The NHL, the L.A. Kings, and the Curse of “Ocean’s Eleven”

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Mike Richards has made the Kings better, but have the Kings made him worse? (Photo “courtesy” of

Ocean’s Eleven. And, I guess, Ocean’s Thirteen. The formula worked…

“Let’s get George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Clooney kind of looks like Cary Grant and he’s not that big yet (*this was 2001, after all), and we feel that Pitt can do more than just look good for a fly fisherman. Then, we’ll get Matt Damon, who’s a rising star and hasn’t done a lot since winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 1998. Then, we’ll sign Julia Roberts and, even though she’s a $20M/film actress, we’ll get her to take less money… because, this is for Frank, and she should respect that. (*Although Frank would have always taken the money.) Then, we’ll get Don Cheadle, Ben Affleck’s brother, James Caan’s son, and Andy Garcia… just in time to resurrect Andy’s career. We’ll get Monica Geller’s dad and Carl Reiner, because every movie is made better by old actors that you kind of know but never knew well enough to remember their names (*i.e. “Monica Geller’s dad”) and can spin as “legends of cinema.” (*You know, like Peter Boyle in Everybody Loves Raymond and Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine.)”

Throughout the series – assuming this becomes a series because Jerry Weintraub is producing it – we’ll get Catherine Zeta-Jones, Al Pacino, and Ellen Barkin (*another aging “legend”) and we’ll throw them into the mix.

Gold, Jerry! Gold!

Stanley Cup, 2012? (Photo “courtesy” of Bristidbits)

In cinema, this is the formula for a successful film… providing, of course, that people dig the film. Ocean’s Eleven is possibly the best stacked-cast film of all-time, considering that it spawned two sequels that weren’t as good as the first yet still continued to make tons of money. And, it was enjoyable.

Too often, high-budget films with casts that read like an IMDB Top 200 forget to be the one thing that movies have to be – enjoyable. That’s why nobody went to see How Do You Know. It’s why Woody Allen couldn’t nail the box office until Midnight in Paris this past year.

Sometimes, you need to go back to basics. In hockey – in the NHL – the epidemic is contagious.

Mike Richards is Exhibit A. Still a fantastic player, Richards was traded to Los Angeles from Philadelphia in the offseason, losing his captaincy and filing into ranks in an already well-thought out roster. In a lineup that already included captain Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Simon Gagne, and defencemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, Richards was just another face in an assembled list of stars. His violently physical antics were tolerated in Philadelphia because he was the captain, the face of the franchise, and the 21st century’s Bobby Clarke.

In L.A., meh.

Richards lost his identity along with his ‘C’ and he’s become someone else’s shadow in Los Angeles.

The book’s not out on Los Angeles, but things will need to turn around quickly for them to make a run at the Cup. Their 1-0 loss to Calgary on Saturday was a microcosm for how their season has unfolded. A lot of pressure and a lot of time in the offensive zone, with Richards and Kopitar swarming the net like bees above a child’s birthday party. No goals, missed chances, and Calgary capitalized when they can.

Richie and Nash would be a scary sight, but it might not be as lethal as you think. (Photo “courtesy” of

L.A. has also become ground zero for the Ocean’s Eleven parallel universe, because the Kings and Rangers have been nailed as the two frontrunners to grab Rick Nash before March’s Trade Deadline. (*Although, you heard it here first, he won’t be traded.) If you bring in Rick Nash, the Kings become more terrifying than they already are… on paper. Like Marian Hossa’s exodus to Pittsburgh in 2008, it makes L.A. a movable feast.

But, like Hossa, Nash’s numbers will slump as much like Richards’s have. If the gamble pays off, then voila. But, wouldn’t they have as good of a chance to win with somebody who could contribute the same amount of points? Rather, assists?

The Canucks and Bruins made the Final last year with that ever-trending buzzword, DEPTH. The Wings have done it time and time again, as well, and Chicago won in 2010 with a similar top-to-bottom presence. That said, it wasn’t a Mike Richards or a Rick Nash winning those games.

For Boston, it was Rich Peverley, Brad Marchand, Michael Ryder, and Mark Recchi. Their only star player was Patrice Bergeron – a great threat, but not somebody you’d think of in the same breath as Nash.

For Vancouver, they got there with Chris Higgins, Max Lapierre, Alex Burrows, and Jannik Hansen.

The Wings won with Johan Franzen, Brian Rafalski, Valtteri Filppula, and Danny Cleary.

The Pens won with Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, Chris Kunitz, Miro Satan, and Ruslan Fedotenko.

How about the Hawks? Dustin Byfuglien (before he was an All-Star defenceman), Andrew Ladd, David Bolland, and Troy Brouwer… and Hossa

Nobody’s going to say that the Pens were better without Hossa, but it must have been easier to not have to pass the puck to the same three guys all the time. Kennedy, Talbot, Satan, and Fedotenko could do their thing, and the Penguins jelled with the roster they had.

It could have happened with Hossa, and it didn’t. It did happen for Marian in Chicago, but there was no formula to the madness.

The Avalanche tried to stack their lineup in 2003/04, signing Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya in the offseason. Didn’t work. Out in the second round in six games to San Jose.

Then again, the Wings pulled it off in 2001/02, picking up Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, and Dominik Hasek in the offseason. They rolled the Carolina Hurricanes in five games to win the Stanley Cup.

Ensemble casts don’t always work. The Rangers have figured that out, after years of trying to buy every big name free agent in the NHL. Now, after developing their talent from within, and by signing a couple chosen ones in Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, the Rangers have been the best team in the NHL this season, from start-to-now, at least.

Hockey is not a game that bends to the will of individuals, and that’s what makes the Stanley Cup the hardest trophy to win in sports. Basketball is very similar, as the 2010 Miami Heat and the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers learned. Football has its examples, with the 2007 New England Patriots falling in the Super Bowl. Of course, they did run the table until that game, going 18-0 until that fateful loss to New York. The possibility for success was there.

But, hockey doesn’t bend. Hockey doesn’t break. Hockey makes you follow the rules and lets you know that you won’t be able to pull a cookie from the jar before dinner.

Sure, you might end up with Ocean’s Eleven. But, you could also end up with Ocean’s Twelve.

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