A look at the Los Angeles Kings’ All-Decade team for the 1990s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.
Team: Los Angeles Kings (1990-91 to 1999-00)
324-350-112, .483 WIN PCT, 2,532 GF vs. 2,631 GA, -99 Diff, 5/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Despite a herculean effort, Wayne Gretzky simply wasn’t able to elevate the Los Angeles Kings to the status of a true contender. They opened the decade with a fantastic 46-win, 102-point effort. They then had two seasons just above .500, concluding with a magical run to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. But the wheels fell off, and the team struggled for the next four seasons: they went 95-151-50 for a 40.5% win percentage (and -160 goal differential) from ’93-94 to ’96-97, missing the playoffs all four seasons (Gretzky himself was traded to St. Louis late in the ’95-96 season). The Kings rebounded towards the end of the decade, posting 87 points in ’97-98 and 94 points in ’99-00. But they missed the playoffs five times in seven seasons to close the decade, and didn’t win a playoff series after 1993. Overall, the Kings had a 48.3% win percentage, ranking them 17th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. It should come as no surprise that a team with Wayne Gretzky could score: they ranked 5th in the league in goals, averaging 3.22 goals for per game. Unfortunately, their defense was brutal, ranking second-last (25th, ahead of only their cross-state rival San Jose Sharks) while allowing an average of 3.35 goals against per game. Their goal differential of -99 ultimately ranked 17th for the decade. It would take the team to find its identity (and some success) in the post-Gretzky era. But whatever their struggles and inconsistencies, they were always a popular draw with #99 on the roster.
Left Wing: Luc Robitaille (533 GP, 287-310-597, +37, 537 PIM, 43 GWG)
Lucky Luc was born to be an L.A. King. In the first four seasons of the 1990s, Robitaille was a beast on the left wing: he had three seasons in the 44-45 goal and 86-107 points range, and a fourth season that was an absolute monster: 63 goals (8 game-winners), 125 points and a +18 rating in ’92-93. He had 24-26 PPG three straight seasons from ’91-92 to ’93-94. His +/- varied wildly (+28, -4, +18 and -20), but he scored 22 game-winning goals during that stretch, which helped make up for any defensive deficiencies. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and after one season there he went to the New York Rangers for two years. The Kings got him back just before the ’97-98 season, and he returned to L.A. for the final three seasons of the 1990s. He started his second stint a little slowly (40 points in 57 games), but rebounded for a pair of 74-point seasons with 39 and 36 goals respectively. All told, Robitaille scored an impressive 114 powerplay markers, and also contributed 43 game-winning goals (15% of his total). He had 220 or more shots on goal six times in seven seasons, and is one of the best left wingers in modern NHL history. He represented the Kings at the All-Star Game from 1991-1993 and again in 1999, and he was made the NHL’s First (’91 and ’93) or Second (’92) All-Star Team the first three seasons in the decade.
Centre: Wayne Gretzky (388 GP, 152-456-608, -28, 114 PIM, 11 GWG)
“The Great One” kind of says it all, doesn’t it? He opened the decade with a 163-point effort that included an amazing 122 assists, along with a +30 rating. He followed that up with 121 points in ’91-92. Injuries held him to 45 games in ’92-93, but he still scored 65 points. He had one final Gretzky-type season in ’93-94, scoring 130 points… but the Kings still missed the playoffs. He slowed to 48 points in 48 games during the lockout-shortened ’94-95 season, and then had 81 points in 62 games before being traded to the St. Louis Blues. His +/- was pretty bad, going negative four times (including twice in the -20 to -25 range). But he had three seasons of 90+ assists, and three season of 30+ goals. He was more concerned with getting the puck to his teammates late in the game, knowing that he would draw off defenders; as a result, he only had 11 game-winning goals (a fairly low 7% of his total). Wayne Gretzky was the greatest playmaker the NHL has ever seen, and he was a threat whenever he was on the ice (42 PPG, 8 SHG). It’s a shame he was never able to bring the team up to Stanley Cup Champion status, but it’s hard to do that when you’re playing for one of the worst defensive outfits in the league. But man, was he ever exciting to watch!
Right Wing: Tomas Sandstrom (207 GP, 104-117-221, +25, 292 PIM, 15 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Tony Granato
Sandstrom had major durability issues: during four years in the early 1990s, he only once played more than 51 games in a season. Still, he was an offensive dynamo. He scored 45 goals and 89 points in 68 games, along with a +27 rating. Over the next three seasons his production was up-and-down, likely in line with his health: 39 points in 49 games, 52 points in 39 games and 41 points in 52 games over a three-year stretch. Had he played a full 82-game season each year, he would have had two 50-goal, 100-point seasons, and two 27-goal, 65-point seasons. As it was, he still managed a +25 rating overall, chipped in 33 powerplay goals, and scored an impressive 15 game-winning goals (14% of his total). Honourable mention to Tony Granato who was more durable, but not by much: he had two seasons with 80+ games, and then another four where he missed at least 14 games per year. He open the decade with three 30+ goal, 60+ point seasons (including a high of 82 points in ’92-93). But over the next three years, he was held to 80 points in 132 games. During that first three-year stretch he scored 32 powerplay goals, 5 shorthanded markers and 17 game-winners. But Sandstrom, despite the shorter tenure, was a more dynamic player, and from ’93-94 to ’95-96 Granato was a shadow of the player he had been from ’90-91 to ’92-93. So Granato gets the Honourable Mention.
Defense: Rob Blake (604 GP, 121-259-380, -35, 978 PIM, 25 GWG)
A world-class player who spent the entire decade in L.A., Blake (as was the case with many Kings’ stars) had some durability issues: he played 30 games total between ’94-95 and ’95-96, and had three other seasons in the 57-62 game range. He only played 75+ games five times in ten seasons. During those five full seasons, he averaged 17 goals, 56 points, 123 PIM and a +4 rating. Very healthy stats. Overall he hit the double-digit goal plateau six times, including twice scoring 20+. He had four 50+ point seasons, including a high of 68 in ’93-94. And he had six seasons of 100+ PIM. He was amazing on special teams, with over half (67) of his goals coming on the powerplay. He was also strong in the clutch, contributing 25 game-winning goals (an astounding 21% of his goal total). And he managed a pair of seasons with 300+ shots on goal (as well as two others of 200+). Blake was a world-class player, one whom I believe is destined for the Hall of Fame one day.
Defense: Marty McSorely (331 GP, 46-125-171, +5, 1,174 PIM, 3 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Mattias Norstrom and Alexei Zhitnik
The Kings had a few options here. Mattias Norstrom was a fantastic leader and a key contributor to the Kings’ resurgence in the late 1990s. He wasn’t a major offensive force (he scored 22 points in ’96-97, but his other three seasons were in the 7-14 range), and his +/- fluctuated with the team’s success. But he was strong in his own end, a hard hitter and a strong leader. Another option was Alexei Zhitnik; he was exciting, but fell just shy of the cut-off for tenure. Zhitnik scored 48 and 52 points respectively in ’92-93 and ’93-94, but was traded after 11 games in ’94-95. There was another player who, frankly, shocked me with his offensive totals in addition to his physical game, and that was Marty McSorely. McSorely (as is par for the course for this list) had durability issues: he missed at least 10 games three times in six years. But he managed three seasons of 30+ points, including a high of 15 goals and 41 points in ’92-93. He was an amazing +48 in ’90-91, but an ugly -43 over the next five seasons. Still, he was a major physical force when he was on the ice: he had 399 penalty minutes in ’92-93, and two other seasons over the 200 PIM mark. He could contribute offensively, while also driving his opponents insane. Plus he could take on all customers, as he was one of the most feared enforcers in the league. It is tough to ignore a skill set like that. McSorely was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Shawn McEachern in August of 1993. The trade clearly did not fit, to the point where the Kings undid the mistake in February 1994: McEachern was sent back to Pittsburgh for McSorely. The Kings even gave up Tomas Sandstrom for Jim Paek to complete the deal. McSorely had a unique skill set that fit nicely with the Kings in the early-to-mid 1990s.
Goalie: Kelly Hrudey (292 GP, 113-110-47, 7 SO, 3.40 GAA, 0.899 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Stephane Fiset
As bad as the Kings could be defensively, they would have been a lot worse had it not been for Kelly Hrudey. He gave the Kings a level of respectability in net they hadn’t had since Rogie Vachon. Hrudey had two great seasons to open the 1990s, going 52-30-19 with a .898 PCT and 3.16 GAA. The next two seasons were less than kind, though: he was below .500 (40-52-13) with an ugly 3.75 GAA and .893 PCT. He rebounded slightly, although the entire NHL’s offense was drying up during this time: from ’94-95 to ’95-96 he was 21-28-15 with a 3.20 GAA and .908 PCT. Hrudey didn’t win any individual accolades, and the Kings allowed him to leave for the San Jose Sharks as a free agent following the ’95-96 season. But Hrudey’s acrobatic style and ability to come up big in clutch games allowed the Kings to play their run-and-gun style. Plus he backstopped them to the 1993 Finals, which definitely counts for something. Stephane Fiset (Hrudey’s replacement in ’96-97) had better stats, with a 2.80 GAA and .908 PCT, along with a respectable 77-85-21 record. But he didn’t win a playoff series; heck, he didn’t even win a playoff GAME, going 0-5 in six appearances between the 1998 and 2000 playoffs. Hrudey was a critical piece of what were arguably some of Los Angeles’ best hockey teams until their recent run of success (2012-2013), so he gets the spot on this list.