Luc Robitaille, arguably the most popular player in King history, will announce today that he is retiring at the end of the season, bringing to an end a record-setting career that will certainly lead him to the Hall of Fame.
Robitaille, 40, will leave the game as the highest-scoring left wing in NHL history -- he has 668 goals and 1,394 points in 19 seasons. He ranks 10th all-time in goals and is tied for 18th in points. He had three tours of duty with the Kings that covered 15 seasons.
Yet, his enormous popularity with King fans was earned as much through his efforts off the ice, promoting hockey as well as humanitarian efforts. He is active in many charities, including Shelter For Serenity (shelterforserenity.org), a non-profit organization he and his wife, Stacia, set up in September to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The Robitailles have helped four families from New Orleans, first taking them into their Utah home and then relocating them. Robitaille has been nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, given each year to the player who "exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
"You can just look at what he has done for Los Angeles through the years," team captain Mattias Norstrom said. "He has always been the face of the Kings. He always gets involved. He'll sit there an extra half-hour at events, making sure that everyone who came for an autograph gets an autograph."
Robitaille's final NHL season has been a mixed one. He became the team's all-time goal scorer, passing Marcel Dionne, his friend and mentor.
It was also a painful season.
His team got off to a solid start but faded and now is a longshot, at best, to make the playoffs with three games left. Robitaille missed nine games after suffering a broken bone in his right leg in October and was frustrated when benched in December for three games and another three games last week. He has 15 goals, the second-lowest single-season total of his career.
Yet, throughout it all, Robitaille presented an upbeat face to his teammates.
"He was always smiling," Norstrom said. "He acted like it was his first NHL season. He enjoys what he does for a living and shows it. You hope the young players see that and learn from it."
Robitaille, an eight-time All-Star, was a ninth-round pick by the Kings in 1984, going so low because many questioned his speed. He answered those critics with goals. He scored 46 in 1986-87 and was awarded the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL's rookie of the year. He scored at least 44 goals in each of his first eight seasons, with a high of 63 in 1992-93.
Dionne took Robitaille into his home that first season, helping him to adjust to the rigors of the NHL, then had the assist on Robitaille's first NHL goal.
"He had a passion for the game," Dionne said. "He wanted to get better. That was nice to see in a young player.
"When you look back at his career, the important thing to me is the kindness and the willingness to give back. That he did something for those people who were left homeless by Katrina shows you the character that was there from the first time I saw him."
Robitaille broke Dionne's record of 550 goals in style, with a hat trick against the Atlanta Thrashers on Jan. 19.
"He was in here every day with a smile," the Kings' Craig Conroy said. "I know it hasn't been the best of years, but everything he did revolved around the team.
"That says a lot about him. He's just a good guy."
The arrival of Wayne Gretzky in 1988 made the Kings a threat and the team reached the 1993 Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to the Montreal Canadians. Robitaille had nine goals and 22 points in the 24 playoff games that season.
He has 58 goals and 127 points in 159 Stanley Cup playoff games.
"Luc had an outstanding NHL career," said Gretzky, now coach and managing partner of the Phoenix Coyotes. "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. He was a pleasure to play with and I wish him all the luck with his future endeavors."
Robitaille was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins after the 1992-93 season, then spent two seasons with the New York Rangers before returning to the Kings in a trade before the 1997-98 season. He left again, signing as free agent with Detroit in 2001 and won his only Stanley Cup, scoring 30 goals for the Red Wings in 2001-02.
The Kings re-signed him in 2003 and brought him back this season, and his popularity among fans helped smooth over hard feelings from the lockout. The Kings are expected to offer Robitaille a position next season.