A Hockey Card History of the Los Angeles Kings

50 essential Kings cards + little-known facts about the Fabulous Forum, Butch, the Triple Crown Line, Bob & Jim, The Great One, Ziggy & more.

Millions of paintings have been painted, but it’s a few, well-chosen paintings which make a museum. Much the same way, millions of hockey cards have been manufactured, and it’s a few, well-chosen hockey cards which can make a different kind of museum.

However, unlike an art museum, a striking hockey card museum can be meaningful and valuable, but still affordable.

You can erect a gallery for 1000-win coaches. Or Asian backup goalies. A repository honoring Soviet trailblazers. First-round busts. A Hall of Fame of the Hall of Fame.

Or, take a journey into the history of your favorite team; in this case, a curated tour through the highs and lows of the Los Angeles Kings.


2010-11 ITG Canadiana 38 Jack Kent Cooke

Card(s) shown: 2010-11 In the Game Canadiana Red #38 Jack Kent Cooke (print run: 180)

Purchase price: About $3

Cooke's only mass-produced trading card, in its portrait, we see Bob Miller's description of the mogul come to life:

...tyrannical, overbearing, shrewd, impressive, intelligent, and dynamic. He was the epitome of a "hands-on" owner... (Bob Miller's Tales from the Los Angeles Kings)

Certainly, these qualities helped Cooke secure his bid for a Los Angeles NHL franchise in 1966. But what's forgotten is that just days before the league announced their decision, he wasn't even considered the favorite.

Tony Owen, TV producer and husband of actress Donna Reed, was thought to be in the lead because he was "not involved in another sport." (Park, Charlie. "Blades Will Bid for NHL Entry." Los Angeles Times, February 5, 1966.) LA Rams owner Dan Reeves, who also controlled the Western Hockey League's LA Blades, followed, then Lakers owner Cooke.

Rounding out this group was media conglomerate Metromedia and Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson.

However, Cooke trumped his competition by promising to finance a brand-new, state-of-the-art arena to house both the Lakers and a fledgling NHL squad. Montreal Canadiens President David Molson stated the obvious, "You have to be impressed with anyone who offers to build a new building." (Hafner, Dan. "Cooke to Build Arena if He Gets NHL." Los Angeles Times, February 9, 1966.) This building, of course, would become the Fabulous Forum.

Card(s) shown: 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee #35 Larry Cahan, 36 Real Lemieux, 37 Bill White, 38 Gordon Labossiere, 39 Ted Irvine, 40 Ed Joyal, 41 Dale Rolfe, 42 Lowell MacDonald, 43 Skip Krake, 44 Terry Gray, 156 Bob Wall, 157 Dave Amadio, 158 Howie Hughes, 159 Bill Flett, 160 Doug Robinson

Purchase price: About $75

Pundits ticketed LA's expansion entry to finish last, but the team surprised, running just a point off the West crown. These were the very first cards of the original, unappreciated Kings.

A couple of their top goal scorers, Flett and MacDonald, would eventually enjoy 40-goal campaigns elsewhere. White parlayed a solid Southern California run into three straight Norris finalist finishes in Chicago. He was also a key member of Canada's 1972 Summit Series winner.

Also of note? Joyal was LA's leading scorer that year. Wall, the first captain. Cahan and Krake wouldn't actually make their Los Angeles debuts until next season...and that's not Krake, actually, on Krake's card. That's Boston Bruins defenseman Don Awrey. Amazingly, O-Pee-Chee made the same photographic mistake in consecutive years.

Krake also holds this ignominious distinction: He was the first player ever acquired by Los Angeles for a future Kings draft pick. In the following years, the LA front office would become easy pickings for forward-thinking organizations who wanted to swap their past-their-prime vets for top choices.

Boston selected future 60-goal sniper Reggie Leach with the Kings' 1970 first-round pick. In return, centerman Krake notched just 12 more goals over the rest of his NHL career.

From Leach to Steve Shutt to Larry Robinson to Ray Bourque to Tom Barrasso, you can make a mausoleum for all the potential picks LA gave away in their opening quarter-century.

Former Kings coach Bob Berry recalled, "One year, we didn't draft until the fifth round. When it finally came to our turn, everyone stood up and started clapping for us." Berry is wrong. It was actually back-to-back years (1977 & 1978) that Los Angeles didn't pick until the fifth.

Card(s) shown: 1968-69 Topps #34 Terry Sawchuk

Purchase price: About $15

While they appear the same, Canadian release O-Pee-Chee often differed in player selection and set size from its American counterpart Topps. And, in the case of Sawchuk, uniforms.

Sawchuk's O-Pee-Chee issue depicted him in a Red Wings jersey (Los Angeles traded him back to Detroit during training camp in October 1968), while his Topps flashed Forum blue & gold.

Easily the expansion Kings' star attraction, the living legend was ushered out of Tinseltown unceremoniously—pelted by nine Minnesota goals and Forum garbage in the deciding game of the '68 Western Quarterfinals.

Forum Blue & Gold

Card(s) shown: 2004-05 In the Game Franchises US West Autograph #ABGO1 Butch Goring

Purchase price: About $15

Nearly a decade after expansion, Los Angeles had seen precious little playoff action, having looked past the opening round just once. 1976 opened the city's eyes.

Down 3-2 in the second round, the middling Kings had managed to push one of the league's most intimidating teams to a Game Six. That night, a for-once full Forum was ready for the Big Bad Bruins.

While Boston's blase fans, used to watching the incomparable Bobby Orr, cheered only when the Bruins scored and seldom booed, the Forum crowd started cheering as soon as the Kings made an appearance and delayed the start of the game while they gave a standing ovation for more than five minutes. (Hafner, Dan. "Kings Stay Alive in Overtime, 4-3." Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1976.)

This set the stage for a true Hollywood comeback. Trailing 3-1 halfway into the final frame, Kings winger Mike Corrigan forced OT with a pair of goals. Bob Miller takes over:

In overtime, I saw something I had never seen before—or since for that matter. Late in the overtime...[Goring] cut to his left and let go a shot from the top of the slot that beat Cheevers low just inside the left post. The Kings had won 4-3 at 18:28 into overtime, the longest game in Kings history to that point.

Then came an unforgettable sight. The Kings streamed off the bench, hoisting Goring to their shoulders to carry him off the ice. That's the only time I've ever seen that in hockey. (Bob Miller's Tales from the Los Angeles Kings)

Los Angeles dropped Game Seven, but the impact from Goring's strike reverberated past Forum walls. TV ratings for the series "were the Kings' highest ever...The final game had an 8.1 rating and the average was 5.1, far above the previous best." (Hafner, Dan. "It Was a Season to Remember." Los Angeles Times, May 4, 1976.)

It was just a fleeting taste of postseason glory, but it was a starving fanbase's very first.

Besides this indelible memory, Goring is arguably the franchise's finest pivot outside of the Dionne/Gretzky/Kopitar triumvirate. This card is one of only three Kings' Goring autographs available.

Card(s) shown: 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee #297 Rogie Vachon, 1992 Future Trends #154 Rogie Vachon

Purchase price: About $7

These two cards remind us how terrific the now-underrated Vachon was.

The 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee card commemorates Vachon's Second-Team All-Star berth. Earning the lionshare of credit for LA's still-team record 105-point regular season, the smallish netminder won The Hockey News Player of the Year and ran second for MVP. Maple Leafs coach Red Kelly declared, "Vachon has been tremendous. I think he's playing the best of any goaltender this year." (Hafner, Dan. "Vachon for MVP?" Los Angeles Times, April 4,

The 1992 Future Trends issue honors Vachon's 1976 Canada Cup dominance (for about $30 more, you can pick up a certified autographed version of this card). "Against the best in the world, he had one string of 139 scoreless minutes. He was named Team Canada's most valuable player...Everywhere the Kings went on their opening trip, the question asked Vachon was: Are you the best goalie in the world?" (Hafner, Dan. "From the Peak, Vachon Has Had a Big Comedown." Los Angeles Times, October 26, 1976.)

Card(s) shown: 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee #391 Marcel Dionne/Charlie Simmer/Dave Taylor

Purchase price: About $5

Early in 1979, when the just-called-up Simmer first found success next to Dionne and Taylor, a lucky local scribe had a flash of appellation inspiration. And he called them..."The Dionne Line."

The far more regal "Triple Crown Line" was actually a naming contest's winning suggestion.

Not to say that Dionne wasn't worthy of an eponymous line. When the so-called "fire hydrant on wheels" retired in 1989, his career 1,771 points trailed only Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe.

Anyway, in the greater Los Angeles area, Dionne and the rest of the Triple Crown Line were pretty much anonymous:

When the NHL brought its all-star game to Los Angeles for the first time on Feb. 10, 1981, local fans packed the Forum to capacity to honor the Kings' Triple Crown line of Dave Taylor, Marcel Dionne and Charlie Simmer. But not everyone was excited about the game.

KHJ-TV, the Kings' broadcast partner for television that season, passed on airing the game, choosing to stick to its usual Tuesday night lineup of game shows and old movies.

"We have a great hockey team, but people don't want to watch it," Charles Velona, then vice president and general manager of the station, said at the time. "We've put games on at various times—6 p.m., 10 a.m., 5 p.m.—but people don't want to view hockey." (LA Times)

Simmer recalled, "When we first got here, people would ask what your job was. Then they'd ask, 'What do you do for a real job?' They'd think it was a hobby."

This anonymity could be pernicious. Both Dionne and Simmer believed some teammates buckled from a lack of pressure. "Here, there wasn't the pressure—you could slide by," Simmer pointed out. "Back East, if you had a bad game, you'd go to a restaurant afterward and everybody in the restaurant would tell you exactly what you did wrong. Here, nobody knew you."

Well, here's to the boys who danced when no one was looking. This 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee card was the only one manufactured of "The Dionne Line" together during their playing careers.

Card(s) shown: 2004-05 Upper Deck Legendary Signatures Legendary Linemates Autograph #CSMDDT Charlie Simmer/Marcel Dionne/Dave Taylor (print run: 50)

Purchase price: About $150

Post-retirement, the Triple Crown Line still shared a connection. In 1993, the occasion was Taylor reaching the Stanley Cup Finals:

Simmer and Dionne are part of something that became ancient history only last month—a King organization that had never made it past the second round of the playoffs. You would think the congratulatory calls would have been made after the Kings had defeated Toronto in Game 7 to reach the finals, but Dionne phoned Taylor after the victory they never won together—winning the second round. (LA Times)

This is one of only three certified issues that the trio has signed together.

Card(s) shown: 2008-09 Upper Deck Legends Masterpieces #19 Daryl Evans

Purchase price: About $3

51. In 1981-82, that was the number of goals Los Angeles had surrendered to Edmonton in eight regular season tilts. The Kings managed 27, going 1-5-2.

48. That was what separated the bootheel of the powerful Oilers and the doormat Kings in the regular seasonthe widest regular season point differential ever hurdled by a lower playoff seed.

Five. That was the deficit rookie LA winger Daryl Evans and his teammates stared up at entering the third period of Game Three.

Six unanswered goals later, a jubilant Evans called home after roofing the OT game winner."It was about 4 a.m. Eastern time by then but that wasn't the biggest problem: his father answered the phone but didn't know the Kings had won because he had turned the television off after two periods."

This is the only card to acknowledge one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history.

The Gretzky Era

Card(s) shown: 1988-89 Topps #120 Wayne Gretzky

Purchase price: About $5

This card, featuring a photo from the press conference introducing Gretzky to Los Angeles, was also the very first issued of him in a Kings uniform. Everybody knows the story or has a story about "The Trade of the Century." Forgotten is how unpopular The Great One was among local fans before August 1988.

In a post-trade Q & A, Gretzky addressed this:

Q: Los Angeles crowds in the past also have been rough on you—chanting vulgarities and waving handkerchiefs.

A: I always loved playing where I wasn't well liked. I loved playing in Calgary. I loved playing in L.A....

Q: Were you taken aback by these supposedly laid-back Southern Californians?

A: No, I never even thought about that. Actually, I think I got even over the years. (LA Times)

Edmonton Coach Glen Sather was taken aback. Years earlier, immediately after the Miracle on Manchester, he fumed.

Their nastiness toward Gretzky, however, was something he has not encountered anywhere else, which prompted this reaction from his coach, Glen Sather.

"The people here have the least amount of class in North America. There were guys yelling obscenities all night long.

"They show a total lack of sophistication. California is supposed to be a very sophisticated place, but when the crowd starts saying a guy ----, why would you take your kid and expose him to something like that?

"People used to criticize the Rangers fans, but this was the worst display of courtesy I've seen in the 20 years I've been in professional hockey." (Edes, Gordon. "Oiler Coach Puts King Fans at the Bottom in Class." Los Angeles Times, April 12, 1982)

Card(s) shown: 2012-13 SP Authentic #162 Wayne Gretzky

Purchase price: About $5

This is The Great One's defining Kings moment, as he celebrates his Game Seven winner and hat trick in the '93 Conference Finals (for a couple hundred dollars more, you can acquire a Gretzky-autographed version of this card).

The question is—like Babe Ruth's apocryphal "called shot"—did Gretzky mean to bank the puck off Ellett?

"I could sit here and say I tried to do it," Gretzky said days after the goal, "but I was just trying to get it on the net and it went in off Dave Ellett's skate. I didn't even see it go in."

Of course, from his angle, the only way to get it on net (besides a wraparound) was to bank the puck off the Toronto defenseman manning the crease. There were no Kings in the vicinity.

Maple Leafs defender Todd Gill, who was draped all over Gretzky on the play, concurs:

After the game many would refer to this goal as a fluke. But Todd Gill knew better. "When you're good, you're good," he admits today. "I had him covered perfectly and I can remember looking right into his eyes. He knew he didn't have any other option, and being the imaginative player he was, he made the split-second decision to bank the puck off Ellett's skate." (Todd Denault, A Season in Time: Super Mario, Killer, St. Patrick, the Great One, and the Unforgettable 1992-93 NHL Season)

Card(s) shown: 2002-03 Fleer Throwbacks Stickwork #9 Marty McSorley

Purchase price: About $40

For a Kings fan, what hockey card could be more ironic than a McSorley with a piece of his game-used stick? Of course, a few years later, Marty's "stickwork" would become headline news once again.

It's become almost gospel truth that the Cup was just "a curve of a stick away" for Los Angeles. Certainly, LA would've been in an enviable position, up 2-0 and going home. But how enviable?

356 NHL teams have gone up 2-0 to start a seven-game postseason series. 48 teams have come back from such a deficit—that's 13.5% of the time. Of these 48 comebacks, only 18 were authored by squads who had dropped the first two at home.

So historically speaking, the Kings had about a 90% chance of taking home the silver chalice with a Game Two victory. Not quite a curve of a stick away, but certainly worth bemoaning.

Card(s) shown: 1991 All World CFL #2 Bruce McNall

Purchase price: About $3

This is the only mass-produced card of the also-Argonauts owner who shepherded the Kings to the brink of a championship—and into bankruptcy in 1995.

Why did the charismatic con man bilk six banks out of $236 million? McNall tried explaining in his 2003 autobiography, Fun While It Lasted:

Just as nature and nurture compete to influence our physical and intellectual growth, I would argue that they also affect how we conduct our lives. In my case, I was born with a craving for love and attention that was not satisfied. That was my nature. As an adult I was nurtured in an environment—the Storytown that is Los Angeles—that encouraged me to use whatever means necessary, including fabrications and falsehoods, to get what I wanted, what I needed. I was like a compulsive gambler set down on the Vegas Strip. (288)

To satisfy the [prison] counselors, I had to inventory the character flaws that had led to my downfall. They were real, and included, at the very top, my status as a master of manipulation. Over and over again I had to acknowledge my compulsion to manipulate people and situations, to lie and deceive, in order to achieve a short-term gain. I also had to acknowledge that those acts resulted in harm to other people: my kids, Jane, Mara, all of my friends and associates. (282)

Staples Opens

Card(s) shown: 2000-01 Upper Deck Vintage #172 Jamie Storr/Ziggy Palffy/Rob Blake

Purchase price: About $3

Palffy and Blake formed the foundation of the post-Gretzky Kings, while Storr was perhaps the franchise's deepest disappointment. This is their only card together.

Palffy was a 40-goal scorer when he landed in Los Angeles in 1999. He left five years later as an underrated two-way force. Check out the steady uptick in his shorthanded time on ice:

1999-00 0:12
2000-01 0:59
2001-02 1:50
2002-03 1:42
2003-04 2:34

Blake's 2001 escape from LA is well documented, but he also was on the cusp of fleeing in 1994. That summer, days before July 1st, GM Sam McMaster took negotiations with the 24-year-old RFA to the press: "I'm not confident he'll be back...But if he's not back, the L.A. Kings will get something in return." While the star defender returned this time, it was a sign of things to come.

McMaster was also off the mark when he selected Storr with the seventh pick of the '94 Draft: "I really believe that the L.A. Kings are secure in goal for many years now...The future is solidified." The would-be savior went on to win just 85 NHL games over a decade as mostly a backup. Fittingly, "The Disaster" was set to draft Eric's brother, Brett Lindros, until the Storrkeeper dropped to him.

Card(s) shown: 2010-11 Crown Royale Voices of the Game #6 Bob Miller, 3 Jim Fox

Purchase price: About $30

This is Bob's only certified autographed card, and it's fitting that Jim was also included in the same set.

The Hockey Hall of Fame recognized Miller's mastery of the mic in 2000, inducting him then. Not as well known is how tirelessly he promoted the Kings in the '70s. He "once had 112 speaking engagements during the offseason. He'd take the Kings highlight film, season-ticket brochures and pocket schedules to civic groups and schools in hopes of recruiting new fans." (McManis, Sam. "Why, After 17 Years, Do the Kings Get the Cold Shoulder?" Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1983.)

Fox is entering his 26th season as Bob's longest-lasting partner. But once, he was considered first-overall pick material.

Windsor Spitfires Head Coach Wayne Maxner said of the 16-year-old in 1976: "Jim Fox will certainly be the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft in four years time...He's always three plays ahead of everybody else." (Gallagher, Danny. "The Road to Stardom." The Ottawa Journal, October 5, 1979.)

Fox, however, may not have been ready for such expectations. "Initially dubbed the Pillsbury Dough Boy...It was a weight concern that had all NHL teams believing he was undraftable as an underage" in 1979.

Nonetheless, his talent was still obvious, if underappreciated. "Philadephia wanted me to go to camp but there was no money," Fox said. "They just wanted a free look at me."

Can you imagine Foxy in Flyer orange? Luckily for Kings fans, he declined that invite, shed 30 pounds, and was drafted 10th by Los Angeles in the 1980 NHL Draft.

Card(s) shown: 2005-06 SP Game Used Auto Draft #ADLR Luc Robitaille (print run: 171)

Purchase price: About $25

This autograph is tribute to a longshot coming through.

It was said of Robitaille that he could score but not skate. As a boy, while walking on sidewalks, Robitaille would try to step on each crack because he believed it would lengthen his stride. He would walk along playing hockey games in his mind, all but throwing body checks to fellow pedestrians. (LA Times)

With the 171st pick of the 1984 Draft, Los Angeles gambled on the boy who couldn't skate. 22 years later, "Lucky" rang up his 551st goal as a King—on a breakaway no less!—surpassing boyhood hero Dionne as the franchise's crowning goal scorer.

Card(s) shown: 2000-01 Topps Premier Plus Club Signings #CSC3 Luc Robitaille/Marcel Dionne, 2005-06 Parkhurst #595 Luc Robitaille

Purchase price: About $50

Robitaille and Dionne shared a number of marvelous moments, including Luc's first NHL goal and Marcel's 1,600th point. They also shared lots of losing. Five seasons after the Miracle on Manchester and a couple Edmonton championships later, the Oilers were still laughing at the Kings. This time, it was an early-season rout during Robitaille's rookie campaign:

"I think they tried to embarrass us," the Kings' Marcel Dionne said, not masking his distaste. "They put (Mark) Messier (a center) on defense, they put (Mike) Krushelnyski (a left wing) on defense. They were laughing at us. They tried to embarrass us. They were pouring it on. Class teams don't do that." (LA Times)

Luckily, both Marcel and Luc would see the day that the Kings would no longer be the laughingstock.

The Cup Years

Card(s) shown: 2012-13 SP Game Used Stanley Cup Materials Net Cord #G6RS Rob Scuderi (print run: 25)

Purchase price: About $30

Perhaps it's only fitting that the hard-nosed, all-out defender would indeed give his nose to win it all.

Recalling the pivotal Game Six moment when Scuderi drew that Steve Bernier major, this card also happens to boast a game-used net cord from the 2012 Finals.

Card(s) shown: 2012-13 Dominion Engravatures #25 Los Angeles Kings (print run: 15)

Purchase price: About $200

Actually, it was Gretzky and the Oilers who originated the post-victory tradition of taking an impromptu team photo around the Stanley Cup. A genuine piece of silver is embedded into this card, engraved as if it were the Cup itself.

Card(s) shown: 2012-13 Upper Deck Bailey's Buddies #1 Jonathan Quick, 2 Jonathan Quick, 3 Drew Doughty, 4 Dustin Brown, 5 Jeff Carter, 6 Anze Kopitar, 7 Mike Richards, 8 Bailey, 9 Los Angeles Kings

Purchase price: About $10

Upper Deck commemorated LA's first Stanley Cup with this nine-card set, produced exclusively for Bailey's Buddies, the team's official kid's club.

Card(s) shown: 2014-15 SP Game Used Stanley Cup Finals Game Used Puck #SCFGUPAM Alec Martinez

Purchase price: About $150

What's better than a portion of an actual puck used in the deciding game of the 2014 Finals? How about a perfect shot of #JazzHands?

Card(s) shown: 2014-15 Upper Deck Bailey's Buddies Justin Williams, Marian Gaborik, Alec Martinez, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter

Purchase price: About $10

Or, if you prefer, here's another brilliant shot of #JazzHands and an iconic portrait of Williams.

Once again, Upper Deck saluted a Los Angeles Stanley Cup with cards made only for Bailey's Buddies. This is actually a ten-card set; the tenth card is of Bailey himself.

Card(s) shown: 2014-15 Upper Deck Day with the Cup #DC6 Slava Voynov

Purchase price: About $15

After both 2012 and 2014, Upper Deck released a relatively difficult-to-complete set celebrating each King's "Day with the Cup."

However, I didn't choose this card to remember "the good times." Instead, it's a reminder of how little we ultimately know, for better and for worse, about these athletes who we lionize.

All cards from author’s personal collection.