Who didn’t love Michal Handzus?
In a career that spanned fifteen seasons and six teams, no team experienced more of Handzus’s seasons, games, and goals than the Los Angeles Kings. #26 was part of LA’s boom-or-bust 2007 free agent class which included more booms than busts, and starting his LA tenure immediately after a serious knee injury, he managed to play 327 of 328 possible regular season games. If he didn’t justify his $4 million price tag, he at least justified his lineup spot, becoming a steady presence on a team that went from consistent also-ran to consistent playoff team while he wore a Kings uniform. My college roommate chose him as his favorite player just because the name was cool, then stuck with it because he always came off as so likable.
And then he almost spoiled every last bit of that goodwill.
By playing badly? Nope. being a jerk or doing something awful? Goodness, no. By going to the Sharks? That didn’t help, but no.
No, Handzus nearly became a curse word for Kings fans because he almost kick-started a sequence of events which could have prevented LA from winning the Stanley Cup in 2014. Handzus was actually the Chicago Blackhawks’ second-line center for some of the 2014 postseason, despite lacking most of the speed or scoring prowess you’d normally like to see from your second-line center. By the time LA met Chicago in a heavyweight Western Conference Finals, Handzus appeared set to play a prominent role. That changed, though. His ice time in Games 1-4: 17:26, 13:37, 11:43, 4:28.
Then Game 5 brought us one of the most fast-paced, end-to-end overtime sessions we’ve ever seen, and everybody was going to have to play. That’s how Handzus ended up on the ice in the second overtime, and that’s how he ended up skating as fast as he could (which, granted, isn’t very fast) to beat Mike Richards to the net.
And after a crushing Game 6 loss at Staples, and after a hatful of deficits in Game 7, that’s almost how the season could have ended for the Kings. In a different universe we’re saying Handzus’ name with a snarl rather than a smile. Instead, LA did win that series, and in their 26th game of the playoffs, they got their own Game 5 overtime winner to seal the deal.