LOS ANGELES -- As Queen's "We are the Champions" and later Coldplay's "Paradise" blared on the Staples Center speaker system, the Stanley Cup was passed from player to player on the Los Angeles Kings.
Kings captain Dustin Brown handed it off to Willie Mitchell and then the prized championship trophy was passed to Simon Gagne to Anze Kopitar to Matt Greene to Jarret Stoll to Justin Williams to Mike Richards to Jeff Carter to Dustin Penner to Jonathan Quick to Rob Scuderi to Colin Fraser and down the line.
We don't know how much the landscape will be altered with the negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA. But the Kings are in a good position to carry on the success they started late in the season and into the playoffs.
They have only four unrestricted free agents in Penner, Stoll, Fraser and Scott Parse and only one restricted free agent in rookie Dwight King and they have more than $16 million in salary cap space under the projected $70.3-million payroll ceiling.
The eighth-seeded Kings went 16-4 and outscored the opposition 57-30 in 20 playoff games. They weren't as dominant as Wayne Gretzky and the 16-2 Edmonton Oilers were 24 years ago. But this was some kind of run from a group that struggled to make the playoffs.
Once the Kings got in, they were dynamite.
"Even though we had some tough times, we stuck with it and kept pushing," Stoll said amid the on-ice celebration.
"We made the playoffs. We knew we could do some damage.
"We knew we had the group in the room. Maybe we were the only ones to believe that, but it doesn't matter."
What mattered was this group followed the blueprint laid out by 53-year-old head coach Darryl Sutter and his staff. But as much as this was a team effort, it was difficult to ignore the individual stories of the winners.
JEFF CARTER & MIKE RICHARDS
Dealt by the Philadelphia Flyers a year ago in separate trades because of their partying ways and to make room for free-agent goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, they were reunited in Los Angeles at the trade deadline -- and got the last laugh on their old team.
"A lot of people doubted me," Carter said. "I proved them wrong."
Richards now has won the Memorial Cup, world juniors, Calder Cup, Olympic gold and a Stanley Cup.
He was working in the barn at the family farm in Viking, Alta., when Kings general manager Dean Lombardi phoned to offer him the head coaching job last December. He hadn't been behind a bench in the NHL since the 2006 playoffs, but swiftly gained the respect of his new team.
"These guys, you know what, since March 1, they've lost about six games," Sutter said. "They've taken a lot of public negativity toward them.
"Look what they've just done. It's pretty awesome -- tells you what type of players they are."
Where would the Kings be without the Conn Smythe Trophy winner? It's hard to imagine that some felt it was time Los Angeles gave Jonathan Bernier a shot at being the No. 1 goalie. All Quick did was post 10 shutouts in the regular season and record the best playoff save percentage (.946) since the stat has been kept.
Lombardi considered trading Brown after he landed Carter in the trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets. But the Kings GM decided to hang onto his captain. It was a smart move because, after word leaked out that Brown might be moved, he started to play well and was excellent in the Kings playoff run.
When the 22-year-old Doughty signed his monster eight-year, $56-million extension last September, his play dropped off dramatically. But he found his form just in time for the playoffs. Alongside Scuderi, the tandem played an important shutdown role, but Doughty kept producing offence. His four goals and 16 points led all defencemen in the playoffs.
When the Vancouver Canucks chose not to re-sign Mitchell after a concussion ended his 2009-10 season prematurely, he found a home in Los Angeles. The eldest Kings player at age 36, he was a huge part of a penalty-killing unit that went an excellent 70-for-76 and also was on the second power-play unit.
He played on the same Flyers team as Carter and Richards that lost the 2010 final to the Chicago Blackhawks. Gagne suffered more heartbreak the next season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, losing the Eastern Conference final in seven games to the Boston Bruins. He suffered a concussion on Dec. 26, but returned in time to play the final three games of the Stanley Cup final.
He was the player thrown in when the Kings acquiesced to Ryan Smyth's wishes to be traded back to the Edmonton Oilers. The Kings felt that Fraser's fractured foot wasn't healed when he landed on their doorstep and threatened a lawsuit against the Oilers for trading them an injured player. Fraser eventually returned to action last November and centred the Kings' fourth line en route to his second Stanley Cup.
DWIGHT KING & JORDAN NOLAN
Kings veteran executive Jack Ferreira finally got his way with Lombardi and convinced him to promote the big and strong skating pair of rookies from the farm club in February. They added size and determination and contributed to the cause.
The Kings assistant coach led the Flyers to the 2008 East final, only to get fired the following season. He landed in Los Angeles and was a big part of Sutter's staff. The 46-year-old Stevens, from Campbellton, N.B., probably deserves another shot to be a head coach in the NHL. Who knows, maybe the Washington Capitals will interview him for their vacant porfolio.
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