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Kings owner Phil Anschutz should take Kings' fate personally

HELENE ELLIOTT

He has been silent as the Kings have gone six straight seasons without making the playoffs. The fans deserve answers.

April 09, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

April 9, 2009

Philip F. Anschutz

The Anschutz Co.

555 17th St., Ste. 2400

Denver, CO 80202

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Dear Phil,

The NHL regular season ends Sunday, so I figured this would be a good time to ask for your thoughts on the Kings.

You remember the Kings, don't you?

Not the tall guys who play in Sacramento. The Maloof family owns them. You own so many teams and arenas it would be easy for you to be confused.

I'm referring to your hockey team. The one you won't allow to publish your photo in its media guide.

When you bought the Kings out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1995 you saved a reeling franchise and gained a toehold in Los Angeles. You said you wanted to build a lavish, modern arena as the centerpiece of an entertainment complex that would revitalize downtown L.A., and you did. Staples Center and L.A. Live have given you a big footprint here.

Clearly, the real estate ploys have worked out better than the hockey thing.

You see, Phil, this is the sixth straight season the Kings are out of the playoffs. Yes, they have made progress in the last six months. They have developed a group of talented kids and improved defensively. Coach Terry Murray has given them some structure.

But they have a ways to go before they can contend for the Stanley Cup.

(You know what that is, right? The big, shiny trophy that team in Anaheim won in 2007? Just checking).

Anyway, hockey fans here would love to know what you think about the Kings' future.

But you haven't done an interview since you and Ed Roski talked to me in a cubbyhole of a room beneath the stands of the Forum for a story that ran in The Times on May 12, 1997. It took several months and lots of persuasion from Commissioner Gary Bettman to get you to talk, but you did.

A few things have changed since then, wouldn't you say?

Tim Leiweke, your right-hand man, says he can address any issues regarding the Kings. But he's not the owner.

People make a big financial and emotional commitment to your team every time they go to a game, watch one, or listen to the radio. They want to know whether you are equally committed and whether you care enough to make the Kings better.

They want to know whether you care at all.

We'd like to hear what you have to say about Leiweke's promise that the Kings would be able to compete on an equal footing with every NHL other team under the collective bargaining agreement that ended the 2004-05 lockout. We're still waiting for that. We're still waiting for them to make the playoffs.

We'd like to know whether you will let General Manager Dean Lombardi spend money to acquire the high-scoring forward the Kings urgently need, a difference-maker. That would increase the payroll. Are you up for that?

Let's also discuss the kids. Will you spend money to keep them? Lombardi has signed a few to long-term deals -- Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Matt Greene -- but it would be the final straw for a lot of fans if you zip your wallet when Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick and others hit their prime and they leave to win the Cup elsewhere.

Speaking of leaving, has it occurred to you Lombardi might be letting his emotions influence personnel decisions?

Michael Cammalleri invoked his salary arbitration rights last year and Lombardi soon traded him for a draft pick. Cammalleri is having an excellent season with the Calgary Flames. They made the playoffs. Just so you know.

There's also Patrick O'Sullivan, who was a restricted free agent and missed the start of training camp while Lombardi and his agent negotiated a new contract. Lombardi traded O'Sullivan in March.

It could be a coincidence. It could be a pattern. A bad one. Or maybe you think there's nothing wrong with dumping employees who don't toe the line. We'd like to know.

Oh, and Phil . . . about ticket prices for next season.

Cut 'em.

Your public relations department announced that season ticket prices for 2009-10 would be frozen at current numbers, but that's no big favor because of the unwarranted increase you imposed after last season. And you alienated many of the season-ticket holders who are your backbone when your marketing department dropped prices for January games to $11.50. What do you say to folks who paid much more for similar seats, and in advance?

By the way, the Ducks have frozen all prices for next season, including single-game tickets, parking and concessions. What are you waiting for?

Phil, hockey fans are fiercely loyal. Kings fans especially. But you'll lose them unless you personally assure them you're willing to build a winner. It doesn't have the same weight coming from Leiweke or Lombardi as it would from you.

Phil, have a good off-season. It will be long enough to give you plenty of time to reply.

Yours truly,

Helene Elliott

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

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