As Kings fans, it's safe to say that we all know something about grief. Take a look at any Kings roster from the past 15 years and the bright spots are far and few in between. Hell, the Kings were even dismal with Wayne Gretzky on the team. They had the greatest player in the history of the sport and they sucked. Got all the way to the Stanley Cup and couldn't close the deal. The franchise became a One-Tripper, their one shot at immortality squandered on an obscure rule about a curved stick.
Every season since 1993, it's pretty easy for us as Kings fans to throw down our pom-poms and pick-up hand grenades as our high expectations of October turn into misery by December. We went from being Cup contenders to league punchline. Our hopefuls turn into goats, our cheers turn into boos, our enthusiasm turns into bitterness. We may all deal with these realities in different ways, but we all end up here at the end of the season watching the Red Wings skate away with all the hardware. Or the Avalanche. Or the Devils. Or the Du... I'm sorry, but I still can't say it. I lost my hair, thanks to them.
But something odd has happened this year. December has come and gone and I'm still enthusiastic. Yeah, I said it. I'm enthusiastic. I'm hopeful. I still anxiously await for each game and I haven't even once thought about throwing grenades. I am starting to... (GASP!) ... believe.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and claim we're going to win the Stanley Cup this season. Just making the playoffs this season would be exceeding even the most optimistic hockey writer's expectations. What I am talking about is the belief that this franchise is almost there, at the end of the final trimester of a painfully long gestation period. We are all soon to be proud parents of a healthy bouncing baby contender. And what is it that makes me so sure of this? The youth.
Starting the season, the Kings rolled with three rookies, and all three have performed at the big league level. Oscar Moller has played admirably thus far, and Wayne Simmonds is finding himself not far behind. Johnny Quick has come in and has made a case for being named the starting goalie. And then there's Drew Doughty...
Doughty is everything that is right about the direction of the franchise. Passionate, talented and young. Doughty just turned 19 and is already showing the poise of a young Ray Bourque. Night after night. Shift after shift. Minute after league-leading minute. And now he's a legitimate contender - if not the front-runner - for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.
So, that is why today I am announcing that I care nothing about winning The Stanley Cup this season. Blasphemy, I know. But the only hardware I want to see in the hands of a Kings player this season is the Calder Memorial Trophy. The Calder is our Stanley Cup. Voted on by the hockey press, it would be a tremendous acknowledgment of what we as Los Angeles Kings fans have been dreaming of after enduring five-year plan after five-year plan. The future is now, and we won't be denied.
And if I had to pick one player to bestow this on, it's got to be Doughty. He's the face of the youth movement here in L.A. He has stepped right into the Kings lineup and made an indelible mark on the blue line. Is it a coincidence that the club, which allowed the third most shots last season, now allow the least? Is there a reason why he has fifty more shifts on the ice than anyone on the club? Why has the team become a steel trap on the penalty kill, as opposed to seasons past. The poise and determination this young player shows makes me truly excited to call myself a Kings fan.
If Doughty wins Rookie of the Year, it validates all this waiting we've all done as Kings fans. It legitimizes the franchise's direction as a whole, as we now have a definite direction that we are heading. No more slapping Band-Aids on long-festering wounds. We have scraped away the scabs of seasons past and have started on fresh ground.
Seriously, if Drew's name gets called at the awards ceremony, I will send everyone I know an "It's a Contender!" announcement card and pass out cheap cigars with purple bands around them. Like a big shiny birth announcement to the entire league, and I will get ready to enjoy the ride because they grow up so fast. The trophy may go to one guy, but everyone on the club will have contributed to it. Looking at it like that, it's a team award, in my opinion.
In 1987, a young player from Montreal named Luc Robitaille won the Calder and we spent the next 20 years yelling "LUUUUUUUUUUUUUC...." Nothing would make me prouder than to be yelling "DREEEEEWWWWWWW..." for the next 20 years.
This is a call to all Kings fans. There is still a reason to be excited about this season. Sing it from on high:
DOUGHTY FOR CALDER!