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The Five Stages of Grief

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Things will get better, we promise!

2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Maybe I have no heart.

Maybe I am just too jaded after seeing decades of futility.

Maybe I’m too confident that Rob Blake is in full mad scientist mode.

Maybe I am forever a skeptic and forever a critic.

All I know is that I wasn’t that emotional about the Jake Muzzin trade.

I know, I know…I should have been. I mean, why not? He should have been our lone all star this year. He’s been crunching guys for years now. He was super cool and conversational with me at the 2018 Tip-A-King event talking about sticks and such. He’s got a great dog. He just settled into his game the last season and half after making me hoarse screaming, “C’mon Jake, get it together!” after all of those lousy passes through the Kings crease. It was official, I finally started liking him.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Then this season happened. The curse of curses. Zero team chemistry. Injuries (and lots of them). The Exile of Tanner Pearson. “Weekend at Bernie’s, Part III” (aka The Willie Desjardins Coaching Debacle). The Curious Case of Tyler Toffoli. I could go on, but I don’t want to send everyone into further depression.

So when everyone was getting teary-eyed again (the first being the Tanner Pearson trade), I was good with it. I was called out from having no loyalty and rooting for the tanking that could produce Jack Hughes.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I don’t want the Kings to lose games. I bought into Drew Doughty saying the Kings will make the playoffs this year when he was at the All Star Game a week ago. I let out an audible scream on Saturday when Ilya Kovalchuk redirected that goal to back it 2-1. I also let out an equal groan when Matthew Barzal tied the game at 2-2 and my son sent over a “that’s game” text three seconds later.

Winning matters. That’s why my loyalty is the name on the front of the jersey and not the back of the jersey. Yours should be too. When you’re closer to the top pick in the next draft than a playoff spot, there’s no time for tears.

Loyalty to the back of the jersey gets you beloved players like Vachon, Dionne, Taylor, Robitaille, Blake, and (gulp) Gretzky. I defy you to find anyone alive who had more sports love for these great Kings. I own an autographed jersey for all of them. I actually cried when Rogie signed with Detroit in 1978 (I was 10, give me a break). I threw an apple against the wall when Rogie traded Marcel in 1987. I nodded in agreement in 2001 when the Kings traded Rob to Colorado so he could win a Stanley Cup. Even Gretzky couldn’t bring a Cup to Los Angeles (Thanks McSorley!).

2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Two Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Loyalty got the Kings into the mess. How many times since the Kings missed the playoffs after the 2014-15 season did we hear about giving this core “one more run”? Loyalty to Mike Richards cost the Kings too when they could have amnestied him and Dean Lombardi wouldn’t. Now the Kings will pay Richards until the end of the 2031-32 season. Loyalty also cost the Kings with very expensive contract decisions (think Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown). Loyalty cost the Kings with John Stevens when they could have advanced the team with a coaching change this past off-season (think Barry Trotz).

I hear a lot of quotes from players lately about their pending UFA status, stating it will be a “hockey decision.” From 2015 through the John Stevens firing, the Kings didn’t make enough hockey decisions. There was a lot of bringing the boys back together decisions. Those decisions cost the Kings a couple of first round picks (to get Milan Lucic and Andrej Sekera). They seemed like hockey decisions at the time, but those magical 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cups were just that—Magical.

There comes a time when a team can no longer compete for a championship. That is when a rebuild is in order. There are a plethora of reasons a team needs to rebuild. The team is getting too old, your star player is no longer in their prime, or the bankroll can no longer afford to keep the talent together. Now the team can no longer gather enough wins to remain competitive. How do you fix a team that is on a pace to produce 70 points?

I’m not sure, but clearing out salary cap and getting some young fresh blood (think Artemi Panarin and have Kovalchuk recruit him LeBron James-style) is a good start. Let’s have faith in Rob Blake and the Kings. With the exception of those two trades recently that involved the first round picks, the Kings usually win their trades. (Don’t believe me? Look at the all time trade tracker and go through them all.) And, please, don’t take every trade personal.

St Louis Blues v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

If you do take it personal, please consult the teachings of Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kübler, who first articulated the Five Stages of Grief in 1969. Many people have interpreted this incorrectly, thinking that everyone experiences all five of these stages, in order. But nowhere does it say you’ll experience them all, or go from one stage to the next. Some people start with “depression” and then jump into “anger” and may never get to “acceptance.” More likely than not, if you’re experiencing a tragic loss, you will face one or all of these emotions head-on:

  • Denial – Refusing to believe what has happened, feeling shocked. “This can’t be happening.”
  • Anger – Accusing others, such as a supreme being or friends, for what has occurred. “How dare you let this happen!
  • Bargaining – Asking the universe or a supreme being to “cut a deal” with you. “Just let me live to see Jonathan Quick retire a King.”
  • Depression – Experiencing listlessness or exhaustion combined with feelings of helplessness, guilt and lack of interest in life. “I might as well give up.”
  • Acceptance – Facing the loss and moving on, returning to setting goals in your life and focusing your energy more positively. “I’m ready to deal with this now.”

Though trading your favorite player is not on the same scale of a real personal tragedies, any change of circumstance, tragic or not, can cause us to experience the five stages of loss. You may realize that you experience these stages multiple times on a daily basis, or they may be completely unfamiliar to you. No matter what, understanding how you deal with the daily conflicts that are part of life can help you understand how to better deal with a major trauma or heartache.

Many people who are in the grieving process don’t feel like the five stages apply to them, and that’s perfectly normal. Grief is a complicated emotion, and your grieving process is uniquely your own. But no matter which stages you go through, everyone needs to reach the last stage of acceptance. No matter how you get there, you need to eventually grow to accept the situation in order to be a healthy person – mentally, emotionally and physically. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you need to forget the traumatic event and erase it from your memory forever. Rather, acceptance means being able to remember what you lost but still being able to move on with your life.

Sorry to get a little maudlin in the middle of trying to make it all better, but like Picasso, everyone experiences “the blues” from time to time. I promise that the Kings won’t become the hockey equivalent of Cleveland Browns or even the LA equivalent of Edmonton or Florida.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, make yourself feel better with a trip to happier times: