click to go Home
SPECIAL REPORT: Move Over Taylor: Robitaille Is The New King Of Kings

by Gann Matsuda

April 15, 2006

EL SEGUNDO — Back on April 3, 1995, the night that all-time Los Angeles Kings great Dave Taylor had his jersey number 18 retired by the club, this reporter wrote that he was the King of Kings, earning that right above other all-time Kings’ greats such as Marcel Dionne, Rogie Vachon and Wayne Gretzky.

“No Kings’ player had ever measured up to Taylor when it came to heart, the desire to excel and win and the ability and willingness to go into the corners and sacrifice his body for his team,” I wrote. “No other Kings’ player has ever come close to Taylor as far as leadership—on the ice and off—is concerned, [and] no Kings’ player has ever matched his relentless work ethic, his dedication to his team, the game of hockey and his community.”

To be sure, Taylor had earned the right to wear the crown as the King of Kings, and has been a great standard bearer for the organization, both on and off the ice. But on Tuesday, April 11, 2006, the day that Kings all-time great left wing Luc Robitaille announced at a press conference that he would retire at the conclusion of the 2005-06 season, Taylor abdicated the crown because his reign is over. Luc Robitaille now wears the crown as new Kings of Kings.

 

THE LEGEND BEGINS

One of my proudest moments as a general manager came when I drafted Luc Robitaille, who became the greatest left wing in NHL history. — former Kings star goaltender and general manager Rogie Vachon.


Believe it or not, Robitaille was considered to be among the longest of long shots to make it to the National Hockey League as a ninth-round pick (171st overall) in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft.

“I remember in 1984 when I got drafted, it started at 1:00 PM, and by the time I heard my name, it was 6:30 or 7:00,” Robitaille explained to reporters at Tuesday’s press conference. “Everybody had left the Montreal Forum. The Forum was known for its great hot dogs, and I think I had five or six throughout the day. When I heard my name, I went down—everyone had left the building. The security guard says ‘you’re not allowed to go in.’”

“I’m trying to speak my best English, Robitaille continued. ‘I got drafted, I got drafted.’ Pierre Lacroix, who was then an agent—he saw me and he had seen me in juniors. He said, ‘this kid just got drafted.’ So they let me go and I went to the Kings’ table.”

“Alex Smart, the man who drafted me, was there, and John Wolf [now Assistant to the General Manager], and that’s it. Everyone else was gone. Wolfie looked at me and asked ‘who are you?’”

“I’m Luc Robitaille. You just drafted me.”

“He looks at me, he looks in the box. ‘I don’t have anymore t-shirts, I don’t have anymore hats. But here.’ And he gave me his pin. I still have that pin at home somewhere. So that’s how it started.”

“I remember my thinking going home and telling my Dad ‘my name’s on the list,’ said Robitaille. “‘I have a chance. They will have to look at me one day,’ and that’s the way I took it. So from then on, I just did everything I could to make it.”

When Robitaille finally got his chance two years later in the 1986-87 season, he certainly made the most of it, scoring 45 goals with 39 assists, good for 84 points in 79 games in his rookie season, and going on to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year.

“I remember Luc coming to camp for the first time in 1984 and playing in his first games as a King in 1986,” said Taylor. “He has always had a passion to play the game and he has always been a goal scorer.”

“I was warned by the scouts about Luc’s skating but with his marvelous intelligence for the game, skating never became a factor, even in the high-paced game of the 1980’s,” said Toronto Maple Leafs head coach, Pat Quinn, who was the head coach of the Kings from 1984-85 through a bit more than half of the 1986-87 season. “The puck seemed to follow him around and he seemed to know what to do with it.”

“Luc not only had intelligence and hands, his best asset was his competitive drive,” added Quinn. “Luc was a pleasure to be around and you know he loved to play the game. Alex Smart was right. Luc Robitaille was someone special.”


A PURE GOAL SCORER

When I think of Luc, I think “pure goal scorer.” — Former Kings and current Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mathieu Schneider.


After such a great start, Robitaille took the NHL by storm, scoring at least 44 goals in each of his first eight seasons with the Kings, including three seasons with fifty or more goals, and one season, the 1992-93 season that saw the Kings reach the Stanley Cup Finals, in which he scored 63 goals with 62 assists for 125 points, setting the all-time NHL record for goals and points by a left wing in one season, records that still stand today.

Without question, Robitaille was among the purest of pure goal scorers who could put the puck in the net with a deadly-accurate wrist shot, a deceptively hard, accurate slap slot without much of a backswing, and one of the best one-timers in the game.

“I feel Luc is one of the most natural goal scorers I’ve ever played with,” said former Kings right winger Bernie Nicholls, who is fifth on the Kings’ all-time scoring list. “Luc didn’t score so many goals, however, because he’s lucky. He’s a pure goal scorer and it was an absolute pleasure to have played with him for five years.”

“His ability to be in the right place at the right time, combined with his poise with the puck, has been and remains uncanny,” said Nick Nickson, the Kings long-time radio play-by-play announcer.

“I have never been around a player who liked to score goals more than Luc,” said former Kings and current Colorado Avalanche defenseman Rob Blake. “He loved to score goals whether it was a game or practice. Not only did he love to score, he also knew how to score. That is what made him one of the best.”

“The first time I saw Luc was at his first Kings training camp,” former Kings right wing and current television color commentator Jim Fox explained. “I remember a shot he took in one of the scrimmages that was a true ‘goal scorer’s’ goal, and it was at that very instance that you could tell he was special. Luc can score goals every way possible.”

But it was not just his incredible shooting ability that made Robitaille one of the game’s greatest goal scorers of all-time.

“I think an underrated part of his game is that he has been willing to take a lot of punishment to score many of those goals,” said Fox.

Indeed, Robitaille worked his rear end off, mostly by taking punishment in front of the opponent’s net, to get into position to score.

“What people don’t always realize is his physical presence in front of the net,” said Schneider. “He pays a price to score goals.”

“Luc and I played together with the Kings and Rangers, and in the 1991 Canada Cup as well,” said former Kings winger Russ Courtnall. “In New York, I played on a line with Luc and Wayne Gretzky, and I remember a conversation I had once with Mark Messier. Mess and I talked about how tough Luc was and how much punishment he took in front of the net. Everyone knows about his goal scoring ability, but it seems lost a lot of times in that he really has paid the price to score many of those goals over the years.”

“Hockey is the toughest game in the world to play, said former Kings left wing Pat Conacher. “A lot of people measure toughness in terms of penalty minutes. But I think you have to be a real tough player to score as many goals as he has because you look at where he scores all his goals, it is that 15-foot circle around the goaltender. The ‘red zone’ is the toughest place to score and that is an indication of how tough a player he is.”

Whether he was fighting off a check to get open, or whether he just skated to an open spot on the ice, Robitaille knew how to make himself available to his teammates, and he worked hard at it...harder than many believed.

“Luc is one of the greatest goal scorers in the game because he went to the hard areas and always knew where the puck was going to be,” said former Kings defenseman Charlie Huddy, who is now an assistant coach with his other former team, the Edmonton Oilers. “If the game was on the line, you could count on ‘Lucky’ to give your team a chance to win.”

“When we played on the same line, he was easiest line mate to find for a shot,” said Columbus Blue Jackets center Sergei Fedorov, who played on Robitaille’s line while both played for the Stanley Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings in 2002. “He just found open spaces to play in and he always seemed open.”

Indeed, Robitaille did not just take punishment to score goals. He also did just about anything to score.

“When I first teamed with Luc on the [New York] Rangers, I knew Luc could score, but I quickly found out that he competed far harder than I realized,” said former Kings center Ray Ferraro, who is now a color commentator for NBC Sports.

“He’s a dirty player,” said Kings center Craig Conroy jokingly. “He’s a dirty guy out there. With these new rules you can’t slash and hook like you used to. He’d ride along with you and do stuff like that.”

“When I played against him, I was always mad at him because he was so dirty,” added Conroy. “I always hated playing against him. He’d hook you, hold you and trip you and then he’d score one of those goals. He’d get in a position and then bang, it was on his stick and in the net. I always disliked playing against him, but I loved playing with him this year.”


A FLAIR FOR THE DRAMATIC

Game tied at two. Robitaille’s in front alone. He’s got it but he fell down. He backhands it and he scores! What a goal! The Kings win! — Bob Miller’s call of Robitaille’s overtime game-winner at Detroit on February 24, 1999.


Former teammate and Hall-Of-Famer Mario Lemieux said, “Luc has been an exceptional goal-scorer in the NHL for a very long time. He’s always had a flair for the dramatic and has been a thrill for fans of the league to watch for many years.”

That might be an understatement.

Robitaille has been well-known for scoring dramatic goals that leave one asking, “how did he do that?”

Early in his career, Robitaille scored the first of those goals when he slid into the left corner at the Forum in Inglewood, flat on his stomach, and when he reached the goal line, he took a two-handed swing at the puck, knocking it into the net, leaving everyone in the building totally dumbfounded.

And that included the Hall-Of-Fame “Voice of the Kings.”

“The most memorable goal that I remember...he was sliding on his stomach against Calgary into the corner,” said Bob Miller, who is in his 33rd season of calling the action for the Kings. “I was thinking, ‘he doesn’t have a chance to score from there.’ In fact, I think I made an awful call on it on the play-by-play because I was amazed, as I think Luc was amazed, that he was able to sweep the puck into the net.”

Fast forward to February 24, 1999, and Robitaille does it again in even more dramatic fashion at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. As he fell backwards at the bottom of the right circle, he took a pass and, using both hands, he immediately swept the puck into the middle of the net, this time on his backhand, beating Detroit Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood for a stunning overtime game-winner.

Once again, everyone in the arena was left scratching their heads and with their jaws agape.

“Late in the game at Detroit, he went down to our right, and again I thought, ‘there’s no play here,’ and it’s in the net,” said Miller. “Goals like that just defy explanation. I’m not even sure Luc can explain it, except for having a sense for where that net is, even if it’s behind your back. The great goal scorers know where it is, and they can score.”

Indeed, Robitaille never hesitated on the play. He got the puck as he fell to the ice. And as he did so, he immediately swept it into the net, all in one motion. It was evident that he knew exactly what he was going to do, where he was on the ice and where the net was throughout that sequence of events, and it is these kinds of plays that set the elite, all-time great goal scorers apart from the rest.

Just less than two years later, Robitaille was up to his old tricks.

At Ottawa on January 16, 2001, the Kings and Ottawa Senators were in embroiled in a shootout that the Kings ended up winning, 7-6. Robitaille scored twice in the game, but it was his first one that was memorable. Here is how this reporter described the play in Kingshockey.com’s report:

[Rob] Blake chased down a long clearing pass on right wing in the Ottawa zone. He took a little wrist shot from the low right circle, but hit the side of the net. [Ziggy] Palffy picked up the loose puck in the right corner, but was checked into the right corner boards. He did manage to get off a quick pass to Robitaille, who was coming out from behind the right goal post. Robitaille got off a quick wrap-around that was stopped by [Ottawa goalie Patrick] Lalime. But Robitaille dove and poked the puck from between Lalime’s legs and into the net. Lalime looked behind him after Robitaille’s first shot...he clearly did not know if he had the puck covered...

To be sure, this was another of Robitaille’s many goals that left everyone asking, “how did he do that?”

Some say it is because he just has the natural ability, while others say it an obsession.

“You can practice deflections and tip-ins, but there’s some sense that the great goal scorers have that other people don’t have, regardless of how many times they want to practice, or spend time on the ice, they can’t do what a guy like Luc can do,” said Bob Miller.

“With Luc, scoring is an obsession,” said former Kings defenseman and occasional right wing Marty McSorley, who is now a hockey analyst for FSN West. “Whether standing in street shoes lofting pucks into a net or banking pucks off the back of the goalies legs from the corner in warm-ups, the need to put the puck in the net is simple and consuming. That burning desire has given all of us a smile and forced the thought, ‘Is he Lucky or is he just that good?’”


TURTLES COULD SKATE FASTER

Not bad for a late-round draft pick who could not skate or backcheck. — Former Kings tough guy Ken Baumgartner


OK, so I’m exaggerating about turtles, but you get the point. But as most know, Robitaille was a poor skater when he entered the NHL back in 1986, and that did not change much throughout his 19-year career.

Although better speed and skating ability would have enhanced his offense and to be sure, his defensive capabilities, no one can say that Robitaille was anything less than an elite player. He clearly overcame his poor skating by doing what he did best so well.

“I remember when Luc came into the NHL and people said he wouldn’t stay because of his skating,” said Kings assistant coach Mark Hardy, who played parts of four seasons with Robitaille. “He sure showed the world what kind of a hockey player and person he is. His dedication and perseverance as it relates to the game is second to none.”

“If you judged a player solely on their skating ability, you would probably say, ‘Geez, how can this guy play in the NHL?’ But he was efficient in everything he did and he always was an asset around the net,” said former Kings defenseman and head coach Larry Robinson, who was a big star for the Montreal Canadiens before coming to the Kings.

“A scout with the Canadiens asked me once who my best player was, said Pat Burns, who coached Robitaille when he played for the Hull Olympiques in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. “I pointed to Luc and the scout said he couldn’t skate. Well, some 600-plus goals later he is still at it.”

“Coaching against him in the NHL, I would always tell my teams to pay close attention to him,” added Burns, who coached the Toronto Maple Leafs when they lost in seven games to Robitaille and the Kings in the 1992-93 Campbell Conference Finals. “While he isn’t always the first to the puck, he will eventually hurt you.”

As usual, Bob Miller’s eloquence and insight summed up the importance of Robitaille’s most glaring shortcoming.

“I’ll always remember the fact that he was just a pure goal scorer,” said Miller. “As much as people said he’s slow and can’t skate, the bottom line is he could score goals, and in this game, what’s the bottom line? Score goals.”

Indeed.


IT WAS TIME

As a player, you always feel like you have something left in the tank. But there’s a time when you have to know and use your sense to say ‘that’s enough.’ And I think it’s that time for me. — Luc Robitaille.


Prior to the 2005-06 season, many speculated that Robitaille might not play again after the NHL locked out the players and cancelled the 2004-05 season. And when Robitaille decided to play in 2005-06, many wondered if he would be able to keep up in the new NHL, a league that has been transformed by rule changes that emphasize skating, skill and speed.

And as the season wore on, it was clear that Robitaille was having some difficulties in the now fairly wide-open game. And with just fifteen goals and nine assists for 24 points in 63 games, it is clear that Robitaille was not playing at the level he had hoped.

“I think Luc realizes, with what’s gone on last year and this year, that this is the time,” said Miller. “He’s accomplished so much. He’s won the Stanley Cup he wanted, although it was with Detroit and not with the Kings, unfortunately. Highest-scoring left wing in the history of the game, all-time goal scoring leader for the Kings...so it’s not like there were some other things he wanted to accomplish, except win a Cup with the Kings. So I guess it was time and in his own mind, it was time.”

“During the lockout, I knew I was coming back for one more year for sure,” said Robitaille. “I felt too good physically to not come back. It’s a decision that I felt sometimes throughout the season and even at the beginning of the year. I really wanted to come back and I felt really good physically.”

It was not an easy decision for him, but his wife Stacia supported and helped him.

“It’s never easy, but I’d call it a common sense decision where I just know it’s time,” Robitaille explained. “Something my wife and I have been talking about for awhile. I just know it’s time.”

“It was definitely in the back of my mind,” he added. “A couple of weeks ago is when we talked and it’s definitely a decision we made together. It’s me who’s playing, but she’s made so many sacrifices throughout the years. It was something we did together.”

One of the reasons Robitaille decided to announce his retirement on Tuesday was because the Kings’ chances to make the playoffs were now all but gone.

“All along, I thought we were going to be in the playoffs, so I wasn’t going to announce it until August,” he explained. “But now, knowing that we’re probably not going to be in the playoffs unless things go our way, and I’ll do everything possible for that, I just felt it was the right thing to do now.”

“I don’t think it would be fair to my family, my friends or my fans to just go out if we don’t make the playoffs and then announce a week from now that I’m going to retire,” he added. “That didn’t feel right. Sometimes things just happen in life, and that’s kind of the way it happened.”

Robitaille also stressed that the fact that he had been a healthy scratch for three games prior to their 4-2 loss against Anaheim on April 8 had no bearing on his decision.

“It had nothing to do with what happened to me last week, that I can honestly say,” said Robitaille. “I remember playing in Montreal this year, I told my Mom ‘you’d better come. This is probably my last game in Montreal.’”

The Kings played at Montreal on December 3, 2005.


A DREAM COME TRUE

Luc Robitaille is living every child’s dream. The aspiration to play in the big leagues and to score goals is the definition of who Luc is. Luc has a child-like love/passion to be on the ice, to be a good teammate, to create a positive and fun environment around him, but most of all he enjoys scoring goals. — Marty McSorley.


When you observe Robitaille in practice and after games, you usually see a big smile on his face, you will often hear him laughing and joking with his teammates and with the media. To be sure, he seems to enjoy what he is doing now as much as he did when he was a wet-behind-the-ears rookie.

“Off the ice, every single player, especially young guys, should look at Luc,” said Kings defenseman and team captain Mattias Norstrom. “The way he prepares himself coming to the rink. That’s the way he’s been doing it for the last nineteen years. You wonder sometimes if it’s Luc’s first year because he comes to the rink with a big smile and most times, he leaves with a big smile. He really has a love for the game.”

He loved the game so much that he made sure that he gave it his all in every one of them.

“Everyday, I gave everything I had,” said Robitaille. “I wasn’t great every day, but I know I made sure I was ready for every game. There was a lot of games where I didn’t play the way I wanted to. So by me going away, I have no regrets because I know every single day of my career, I made sure was ready for the next game. In that way, I can walk with a lot of pride in the fact that I gave everything I could to this game every day. I know in my heart that every day, I did my best.”

“I think that’s what it’s about,” added Robitaille. “When you have an opportunity to do your dream, for any of us, I think that’s the most important thing to never forget. That’s probably one of the proudest things about me that I know that I did every day.”

Indeed, and it all goes back to that dream.

“It has been a great, great run for me,” said Robitaille. “I was a little kid who had a dream, and I got to live my dream and now I think it’s time to go. I love this game so much, and I wouldn’t want to hurt it. I’ve been living my dream. It’s been something very special.”

“I remember looking at a map, seeing how far Los Angeles was [from his hometown, Montreal, Quebec],” added Robitaille. “And now this is my home, it’s where I’m going to live. It’s been a real dream come true, and I can’t believe I’m saying all those words in English, too.”


ROBITAILLE THE LEADER

I’ve always admired people who were gifted with the quality of leadership, and when leadership and raw athletic ability are found together in one person, it’s a rare combination to be sure. I think that one of the things that I appreciate most about Luc is that not only does he possess this combination, but that it is manifested in him in a unique way. Luc brings a contagious passion to the rink every day and to everything he does. I found that being around that kind of passion and desire made the game even more enjoyable for me and challenged me to give to my full capacity. — Former Kings tough guy Stu Grimson.


Some of the “tenets of leadership” are:

• Every person has leadership potential
• Leadership development is an ongoing process to maximize individual potential
• With leadership training comes the responsibility for action
• Leaders have a responsibility to nurture emerging leaders

Moreover, strong leaders exhibit such characteristics as:

• Dispensing hope
• Foresightedness
• Integrity of character
• Sharing of Oneself

(SOURCE: J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership)

Hockey fans often judge the leadership skills of a player on what they see and hear, which is not unexpected because they must rely on the media for their information about the teams and players. However, even though there is so much more information available to fans today because of the Internet, fans still have very limited information about the intangible aspects of the game, and that includes the leadership qualities of a specific player.

To be sure, very, very few fans would consider Robitaille to be one of the Kings’ great leaders. Instead, they would likely point to Wayne Gretzky, Dave Taylor, Marcel Dionne, Bernie Nicholls, Rob Blake and Mattias Norstrom.

Of course, Gretzky’s credentials when it comes to leadership are well-known and speak for themselves.

But when you look back at Robitaille’s career, one can only conclude that he too was a great leader.

Indeed, he understood that it was important to help his teammates, nurture and develop leadership skills in his teammates, give of himself whenever he could, and maintain his integrity.

To be sure, Robitaille always looked after the younger players on his team, doing for them what Dionne did for him when he invited Robitaille to live in his house during his rookie year.

“Since my first day with the Kings, Luc took me under his wing,” said Kings center Eric Belanger. “He took care of me. He was a lot of help getting my career started on an easy note. I played with him my first eight or nine games. That was easy, too.”

“He makes it so much fun,” added Belanger. “Looking back at it, there’s a lot of things I’m going to keep for the rest of my career—things that he said. He told me to enjoy it because it goes fast. Six years later, I’m sitting here talking to you about Luc retiring.”

“He’s been a great leader in this game for a long time,” said Kings forward Michael Cammalleri. “He’s the highest-scoring left winger of all time. I’ve tried to learn a lot from him on and off the ice. I really appreciate his company as a teammate, as a friend, and as a person.”

“He’s given me a lot of insight into the little things on the ice,” added Cammalleri. “He knows the game so well. He’s scored so many goals in so many creative ways. He really has a sense of where to be on the ice and how to be opportunistic. He’d help me with little pointers. Little things like that have been very helpful.”

“Luc was an unbelievable teammate for young players,” said former Kings defenseman Darryl Sydor, who went on to win the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999, and with Tampa Bay in 2004. “When I joined the Kings as a rookie in 1992, he was always willing to talk with me and help me through different situations. He was always good about making sure the young guys felt like a part of the team. He’s just a class act.”

Even the older veterans praised Robitaille’s leadership and his value as a teammate.

“Hockey players often judge teammates beyond goals, assists and points, and as far as Luc goes, he was also an All-Star when it came to being a teammate,” said former Kings winger Nelson Emerson. “No one ever could say anything negative about Luc. And that is not ‘Lucky.’”

“Of all the people I played with, the person who most exemplified passion to me was Luc Robitaille,” said former Kings winger and current Colorado Avalanche assistant coach Tony Granato. “His love of the game has truly shown through the way he has played.”

“He was the ultimate teammate who always showed up to the rink with a smile on his face and couldn’t wait to get out on the ice,” added Granato. “His energy, passion and love for the game was contagious. I’m very grateful and thankful to have Luc as a friend and I enjoyed every season we played together.”

But as much as he was a leader on the ice, Robitaille did exactly the same thing off the ice.

“I think everybody knows your career doesn’t last forever,” said Norstrom. “He’s my best friend on this team. I’m going to miss him more away from the ice, in the locker room, and we’ve roomed together in previous years. We’ve spent a lot of time together on the road. I will miss that more than not seeing him on the ice.”

“I think the big thing about Luc Robitaille—the people who truly know him—is how good a guy he is,” said Cammalleri. “It’s hard to believe how a good a guy he really is. He’s a great person. He’s a great teammate, he’s a great father, husband and friend to us. I really admire him on and off the ice. Hopefully, he’ll stay involved with the organization.”

Unlike many of today’s athletes, especially the stars, Robitaille’s commitment to his teammates was never fake.

“As a player, the thing you cherish the most is your teammates,” said Robitaille. “You’ll never know until you’re done about how many friends you make and that’s what stays forever.”

Robitaille’s teammates certainly made sure he knew how they felt about him on the night he passed Marcel Dionne to become the Kings’ all-time leading goal scorer.

Robitaille was the last Kings’ player off the ice on January 19, 2006 at Staples Center, as the Kings won a barnburner against the Atlanta Thrashers, 8-6. And when he finally walked into the dressing room, his teammates, coaches and team staff all gave him a standing ovation that lasted for more than two minutes.

“This year, when I did the record and my teammates clapped for me after the game...they’ll never know what that meant to me,” Robitaille said, his voice cracking with emotion as he fought back tears.

“As teammates, as players, we know what we go through every day, day in and day out,” he added. “The mental game...sometimes you’re mad at the coach, you’re mad at this. But when your teammates respect you—that’s the memory you never forget.”


ADORATION

I admire the way Luc carries himself off the ice. He is the one guy who always finds time to stop and interact with people in general but kids in particular. It puts a smile on their faces. He shakes their hand and has fun with them. When I am asked about Luc Robitaille that is what I talk about. — Adam Graves, who played with Robitaille with the New York Rangers.


From early in his career with the Kings, Robitaille often heard Kings fans at the Great Western Forum and later at Staples Center chanting “Luuuuccccc” for the player they absolutely adored.

Robitaille quickly became a fan favorite for the same reasons his teammates admired him—he was always positive, always had a smile on his face, and he was always willing to go out of his way.

“I don’t take [the fans] for granted,” said Robitaille. “I know that I’ve always gone out of my way. I’ve never said no, although there were some times where I was in a hurry and had to walk away, for autographs. I’ve always spent time trying to develop hockey in this community and teach young kids that it is possible to do your dream, whatever it is. I’ve always taken pride in trying not to say no.”

And it was not just his interaction with the fans that made him so popular.

“I think the reason the fans took a liking to me...I mean obviously, it’s a great name,” he joked.

“I think they saw how much I love the game,” Robitaille explained. “I think people can feel that. You can’t fake that. I genuinely love this game. I still feel like I’m living a dream. There’s a little kid in me that every day, I played because I wanted to be better than the game before. I think people feel that. When you really care for something, people feel that. That’s probably the biggest thing.”

Bob Miller also said that Robitaille’s love for the game was something that the fans saw and really latched onto.

“Luc loved the game so much,” Miller explained. “He always had a smile on his face. He hated to lose, as all players do. But he loved to play the game. And that came through to the fans and to everybody else, his teammates.”

“The attitude, the way he played the game, the way he looked on the ice, how much he enjoyed it, and the fact that as a superstar—and he is a superstar,” Miller stressed. “He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame immediately upon becoming eligible. Yet, in spite of all that, he was accessible to the fans. I’ve seen him walk out of games and stand there in the parking lot, talking to fans, laughing and joking with them and signing autographs.”

Miller then pointed out that unlike many athletes, Robitaille’s skates never left the ice, so to speak.

“Unfortunately, in a lot of sports these days, the superstars don’t want to [sign autographs or interact with the fans],” Miller lamented. “They don’t want to be bothered. And I think the fans really love Luc because he’s a down-to-earth guy. He’s almost like one of them. He’s got great skills in the game he plays, but he’s like one of them and he always has time for them.”

“When you look at it, why can’t everybody be like that? Why don’t you have that attitude of just meet with the fans and enjoy them, and I think that’s what made Luc the most popular player ever to wear a Kings uniform.”

It was that down-to-earth style that influenced Robitaille to announce his retirement on Tuesday.

“A few people have asked me why didn’t I mention it before,” said Robitaille. “This is because we still have a chance. We have to win our three games and if Edmonton lose its three games, we’re in. This might not be it this week. I know that’s our goal, to get into the playoffs.”

“But being realistic, with one game left to go here in LA, it was fair to tell my friends and the fans that it could be my last game in LA,” added Robitaille. “I felt I owed it to everybody who’s followed me and supported me throughout my career here.”

Robitaille also wanted his retirement to be a happy occasion, not a sad one. For everyone else involved, he wanted it to be a celebration, not a wake.

“He’s leaving with his head up high,” said Norstrom. “I don’t think there’s any regret on his part, so no, this is not a sad day.”

“To every single person who’s touched me in hockey, I really mean it from the bottom of my heart—thank you very, very much,” said Robitaille. “This is not a sad day. I’m going to move on. I’ve got other things I’m going to do.”

However, one person found it difficult to share Robitaille’s positive outlook on the day.

“It’s sad,” said Miller. “I’m thinking that it’s been 19-20 years that I’ve been able to say his name in a broadcast and describe what he was doing, either with the Kings or with other teams. It’s going to be strange when next season starts when he’s not in the league or in a Kings uniform.”

“I was thinking about how difficult it is for a guy who loves the game as much as Luc, or any of these athletes, to finally come to that day when you say ‘that’s it,’” added Miller. “It’s a tough decision. I think a lot of players fear that they’re making that decision too soon. That they’re still going to have something left, and that they’re going to miss it so much that they want to come back.”

But Robitaille was looking ahead, not wanting to take the time to reminisce too much yet.

“I’m certainly going to help my wife a little more with Shelter for Serenity [the charitable foundation that his family created to assist victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita],” added Robitaille. “This is more a celebration for me. Hopefully, there’s another twenty-eight games left, but if its three games, it’s going to be a lot of fun and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.”


SOMETHING WAS MISSING

As a player in the NHL, there is nothing better than winning the Stanley Cup. It was very special to be able to share the experience with a player like Luc. He has done so much for the sport of hockey, and after spending so many years in the League, and accomplishing so much, it was great to see Luc hoist the Cup at Joe Louis Arena. — Brendan Shanahan, who played with Robitaille on the Red Wings 2002 Stanley Cup Championship team.


Clearly, the one big disappointment of Robitaille’s career with the Kings was that he was unable to help bring a Stanley Cup Championship to the Kings and their long-suffering fans.

Even worse, he had to leave the Kings to win the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002. But what does he do when his day with the Cup comes around? He brings it home to Los Angeles to share with family and friends.

“I always said that I wanted to have a Kings’ [championship] ring,” Robitaille lamented. “That year, it was more of a thank you to a lot of friends who had seen me or been behind me throughout the years. I figured I’d bring it here and have a big party with them.”

Evidently, a whole lot of people came out of the woodwork when they found out Robitaille was bringing the Cup home.

“I had more friends at the time than I thought I knew,” he joked.

It was evident on Tuesday that he was disappointed that he was retiring without having helped bring a Stanley Cup Championship to the Kings. But he is looking forward to being a part of the organization when they finally do.

“I have always wished to be part of the first team to win the Stanley Cup in LA,” said Robitaille. “So that’s why when [Kings CEO] Tim Leiweke mentioned to me that he’d like me to stay involved in the organization—that’s one of the reasons I’d love to be part of the organization—to be a part of it the first time they win the Cup.”

But do not expect him to become the next Kings’ head coach.

“Definitely not coach! These guys work real hard,” said Robitaille. “I don’t know what i want to do. Definitely being involved in this organization. I feel like this is my family. It’s always been my team.”

“I think as a player, the first team you play for is always your team,” added Robitaille, who played with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Detroit, in addition to his fourteen seasons with the Kings. “You can go somewhere else, but the first team you play for, that logo is on your heart. I have that logo on my heart.”


IS HE A SUPERSTAR?

Consider that Robitaille is the NHL’s career leading scorer among left wings (668 goals and 1,394 points). He is an almost certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he would have had statues cast in his honor had he spent the bulk of such a career in, say, Detroit or Montreal. — Jim Alexander in the Press-Enterprise (April 11, 2006).


In addition to being the all-time leading scorer (goals and points) among left wings in the NHL, Robitaille is:

• The leader in goals (63) and points (125) scored by an NHL left wing in one season
• Ranked tenth in all-time goals scored
• Ranked 19th all-time in overall scoring (points)

“I was fortunate to play with a number of amazing goal scorers in my career and Luc fits perfectly into this elite,” said former Kings goaltender Kelly Hrudey, who is now a color commentator for CBC in Canada. “Luc loves to score and not only from the usual scoring areas but any location on the ice.”

“He would practice endlessly trying to put the puck in the net from the corner and because of his persistence he would score the occasional goal from those tough angles,” added Hrudey. “The last name ‘Robitaille’ belongs besides that of Gretzky, [former New York Islanders legend Mike] Bossy and [former Chicago Blackhawks star left wing Bobby] Hull as one of the games all-time great goal scorers.”

And when you compare Robitaille’s achievements to equivalent statistics in the other major professional team sports, it becomes quite clear that Robitaille deserves to be a part of some very elite company.

For instance, if Robitaille was a Major League Baseball player and was ranked tenth all-time in home runs, he would be tied with Reggie Jackson, and he would be just behind the likes of Harmon Killebrew, Mark McGwire, Frank Robinson and Sammy Sosa. He would be ahead of Ken Griffey, Mickey Mantle, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Eddie Murray, Stan Musial and Willie Stargell.

That is lofty company indeed. But it gets better.

If Lucky Luc was tenth all-time in the National Basketball Association in scoring, he would be tied with John Havlichek, ahead of Alex English, Reggie Miller, and Jerry West. He would also be ahead of Shaquille O’Neal, Elgin Baylor and Larry Bird, and he would be just behind the likes of Dominique Wilkins and Oscar Robertson.

And if Robitaille was tenth all-time in the National Football League in touchdowns, he would be ahead of players like Barry Sanders, Franco Harris, Terrell Owens, Tim Brown, Steve Largent, Randy Moss and Eric Dickerson.

But aside from people who follow the Kings closely, few would ever consider Robitaille to be a superstar athlete, even in other NHL cities.

The reason? Clearly, it is Robitaille’s unassuming, down-to-earth approach.

“Never has there been a more humble record-holder in all of sports,” said Kings center Jeremy Roenick. “Because of the way Luc treats people, you would never think of him as a guy who has accomplished so much. His special love for life and for his friends reflects the passion he has for the game of hockey.”

“His attitude towards others in the game almost supersedes his on-ice accomplishments that, as we all know, have been remarkable,” said Nickson.

“Luc Robitaille deserves a special place in NHL history,” said former Kings defenseman and radio color commentator Brian Engblom, who is currently a hockey analyst for OLN. “His numbers speak for themselves but the imprint of his personality is so much bigger. His legacy in the NHL, in my mind, will always be the joy he brought to every shift of every game.”

“Some athletes create records that are merely numbers,” added Engblom. “Others live lives full of style and flair. They are special, from moment to moment, and they touch many people along the way. That’s Luc. The scoring records, for all of us, were just a bonus that happened along the way.”

And in a region that has seen star athletes come and go, Robitaille is truly one of the very best.

“[Robitaille is] one of the most popular and successful athletes in the history of sports in Los Angeles,” said Nickson.

To be sure, Robitaille can be mentioned in the same sentence as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Marcel Dionne and Wayne Gretzky. Robitaille clearly belongs in that elite group of the all-time greatest Los Angeles athletes.

Indeed, one of those athletes thinks very highly of Robitaille’s credentials.

“Luc had an outstanding NHL career,” said Gretzky, who will soon have Robitaille’s jersey number next to his own in the rafters at Staples Center. “He was a great hockey player who loved to come to the rink each and every day. He helped make ice hockey a sport to do in the city of Los Angeles and he was able to fulfill his dream and win a Stanley Cup.”


THE LEGACY

The legacy is to all of his teammates, all of the young people, enjoy this while you have the opportunity because someday you’re going to look back and ask ‘why didn’t I enjoy it more.’ And that’s when you’ll be on the outside looking in. — Bob Miller.


Indeed, Robitaille’s legacy mirrors his down-to-earth approach to the game, to the fans, to the community, and to life.

“He leaves a legacy where you should enjoy what you’re doing, do it to the fullest and to the best of your ability, and the bottom line: just enjoy it,” said Miller. “Enjoy a career that’s not going to last your whole life, unlike some other professions. Here is a profession where you know the day is going to come when you’ve got to say ‘I think I’m through.’”

“Off the ice, Luc personifies the word ‘class,’” said Fox. “How he treats people shows his class. Even as he grew into a Hall-of-Fame hockey player, he still maintained the same attitude. He treats everyone with respect and class and, as an added bonus, he does it with a big smile.”

“Luc continues to reach out to the fans and the community,” said former Kings left wing Daryl Evans, now the Kings radio color commentator. “[He is] truly a great role model both on and off the ice for future hockey players.”

For what he has accomplished in his NHL career, and especially in his time with the Kings, Luc Robitaille has reached a level of achievement—a level of greatness—that only the best of the elite have ever reached. Equally important are his stellar contributions off the ice, to his team, to his fans and to his community.

And as we all prepare for Saturday night when Robitaille will play in his final home game for the Kings and where the fans will pour their love and appreciation for him onto the ice, perhaps Nick Nickson summed it all up best.

“The puck is dropped and the game begins. The buzzer sounds and the game ends. And so it goes for the players. We just hate to see the great ones go.”

Gann Matsuda, who has been writing about the Kings since 1986, is the News Editor for Kingshockey.com.
© 2006, Kingshockey.com. All rights reserved. Duplication and/or distribution is prohibited without permission.