When I was asked to compile a Mount Rushmore for the Kings, I figured I had the easiest draw of the league. After all, a team boasting the league’s all-time greatest left winger AND center made my job easier. But as I started to break down who I’d put where, it became clear to me that this isn’t as cut-and-dry as first thought.
Since we are so close to the entertainment business, everyone draws parallels to Hollywood. And to be honest, the story of the Los Angeles Kings probably wouldn’t make a very good movie. With a long list of character players, the Kings movie would probably make a better art house flick than a summer blockbuster. That said, there is an audience for art house films, people who have an appreciation for the craft of moviemaking. The same can be said about Kings fans: they are a rabid bunch of devotees who are just as knowledgeable about their sport as any other fan base.
So I will try to honor those die-hards in my attempt to create a Mount Rushmore, Kings-style.
The first player in my Kings Mount Rushmore has to be Luc Robitaille. Lucky has become the one player that many Kings associate as the definitive Kings player. Drafted in the ninth round in 1984, Robitaille went on to win the Calder Trophy in 1986. He then reeled off eight consecutive seasons of awesomeness, scoring more than 40 goals each year. Three of those years, he scored more than 50 goals.
It was Robitaille who led the Kings in the regular season of 1992-93 to their first and only Stanley Cup appearance, lighting the lamp 63 times and setting the record for points scored (125) in a season by a left winger. Overall, he played three stints in Los Angeles, and is the only player to bridge the gap between the purple and gold days of the Fabulous Forum and the black and purple days at Staples.
Now that it’s all said and done, the eight-time All Star holds the NHL record for goals by a left winger (668) and points (1,394). Luc is the all-time leading Kings goal scorer with the prime number of 577, and is currently the team’s president of business operations. Luc is the ever-present, optimistic face of the franchise, and the first King I would carve into granite, like George Washington’s likeness in the original Mount Rushmore.
Marcel Dionne’s impact on the franchise is often overlooked by the average Kings fan, who started paying attention to the team when some kid from Edmonton came to town. When Dionne joined the Kings, he was entering the prime of his career. Over the course of 12 years, Dionne was dominant, topping 100 points seven times. In fact, he is still third in the NHL for most 100+ point seasons, behind Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
In 1979, the productive Dionne joined forces with Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer to form one of the greatest lines in the history of the game, the Triple Crown Line. And while there have been a ton of cleverly-named hockey lines in the history of the game, none accomplished what these three guys did. Their first season together, Dionne earned the Art Ross Trophy after tying Wayne Gretzky with 137 points, but edged him by two goals.
But the Triple Crown Line didn’t just highlight Dionne’s scoring prowess. In 1980-81, it did something completely unheard of: all three players topped 100 points in the same season. That’s a feat that seems more likely to occur in the NHL 94 video game than in real life. Even that’s hard to do, believe me I’ve tried.
Toward the end of his career with the Kings, he started mentoring the younger players, taking guys like Luc Robitaille and Jimmy Carson under his wing. After being unceremoniously traded to the Rangers, Dionne was estranged from the Kings for a long time. But it wasn’t until Luc came back to the franchise in an administrative capacity that Dionne returned home to his rightful place with the Kings. And that’s why I’d put him right next to his good friend, Luc.
Rogatien Vachon would be my third selection on my Kings Rushmore, tucked away behind Luc and Marcel in the Theodore Roosevelt spot. And after looking at it closer, the similarities are uncanny.
Roosevelt coined the phrase “Square Deal” to describe his domestic agenda, Vachon often gave shooters a “raw deal,” boosting respectable numbers in goal. In fact, Vachon never allowed a goal on a penalty shot. Roosevelt often “spoke softly and carried a big stick,” it was Vachon’s actions on the ice that spoke for him. He is still the Kings all-time leader in wins (171) and shutouts (32). Roosevelt led a small regiment into Cuba known as the Rough Riders, Vachon has been known to enjoy a nice Cuban cigar.
In terms of importance to the franchise, no other player was more valuable in his service to the team. The Kings went as Vachon went, and he played seven tremendous seasons for Los Angeles, leading them to a 105-point record in 1974-75. But after his playing days, Vachon continued to give back to the club. He has filled numerous positions without the club, including assistant head coach, interim head coach (three times) and, most importantly, he served as general manager for eight years.
During his watch, he traded away one popular Kings superstar (Dionne in 1987) and helped bring in another (Gretzky in 1988, although Kings owner Bruce McNall dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s in that transaction). He remains involved in the club to this day. Rogie, as he is still lovingly called around L.A., remains a fan favorite and is a lock to be immortalized in stone.
Yet, the one Kings player that is actually immortalized in stone (bronze, actually) is actually the final selection in the Kings’ Rushmore creation.
Yes, he’s one of the greatest players ever to play the game. Yes, he owns more records than Casey Kasem. (What? Too dated? I was going to say jukebox, but that’s even worse.) Yes, he was the only Kings player to win a Hart Trophy, three Art Ross trophies and three Lady Byng trophies. And it was his hat trick in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs that put the Kings into their only Stanley Cup appearance. He led the Kings in scoring in all but one of his eight seasons, and he easily the most popular player in franchise history.
But to me, I have to set No. 99 aside from the other three. While the other three Kings remained interwoven in the fabric of the franchise, Gretzky’s presence was seemingly bigger than the team. His overall effect on the game is so grand, so broad, that many people would thrust him to the top of the Kings list.
But let’s be honest: Gretzky was better known for his time in Edmonton, where he won four Stanley Cups, eight Hart Trophies, seven Art Ross trophies, et al. In my view, he accomplished more on the ice for the Oilers than for the Kings. And while his presence opened up non-traditional markets like San Jose and Anaheim, that is more of a testament to his overall popularity in the league than what he did at The Forum.
But you need to include Gretzky on the Kings’ Rushmore, because he is, simply, The Great One. Even though he’s already considered as the greatest Oiler of all time, I would venture to say that his stature is lower on the Kings’ hierarchy. So, I’d put him in the Abraham Lincoln position, apart from the others but a cornerstone of the piece.