The "Forum Blue and Gold" years (1967–68 to 1987–88)
Prior to the Kings arrival in the Los Angeles area, both the Pacific Coast Hockey League (PCHL) and the Western Hockey League (WHL) had several teams in California, including the PCHL's Los Angeles Monarchs of the 1930s and the WHL's Los Angeles Blades of the 1960s. When the NHL decided to expand for the 1967–68 season amid rumblings that the WHL was proposing to turn itself into a major league and compete for the Stanley Cup, Canadian entrepreneur Jack Kent Cooke paid the NHL $2 million to place one of the six expansion teams in Los Angeles. Los Angeles has a large number of expatriates from both the Northeastern United States and Canada, which Cooke saw as a natural fan base.
LA Kings primary logo from 1967–82.Cooke was officially awarded one of the six new NHL franchises joining the NHL in the 1967–68 season, which included the California Seals, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and the St. Louis Blues. He named his team the Kings, and picked the original team colors of purple (or "Forum Blue," as it was later officially called) and gold because they were colors traditionally associated with royalty. Ironically, these were the same colors worn by one of Cooke's other teams, the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association.
Cooke wanted his new NHL team to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, home of the Lakers. But the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission, which manages the Sports Arena and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to the present day, had already entered into an agreement with the Blades (whose owners had also tried to land the NHL expansion franchise in Los Angeles) to play their games at the Sports Arena. Frustrated by his dealings with the Coliseum Commission, Cooke said, "I am going to build my own arena...I've had enough of this balderdash."
Construction on Cooke's new arena, the Forum, was not yet complete when the 1967-68 NHL season began, so the Kings opened their first season at the Long Beach Arena in the neighboring city of Long Beach on October 14, 1967, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 4–2. For the next two months, the Kings played their home games at Long Beach and at the Sports Arena. The Fabulous Forum opened its doors on December 30, 1967, with the Kings being shut out by the Flyers, 2–0.
LA Kings primary logo from 1982–88.The Kings made the Forum their home for the next 32 seasons. Players like Bill "Cowboy" Flett, Eddie "The Jet" Joyal, Eddie "The Entertainer" Shack, and Real "Frenchy" Lemieux helped introduce the Los Angeles area to the NHL in the team's first few seasons.Such player nicknames were the brainchild of none other than Cooke himself.
In their first season, the Kings finished in second place in the Western Division, just one point behind the Flyers.The Kings were the only expansion team that had a winning record at home, but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Minnesota North Stars, losing the seventh game at The Forum on April 18, 1968, 9–4. In their second season behind head coach Red Kelly, the Kings finished fourth in the West Division—the final playoff berth. But after eliminating the Oakland Seals in the first round of the playoffs in seven games, the Kings were swept out of post-season play in the second round by the St. Louis Blues.
After two fairly successful seasons, the Kings hit upon hard times, mostly due to poor management. Kings general managers established a history of trading away first-round draft picks, usually for veteran players, many of them NHL stars on the downside of their careers, a problem that would hinder the franchise for years to come. The Kings' attendance also suffered during this time, leading Cooke to muse that the reason so many Northeasterners and Canadians moved to Southern California was that "they hated hockey."
In 1972, the Kings moved to bring some credibility back to the franchise when they hired former Toronto Maple Leafs winger Bob Pulford as their head coach. It took him just two seasons to lead the Kings back into the playoffs and in 1974, they faced the Chicago Blackhawks, only to be eliminated in five games. Pulford eventually led the team to three of the most successful seasons in franchise history, including a 105-point season in 1974-75 that is still a franchise record.
LA Kings crown logo, used on their jerseys from 1967–88.In 1973, the Kings hired Bob Miller as the team's play-by-play announcer, and he has held that post continuously since that time. Miller, considered to be one of the best hockey play-by-play announcers in the NHL, is often referred to as the "Voice of the Kings." He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 13, 2000 and his first book, Bob Miller's Tales of the Los Angeles Kings, was published in 2006.
After being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in both 1973–74 and 1974-75, the Kings moved to significantly upgrade their offensive firepower when they acquired center Marcel Dionne on June 23, 1975, in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings. Dionne was already a superstar in the NHL and he made an immediate impact in the 1975–76 season, scoring 40 goals and adding 54 assists for 94 points in 80 regular season games. He led the Kings to a 38–33–9 record (85 points), earning them a second place finish in the Norris Division.
Behind Dionne's offensive prowess, the strong goaltending of Rogie Vachon, and the speed and scoring touch of forward Butch Goring, the Kings swept the Atlanta Flames out of the first round of the playoffs, but were eliminated in the second round by the Boston Bruins in seven games. The Kings would defeat the Flames and lose to the Bruins in the following year's playoffs as well.
On January 13, 1979, Dionne found himself on a new line with two young, mostly unknown players: second-year right winger Dave Taylor, and left winger Charlie Simmer, who had been a career minor-leaguer. But this line combination, known as the "Triple Crown Line," would go on to become one of the highest-scoring line combinations in NHL history.
After that first season that the Triple Crown Line played together, Dr. Jerry Buss purchased the Kings, the Lakers, and the Forum for $67.5 million, but the Simmer-Dionne-Taylor combination remained intact. The next season, the Triple Crown Line dominated the NHL, scoring 146 goals and 182 assists, good for 328 points. The entire line, along with goalie Mario Lessard, was selected to play in the NHL All-Star Game that season, which was played at the Forum. In that 1979–80 season, Dionne won the Art Ross Memorial Trophy for winning an NHL scoring title that season with 137 points on 53 goals and 84 assists. But even with the Triple Crown Line's ability to dominate, the Kings still could not get out of the first round of the playoffs until 1982.
That year, the Kings opened the playoffs against the Edmonton Oilers, who were led by a young, but fast-rising star by the name of Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky was only in his third year in the league, but he dominated the NHL like no other had before, from the moment he stepped onto NHL ice in his rookie season. And by the 1981–82 NHL season, he was already the most dominant player in the league, and had made the Oilers one of the elite teams in the NHL, on their way to winning four Stanley Cup championships in the 1980s. The Oilers finished with 111 points, the second-best record in the league, while the Kings barely made the playoffs with only 63 points. The Kings won Game 1 in Edmonton on April 7, 1982, 10–8, in the highest scoring Stanley Cup Playoff game ever. The Oilers recovered to win in overtime in Game 2, and the teams headed to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4.
Game 3 would be one of the most amazing in hockey history and was later dubbed the "Miracle on Manchester" (the Kings arena, the Forum, was on Manchester Boulevard). In that game, played on April 10, 1982, Gretzky led the Oilers to a commanding 5-0 lead after two periods and it seemed like the Kings were headed for a blowout loss. But the Kings began an unbelievable comeback in the third period, tying the game on a goal by left wing Steve Bozek at 19:55 of the third period, sending the game into overtime.
Bozek's goal set the stage for what was to come. At 2:35 of the overtime period, Kings left wing Daryl Evans fired a slap shot off a face-off in the right circle of the Edmonton zone, beating Oilers goaltender Grant Fuhr over his right shoulder to give the Kings an incredible come-from-behind, overtime victory, 6-5. The Miracle on Manchester, the greatest comeback in NHL playoff history, is also the greatest moment in Kings franchise history as of 2007. Not only did the Kings complete a miraculous comeback against the vaunted Oilers, but they also went on to eliminate them from the playoffs in five games.
Despite Dionne's leadership, the Kings missed the playoffs in the next two seasons, and were quickly swept out of the playoffs by the Oilers in the 1985, when the Oilers won their second straight Stanley Cup championship. Dionne's time with the Kings ended on March 10, 1987, when he was traded to the New York Rangers. But by this time, the Kings had new skaters to help lead them into the next decade, including star forwards Bernie Nicholls, Jimmy Carson, Luc Robitaille, and defenseman Steve Duchesne.
Even before the Dionne trade the Kings were sent reeling when coach Pat Quinn signed a contract to become coach and general manager of the Vancouver Canucks with just months left on his Kings contract. NHL President John Ziegler suspended Quinn for the rest of the season and barred him from taking over Vancouver's hockey operations until June. Ziegler also barred him from coaching anywhere in the NHL until the 1990-91 season. In Ziegler's view, Quinn's actions created a serious conflict of interest that could only be resolved by having Quinn removed as coach.
Despite these shocks the Kings made the playoffs in the next two seasons, but they were unable to get out of the first round. Part of the problem was that the way the playoffs were structured made it very likely that they would have to get past either the powerful Oilers or Calgary Flames (or both) to make it to the conference finals. In fact, the Kings faced either the Oilers or Flames in the playoffs four times during the 1980s.
However, the 1988-89 season would be a big turning point for the franchise.