I have been asked several times, including by Surly most recently, who I believe the next L.A. Kings G.M. should be. I haven’t answered the question directly. Instead, I offered my opinion on who I believe Tim Leiweke will want as Dean Lombardi’s successor. The answer is always the same – Wayne Gretzky – and with each passing day, I warm up to the idea.
The name still commands respect. It should. He is the greatest hockey player to play the game. No player of my generation had a more commanding presence on the ice. I hated him as an L.A. Kings fan in the 80’s, envious of that incredible skill-set the likes of which I have not seen since (the closest being Mario Lemieux), was shocked, literally unable to speak when I learned the Kings acquired him and I stood speech and motionless during the press conference when he put on a silver and black L.A. Kings sweater.
Gretzky almost single-handedly brought the L.A. Kings out of hockey obscurity and took them as far as they have ever gone in the 1992-1993 season. To this day, my favorite hockey quote of all time belongs to Gretzky (which he acquired from his father), “a good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown could both take critical note.
But you know all of this. You know about his records, how the entirety of Canada worships him for good reason, that he is this league’s ambassador, that he hates the Anaheim Ducks (okay, I just made that part up) and he is still, to this date, the most recognizable figure in the game. You also know about his minority ownership of the Coyotes (which are now owned by the NHL) as well as his coaching tenure which was not successful.
But have you considered the possibility?
I don’t have another of his quotes handy but one thing Wayne Gretzky said was how winning in Los Angeles was unlike winning in any other place. He said it as a compliment and talked about how much the city embraced the team.
That is something about which our hockey team has consistently received an “incomplete” grade. 45 years of incomplete to be exact.
Can you doubt The Great One’s qualifications? Sure, being a hockey icon doesn’t guarantee success in the front office but who said anything about guarantees? Is the greatest hockey player of all time qualified to evaluate hockey talent, draft, make trades and lead a team’s direction? In addition to that skill, if you have been around hockey long enough, you know that Wayne was one of the hardest working players in the game and his obsession with winning was almost second to none. I suspect he brings that to everything he does off the ice.
Does he still care about the L.A. Kings? He lives here. L.A. is home. He attends games and he keeps a close tab on the Kings (and 3 other teams). From a February 9 article on nhl.com:
Since he lives in the Los Angeles area, Gretzky said he watches a lot of Kings’ games.
“They’re very close,” he said. “They have a very good team.”
Gretzky praised the job done by ex-Kings coachTerry Murray, who he said instilled a defensive philosophy that has carried over into the Darryl Sutter regime. He said he believes Sutter has them thinking about scoring more through an aggressive forecheck, but what the Kings lack is a natural goal scorer.
They are, after all, last in the NHL in scoring at 2.11 goals-per-game.
“They need a Luc Robitaille, a Bernie Nichols, a guy that can just score goals when everybody is tired, who can get that lucky, fluky goal through a battle in front of the net and it goes off your butt,” Gretzky said. “Yeah, they need that, and Dean knows that. Obviously it’s no secret, but all in all their team plays with a lot of grit and they play hard every night. Even when they lose, it’s 1-0 or 2-1. They play hard each game, so with that and the past two years of playoff experience, that’s going to help them a lot going into the playoffs this year.”
What’s also going to help — or rather, who is also going to help — is goalie Jonathan Quick. Gretzky said the Kings’ All-Star netminder belongs in the same class as guys like Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne.
“He’s been outstanding,” Gretzky said of Quick, who is third in the League in goals-against average (1.89) and save percentage (.935). “You can’t win a Stanley Cup unless you have a top-flight goaltender and he’s a top-flight guy right now, proving that each and every night. He’s been as good as anybody.”
Gracious comments. So he could never write for Surly & Scribe. That doesn’t make him any less great.
We then get to the “will’ or desire to do it. This is the pivotal question. Is he ready to roll up the sleeves? The Phoenix Coyotes’ venture no doubt left a bad taste in his mouth. He also still has a family and no shortage of kids. From his Wikipedia page.
The couple have five children: Paulina Mary Jean (December 19, 1988), Ty Robert (July 9, 1990), Trevor Douglas (September 14, 1992), Tristan Wayne (August 2, 2000), and Emma Marie (March 28, 2003). Ty played hockey at Shattuck-Saint Mary’s, but quit, and returned home. He now attends Arizona State University. Trevor graduated from Oaks Christian High School, where he played baseball and varsity football, in 2011. He signed a letter of intent to play baseball at San Diego State University, currently coached by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 2011 MLB draft. His teammates on the football team included wide receiver Trey Smith, son of Will Smith, and quarterback Nick Montana, son of former NFL quarterback Joe Montana. Gwynn told the Toronto Sun that Trevor had signed with the Cubs, a signing that was not immediately announced by the team, and thus would not play for him at San Diego State
Being a living deity in the hockey world probably keeps him busy. Why would he want the aggravation that goes with playing general manager and getting involved in day-to-day hockey operations? Two words.
Wayne started something in Los Angeles he didn’t finish. Dean Lombardi, despite the kind words from Gretzky, isn’t going to do it. The Great One knows the respect he commands will lubricate the wheels that will bring more coveted free agents to Los Angeles and, just as important, he will bring a greater awareness and credibility to L.A. in hockey circles as kids throughout the U.S. and Canada who grow up and dream of playing in the NHL may actually think of L.A. as a hockey town. Why did Mike Richards’ mother put a silver and black Kings’ sweater on him? Why did Drew Doughty grow up loving the Kings? Gretzky did this when he wore the sweater and put the puck in the net. He will do it when he is wearing a suit and tie. Am I dreaming? Maybe a little. But let me ask you this. Could you say no to The Great One? He is one of the very few people in this world that would make me nervous to be around. Ashley Judd is the other one but for different reasons.
I don’t know what the future holds for this franchise. The trade deadline will be somewhere between interesting to anti-climatic. Our daunting March schedule may be our end or the springboard for a ride into the post season. Dean Lombardi may or may not be here for the start of the 2012-2013 season. But if he isn’t, we could do a lot worse than the greatest hockey player to play the sport. Do you fancy Wayne Gretzky as the next L.A. Kings G.M.?
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