Kings leaving room in rafters for more championship banners

LOS ANGELES -- As Los Angeles Kings governor and AEG president/CEO Tim Leiweke sat on a dais set up inside Staples Center, he began to get emotional looking around the Chick Hearn Press Room.

To his right was Bob Miller, the voice of the Los Angeles Kings for the past 37 years. To his left were Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, coach Darryl Sutter and president of business operations Luc Robitaille. And seated in front of him were Kings players Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene and Jonathan Quick.

Leiweke hadn't been sure when he would see all these men in the same room again. There were several times during the 113-day NHL lockout when it looked like the Kings would never get to defend their title and properly celebrate winning the Stanley Cup seven months ago.

“When you wait 45 years to win a Cup, the last thing you want to do is wait to raise that banner,” Leiweke said. “I think for our fans, in particular, asking them to wait another three months was not a great process. They were as equally as frustrated as we were.”

For the first time in recent memory, the defending Stanley Cup champions return completely intact the following season. Not a single player left the squad. The closest defending champion with that kind of return was the 1983 New York Islanders, who had 23 of 24 players come back after winning the Stanley Cup. That team returned to the Stanley Cup finals but lost to the Edmonton Oilers. No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

“To me, the most important thing is winning again,” Leiweke said. “No one has repeated as Stanley Cup champions in 15 years. We’re most interested in allowing our players the right to go out and defend the Cup. This was never about winning a Cup. This was about creating a legacy, and I think we have the team and the character to do it.”

Leiweke is so confident the Kings will be adding more than one banner to Staples Center in the coming years that he and the team decided to raise the Kings’ Stanley Cup championship banner and hang it from the rafters, as opposed to placing it on the wall with the other championship banners and retired jerseys from the Kings, Lakers and Sparks.

“We’re going to do something different,” Leiweke said, “so we have room to hang the others.”

The Kings will announce Friday that the banner-raising ceremony will take place before the Kings’ season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 19 at Staples Center. Fans attending that game will receive a replica championship banner, Robitaille said.

Later in the season, the Kings will host a game during which fans will receive replica championship rings. The Kings also have reopened the outdoor public ice skating rink at L.A. Live across from Staples Center through Feb. 4. Meanwhile, Leiweke announced that the Kings and McDonald's will donate $1 million to local charities, and credited Lakers forward Metta World Peace with another promotion the Kings have in mind to raise money for those charities.

“We’re going to donate a few rings to different charities to help them raffle them off and make money,” Leiweke said. “We’re going to follow the lead of what World Peace did when he raffled his ring. That was phenomenal.”

While the Kings will not play Eastern Conference teams during the shortened 48-game season, Leiweke said the Kings and the Los Angeles Galaxy, who won back-to-back MLS Cups, will make a joint visit to the White House to meet President Barack Obama during the NHL season.

“We have a tentative date and we’re waiting to see if it works on the president’s schedule,” Leiweke said. “We’re going to take the Kings and the Galaxy on the same day, and do it in one shot with both teams. No one’s ever done that before, but then again, no city has ever had two championships like this. We’re going to bring all our guys back from the Galaxy, including Mr. [David] Beckham, and all of the Kings during a road trip.”

Despite the impending sale of AEG, Leiweke assured Kings fans that Lombardi has the green light to sign any player and make any deal he thinks will improve the Kings ... and that the ownership already showed its commitment by keeping the entire team intact in the offseason.

Lombardi didn’t seem overly anxious to mess with the chemistry the team developed during its Stanley Cup championship run, but he admitted he'd continue to evaluate the team as training camp opens this weekend.

“It’s not about recapturing the feeling,” Lombardi said. “It’s about writing a new story. The one thing we know about that story is when they fulfill it and get to the end, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”