(Photo credit: Mike Powell/Getty Images)
The start of the 1988-89 brought new hope — and a new look — to the Los Angeles Kings. Having just acquired Wayne Gretzky, the Kings were suddenly the hottest ticket in Hollywood, not to mention a force to be reckoned with on the ice.
Photo credit: Getty Images

Having finished fourth-last in the NHL in 1987-88, the Kings, now donning silver-and-black uniforms, finished fourth overall in 1988-89, capping off a 23-point improvement. The Kings were also hoping to win their first playoff series since 1982.
While The Great One’s arrival was certainly noteworthy, it was the elevated play of the rest of the Kings roster who helped in the club’s turnaround. This was cemented with a monumental opening-round upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion, Edmonton Oilers.
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with former Kings defenseman Tom Laidlaw, who shared his memories on his club’s series vs. the Oilers.
Facing the Giants

Even though the Kings entered their first-round series with home-ice advantage, it was the Oilers who were poised for another deep playoff run. Of course, the ‘89 playoffs marked the Oilers’ first postseason without Wayne Gretzky, who led them to four Stanley Cups — two of them in each of the previous two seasons.
Instead, the Oilers had the unenviable task of facing Gretzky to open the playoffs. They also had to face stars like Luc Robitaille and Bernie Nicholls, who was fresh off a 70-goal campaign. They also had to face a tough-as-nails roster, which included veteran defenseman, the aforementioned Tom Laidlaw.
“We felt totally confident.” Laidlaw said of the Kings’ chances against the Oilers in ’89. “Actually, we felt totally confident against pretty much anybody. I was with the Kings for a little over a year when Wayne got there, so I saw a big difference in how things changed once he got there. Even myself as an individual and also a team, it’s amazing how different we viewed ourselves and how successful we could be. So, we were definitely confident going into the series.”
A Royal Comeback

In 70 games during the regular season, Laidlaw scored three goals and added 17 assists. The native of Brampton, Ont., though, was known more for his defensive prowess and his physical style of play than lighting the lamp.
Photo credit: Mike Powell/Getty Images

“I think we had a pretty well-rounded team,” Laidlaw recalled. “We were known for our offense with Bernie Nicholls and Wayne Gretzky but we felt really confident in our overall game — our physical game, our defensive game — and in the end, when we got down 3-1 in the series, we kind of flipped the switch on them a little bit and actually starting playing more physical.
“I remember myself and Timmy Watters were getting run by Craig Simpson and Norm Lacombe. They were always out there against us but we finally decided that that’s enough of that and we started hitting back a bit more. It wasn’t just because of that. A lot of things happened but we kind of turned the tables after that being down 3-1.”
While the Oilers jumped out to what seemed like an insurmountable series lead, the Kings remained focused.
After winning Games 5 and 6 by 4-2 and 4-1 scores, respectively, the stage was set for Game 7 at the Forum in Inglewood. From taking the momentum away from the reigning champs to being back on home ice, nothing was stopping the Kings from pulling off the upset.
“By the time we got to Game 7, our confidence level was sky-high,” emphasized Laidlaw. “I think it was after Game 4 when we went down 3-1, some of the guys working in the visitors’ locker room came to us saying how the Oilers were bragging, saying, ‘Oh, we won’t see you guys again,’ before it was over with. So, that got us going a little bit more and then by the time we got to Game 7, we were just so confident in ourselves. It was a Game 7 against a great hockey team so we weren’t guaranteeing ourselves that we would win but we felt really confident that we could win.”
A Collective Effort

While names like Gretzky and Nicholls stood out, the Kings knew they couldn’t rely on just one or two players to eliminate the four-time Stanley Cup champions. From the bigger names to the veteran leadership of Dave Taylor, unsung contributions from Chris Kontos and timely goaltending from Kelly Hrudey, the Kings came together as a team to take down the Oilers. This resulted in a memorable, hard-fought series that is still talked about 31 years later.
“You know, I don’t really recall any one individual or a couple of individuals really being the reason that we won the series,” Laidlaw began. “I just thought we were playing great team hockey. It was so much fun to be a part of that team because you could tell that we were determined to win and we were going to win as a team. That’s how I recall it, the difference between winning and losing for us.”
Lessons From the Kings

Tom Laidlaw retired from the NHL in 1990 following a 10-year career.
Photo credit: Graig Abel/Getty Images

During that time, Laidlaw scored 25 goals and 139 assists in 705 games. He spent much of his career, though, flexing his physical muscle from dishing out timely hits to dropping the gloves which resulted in 717 penalty minutes.
Acquired from the New York Rangers in a trade that saw Marcel Dionne head to Broadway, Laidlaw’s style of play was welcomed during a transitional period for the Kings. Laidlaw’s contributions even helped the Kings eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions two postseasons in a row.
Following his playing career, which ended after a quick stint with the IHL’s Phoenix Roadrunners, Laidlaw remained in hockey. Moving into the broadcasting role, the former defenseman served as TV colour commentator for the San Jose Sharks in their first season (1991-92) before joining the Kings for a season as their radio colour analyst.
Following his stints behind the microphone, though, Laidlaw embarked on a career in business, working as a hockey agent and later as a motivational speaker. He even has his own podcast, named for his personal mantra, True Grit Life. He also became the first Canadian-born contestant on Survivor.
As for the lessons he learned from his playing career helping him succeed in his post-playing career, Laidlaw admitted that a certain No. 99 played a major role in said success.
Photo courtesy of Tom Laidlaw

“I guess it’s that mentality that– being around a guy like Wayne, in particular, and Larry Robinson, they just really had that mentality,” began the former blueliner. “Wayne had that mentality where he could just do anything. There was nothing he could not do. I tell people all the time that Wayne and I both had dreams, we both accomplished our dreams and that was probably our only similarity when it comes to hockey. Our dreams were different. My dream was just to play in the NHL. I really believe that Wayne’s dream was to be the best player to play in the NHL. That’s the way he carried himself.”
The lessons Laidlaw had learned tied back to the Kings’ upset of the Oilers in the spring of 1989.
“So, in the situation where we were down 3-1, I just remember having that overall feeling that we’re fine, that it doesn’t matter that we’re down 3-1,” Laidlaw said. “Somebody has to win four games in a series to win. Fine, then. Let’s go and win the next game so we get to Game 7.
“That’s one of the things that I really carry with me now: you really can accomplish anything you want to accomplish. Even for me going on the TV show ‘Survivor’, I tell people that being the oldest [contestant] to being [in the NHL] for 10 years, I just had the attitude that I could do it. I remember when [the Survivor team] came to me about being on the show, I said I’m going to do it. You still have to go through the tryout process but by that time in my life, I just believed I could do anything I wanted to do.”

For the Los Angeles Kings, their playoff win over the Edmonton Oilers in 1989 marked a new direction for the franchise. In spite of their improvement during the regular-season, the new-look Kings needed a playoff victory — and there was no better opponent to defeat than the reigning champions. Yet, while they would be swept in the next round by the eventual champs, the Calgary Flames, the Kings would avenge their loss the following year, eliminating their rivals from southern Alberta in six games.
Photo courtesy of Tom Laidlaw

As for 1989, eliminating the high-powered Oilers was a colossal achievement in itself.
Despite not having Wayne Gretzky any more, much of the Oilers’ championship core remained. Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr — all Hall-of-Famers — were still in their prime at this juncture. They even proved how dominant they were without No. 99 the following spring when they won another Stanley Cup.
For Tom Laidlaw, this classic series played an integral role in solidifying his levels of passion and determination not only in hockey but in life overall.
From becoming a player agent to a motivational speaker to a contestant on Survivor, Laidlaw has carried said passion and determination with him well beyond his playing career. As for his podcast, I highly recommend listening to it whether you’re a hockey fan or in the need for some personal motivation.
The Kings’ ousting of the Edmonton Oilers in 1989 will forever go down as one of the most memorable series in franchise history. The Kings came together, persevered and slayed the giants — feats which would not have been attainable without a solid team effort, which emphatically include the contributions of Tom Laidlaw.

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