History isn’t on the Kings’ side. By starting their schedule with a two-game series against the Ducks in London, the Kings are helping to expose the NHL to a foreign market and helping to fill the coffers of their parent company. But they’re also in danger of dooming themselves to a slow start upon their return. “(If) the league asks you to go, you go, and you make the best of it,” said Kings president and general manager Dean Lombardi, whose team plays the Ducks on Saturday and Sunday to start the season. As Lombardi knows all too well, it’s duck-and-cover time after that. No NHL teams have ever opened a season in Europe, but twice before a season has opened in Tokyo, and the results are cringe-inducing. The San Jose Sharks, with Lombardi as their GM, opened the 1998-99 season with a two-game series against Calgary. Upon their return to North America, the Sharks went 0-5-1 in their next six games. Not an awful team, the Sharks eventually rebounded and finished seventh in the Western Conference. Calgary went 1-5 in its next six games and finished ninth in the conference. By Rich Hammond STAFF WRITER Taking advantage of some down time during their trip to Austria this week, a group of Kings players and coaches hopped aboard a refurbished DC-6 airplane and took a scenic tour of a section of the Alps. It might end up being the high point of the season for the Kings, in every sense of the term. The year before, the Ducks and Vancouver played a two-game series. Both teams went a respectable 2-3-2 in the first seven games back, but eventually finished as the two worst teams in the conference. Transcontinental travel has also made a local impact. Last season the Clippers spent the first week in October in Russia for training camp and exhibition games. Coming off the most successful season in franchise history, they then stumbled to a 6-7 start, never recovered and missed the playoffs. Baseball teams – such as the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2004 – also have struggled after early-season overseas trips due to the fatigue and disruption involved. After the second game in London, the Kings will have just five days off before an Oct. 6 game at Staples Center. Things were going to be tough enough already for the Stanley Cup champion Ducks and the Kings, who are fighting simply for respectability. Is this all worth it, just to expose the NHL to England? Tim Leiweke, who serves as governor of the Kings and president/CEO of their parent group, Anschutz Entertainment Group, said in a statement last week, “Everybody associated with the Kings and AEG is thrilled with the unique opportunity to take our team and the great game of hockey overseas.” That is, to put it politely, quite an overstatement. AEG owns the London arena in which the Kings and Ducks will play this weekend. Privately, many in the organization have balked about the trip: the accelerated training camp, the hectic travel and the documented threat to the rest of their season. Publicly, everyone has put on a happy face, in recognition of the fact that the series is a strong attempt to build the game in an important market and a way for the Kings to make their parent company happy. “We’ve got a pretty global, unique talent pool in our game, and when we go international we can expose our game,” Kings captain Rob Blake said. “It’s going to be better for our game in the long run.” AEG has a vested interest in the Kings’ success, but also in the growth of sports in Europe. Besides owning and operating the O2 Arena in London, AEG has owned several hockey and soccer teams in Europe and was a financial backer of London’s successful bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The O2 Arena will serve as the site for basketball and gymnastics during the Games and AEG also is seeking to build another (temporary) facility for basketball during the Games. So, AEG’s interest in building interest in the sporting environment there, seems obvious. But what will it mean for the Kings? They’re trying to ease the sting of last season, when they finished with the third-worst record in the NHL, and the trip could result in one major early-season positive. Of the 25 players who flew to Europe, 10 didn’t play a single game for the Kings last season. “This is definitely a bonding experience,” Michael Cammalleri told the Kings’ Web site in Austria. “With the flight and everything, you get to know guys. … That always helps. If anything, that’s what we’re taking out of this trip.” [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
"Opening a season far from home"