As we impatiently await for the season to start, it is an appropriate time to revisit the old adage that players win games but organizations win championships. At the top of the Kings org chart sits the indomitable owner Philip August Anschutz, one of the richest, as well as one of the most mysterious, owners in professional sports. I am not going to spend any time talking about Anschutz’s businesses except to say anyone who has made as much money and enjoyed the kind of success he has is going to have more than their share of critics and enemies. The same goes with his stewardship of the Kings. Anschutz and his hired staff have made plenty of mistakes, told a few lies and managed to turn a five-year plan into the movie Ground Hog Day with the fans cast in the Bill Murray role. At the end of the day, however, we are all fans of the Los Angeles Kings, and I am going to give credit to Anschutz for taking all parts of that name to another level.
As far as our beloved Kings go, Anschutz is delivering with the one asset he can bring to the table and that is money. In several meetings with the fan base, Dean Lombardi has recounted how, when taking the job as general manager, he told the owner that the team would have to invest more, far more, into scouting and player development. By all accounts, this investment has been made, and the results are obvious. Sure, the Kings have blown a few picks, and that always hurts, but that has been more than offset by the success the team has enjoyed in the later rounds of the draft. The Kings are now regularly ranked within the top five prospect pipelines. This does not happen by accident. It is too early to judge the success of the team’s player development efforts, but two things can be stated definitively. Manchester has become a much improved team in the AHL and players are no longer rushed up to the big club before they are ready.
Not only is the team spending money on its future, it is obvious that Lombardi has been given permission to spend up to the salary cap if necessary to ice a winner. At the current cap structure (including a reasonable estimate for Drew Doughty’s contract) the Kings are likely bleeding red ink. That does not tell the whole story, however, as the actual cash salaries being paid to players such as Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Dustin Brown vastly exceed their cap hits. Moreover, these cash outlays are going to rise significantly going forward, particularly for Richards and Anze Kopitar. Sure, this money is being paid out to serve the greater corporate interests of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), a subject I will write about in the near future, but as fans do we really care what the motive is as long as the team is spending what it takes? There was a time where the Kings could legitimately be characterized as cheap, but I believe that chestnut has been laid to rest.
There is a second part to this story – the Kings are nothing without Los Angeles. It was not very long ago when I parked my car on Ninth Street and then had to dodge the homeless on the way to the office. I still remember the gauntlet of panhandlers I had to walk through when going out after lunch. Trekking south towards the Convention Center meant witnessing some of the worst urban blight anywhere in the country. I’m sure many of us still remember a time when there was nothing to do before or after a game and how downtown would literally shut off after the fans went home. Today, anyone who walks through downtown Los Angeles has to be impressed with the new vibrant atmosphere that has been created around Staples Center. New people who would never have ventured to this part of the city are viewing it as a destination with many being converted into new Kings’ fans. The downtown area the citizens of this city now enjoy is mostly due to the vision of Philip Anschutz and his willingness to risk his own capital to build Staples Center. Is he making a bloody fortune from all this? Absolutely, and he deserves every penny for creating the LA Live experience out of a slum. So, next time you are enjoying a drink with your buddy or girlfriend at the Yardhouse before a game perhaps you can offer a quiet thanks to the man who made it possible. And with the same breath, if it makes you feel better, it’s OK to ask Tim Leiweke if Jason and Adam are going to be ready for the start of the season. Go Kings!