corps pretty thoroughly.
No. 3: 1988-89 Los Angeles Kings
A 42-31-7 record and 91 points were good enough for second place in the Smythe Division as the Kings entered a new era of franchise lore, welcoming legendary C Wayne Gretzky to the organization after he was traded from the Edmonton Oilers. The Great One helped propel L.A. to the top offense in the NHL, while scoring defense lagged behind significantly, finishing 16th in a 21-team league. But the Kings “upset” the Oilers in the first round before getting swept by the eventual champions from Calgary.
Gretzky (54G, 114A) was supported by C Bernie Nicholls (70G, 80A, 96 PIMs), LW Luc Robitaille (46G, 52A, 65 PIMs), and D Steve Duchesne (25G, 50A, 92 PIMs) in scoring a lot of goals. The five goalies who saw action were terrible, in truth, posting a 4.02 GAA and earning just a single shutout all season. G Kelly Hrudey started all the postseason games except one, as the Kings dropped the Oilers, 6-3, in the deciding Game 7 of the first round. But the Flames doubled up L.A., 22-11, in the second round.
No. 2: 1974-75 Los Angeles Kings
This was the first great Kings team, early in the franchise’s existence. Posting a (still) team record 105 points on the back of a 42-17-21 record, L.A. finished second in the Norris. The team was just ninth in scoring (out of 18 teams), but the defensive effort was stellar, being the second-toughest team to score on in the league. However, these Kings got bit by the upset bug, losing to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs (78 points) in a best-of-three preliminary playoff round. All three games were one-score affairs, too.
RW Bob Nevin (31G, 41A) was the top scorer, and Bob Murdoch (13G, 29A, 116 PIMs) was the best defenseman. We don’t expect too many readers to remember those guys. In net, though, Hall of Famer Rogie Vachon (27-14-13) and backup Gary Edwards (15-3-8) were excellent, combining for a 2.28 GAA and a .924 S% while posting a combined 9 shutouts. But in the playoffs, a total of just 13 goals were scored by both teams in the three-game series, and Toronto just had better timing. Oh well.
No. 1: 1990-91 Los Angeles Kings
We know many fans remember the 1992-93 team that lost the Cup Finals to Montréal, but this is actually the best team in franchise history. It was Gretzky’s third season in Los Angeles, as the Kings peaked with a Smythe Division title (46-24-10 record and 102 points). L.A. finished first in the SRS on the back of the third-ranked scoring offense, the fourth-best scoring defense, and the Great One (of course). But … after dropping Vancouver in six games to open the playoffs, the Kings lost to the Oilers in six. Ouch!
Gretzky (41G, 122A) and Robitaille (45G, 46A, 68 PIMs) again topped the scoring, with the help of RW Tomas Sandström (45G, 44A, 106 PIMs). Hrudey (26-13-6) and Daniel Berthiaume (20-11-4) anchored the goaltending admirably, combining for 4 shutouts. The former got all the postseason starts, upping his game well enough overall, but the Oilers got their revenge for 1989 in a series that featured four overtime contests: the Oilers won two double-OT games and then the clincher, too, in the first overtime.