The Morning Column: October 14, 2021

Catching up with Kings president Luc Robitaille about the NHL's new TV deals with ESPN and Turner and the outlook for the Kings this season. 'We're done with the rebuild. We're going the other way.'

Before the Los Angeles Kings open their regular season Thursday night against the Vegas Golden Knights, Kings president Luc Robitaille sat in his office with ESPN playing NHL highlights in the background.

It’s hard to remember the last time ESPN played NHL highlights in October with the MLB playoffs going on, the NBA season about to tipoff and the NFL and college football seasons in full swing but it will be commonplace now after ESPN and Turner signed seven-year rights agreements with the NHL in April.

“It was big for us,” Robitaille said. “I mean, first you had the opportunity to go on TNT and I always joke that I don't have time to watch other sports because my life revolves around hockey but if I'm flipping channels and I see (Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley) and the whole crew on TNT, I do watch the show because it's funny and it's entertaining. I might not even watch the game, but I'll watch them because they're really good. When TNT came on board, I was like, ‘I hope we can get that.’ You know when you get to that place where irrelevant of the game you want to watch the guys in between.”

TNT didn’t waste any time trying to recreate the fun they have on the Inside the NBA show with their new NHL on TNT Faceoff show by bringing Barkley on Wednesday’s debut show and having him in goal; hopelessly trying to stop shots from Wayne Gretzky, who has relocated to Atlanta and is a regular panelist on the show.

Not only does the NHL want to replicate the fun of the NBA on TNT broadcasts but they want to reach and exposure that comes with being on ESPN regularly. (And just as importantly bring back the NHL on ESPN theme song.)

“Obviously signing with ESPN is a great thing,” Robitaille said. “When you go to a sports bar or something and they open up at 11 a.m. and they turn on the TV, 99% of the time it’s already on ESPN. They're not searching for another channel. The fact that we will be on ESPN and SportsCenter is big. They're not just going to show fights anymore; they're going to show goals and game highlights and it's going to be really good for our game. I'm really excited.”

ESPN and TNT will broadcast 13 Kings games this season and Robitaille believes the team is ready to finally turn the corner after going through a rebuild over the past three years. Since winning the Stanley Cup twice and going to the conference finals three consecutive seasons from 2012 to 2014, the Kings have won just one playoff game and have failed to make the postseason in five of the past seven seasons.   

“The way our league works with a hard cap, it's really hard to keep competing every year,” Robitaille said. “We're excited now because this is the first year that we told our players, we told everyone, we told our season ticket holders and all of our fans, that we're turning the page. We're done with the rebuild. We're going the other way. We're going on the uptick now and that's why this summer we traded for Viktor Arvidsson, we signed Phillip Danault and we added Alexander Edler, knowing that would stabilize some of our young defenseman and help them. We're excited that we're going the other way now. There are no more excuses.  We are were here to win. We're trying to build this team to give us a chance to win another Stanley Cup. Going into this season, the goal is to definitely take a step in that direction.”

Thursday’s season opener at Staples Center will be the Kings’ first capacity crowd since the start of the pandemic 19 months ago. While the Kings’ seven-year sellout streak, which lasted nearly 300 games, was snapped three years ago during the rebuild, Robitaille knows Staples Center will again become regularly packed when the Kings show their fans they can contend for another championship.  

“I clearly remember coming to Los Angeles in 1986 and capacity at The Forum for hockey was 16,005 and I remember my first year every night there would be 14,000 people and I kept saying, ‘Man, there are more fans here than the New York Islanders,’” Robitaille said. “After they won their cups, they couldn't draw more than 5,000 people. The Kings have always been more popular than a lot of people think. The fans are loyal. It's huge having the fans back. Just listening to our players comments in the preseason, they’re saying it is so much more fun to have fans in the stands and to hear the roar of the crowd. It's going to take our game to another level.”

The Kings open up their regular season Thursday night at Staples Center again the Vegas Golden Knights and I will give four tickets to a Kings home game this season to the first person to email the correct answer to the question below at arashmarkazi@substack.com:

How many goals did Luc Robitaille score during his NHL career?