The Kings' bench empties on the ice to celebrate its Stanley Cup championship… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Just when it seems the Kings finally have everything — the Stanley Cup, the love of a city, the respect of a league — it turns out something is still missing.
It's three inches in diameter, weighs about six ounces, and is absolutely huge.
The Kings may have discovered their championship soul, but they still can't find their championship puck.
Two weeks after winning their first Stanley Cup in the franchise's 45-year history, the Kings don't know the whereabouts of the puck that was on the ice when the final game ended.
It might be this town's greatest souvenir since the Kirk Gibson home run ball, yet, like that ball, it is gone, disappeared, vanished into thin ice.
The puck was last spotted sliding across center ice at Staples Center while the Kings were in the corner celebrating their Game 6, clinching victory. A video shows the chunk of rubber then being casually flipped into the air and in the giant glove of the New Jersey Devils' Patrik Elias.
The puck has not been seen since.
Elias' agent says his client is on vacation and unreachable. The Devils say they don't know anything about anything. The NHL says it will launch an investigation only if the Kings request it.
This week, the increasingly frustrated Kings are going to request it.
"This is a big deal," said Luc Robitaille, the Kings' president of business operations. "We've got to get that puck back."
The puck is only one of 35 to 40 that the NHL uses in each Stanley Cup Final game. It didn't represent a winning goal or big play. Hockey teams who win championships generally don't worry about the championship puck, as several recent winners also have been unable to find it.
But this being the Kings, this was different. This was the puck that was being used when the horn blew and the confetti fell and a 45-year-old drought ended with showers of emotion. Long after the actual Stanley Cup leaves the Kings and returns to its Toronto home, this puck is the piece of equipment that would remain behind as the eternal symbol of the most unlikely triumph in Southern California sports history.
"No one seems to know where it is," said Robitaille. "We need to get to the bottom of this."
The initial problem is that the Kings were understandably so excited about winning their first Cup, they forgot all about the puck. Instead of making arrangements to grab it at the end of a game that had long since been decided, the entire Kings organization was too busy either hugging or crying or waiting to hoist that giant silver thing.
It wasn't until two days later that anybody even realized it was missing. Rich Hammond, beat writer for lakings.com, casually sent out emails asking different members of the organization about the puck's location.
"In every response, nobody knew where it was," Hammond said. "After a while they realized they just didn't have it."
Hammond wrote a blog item about the missing puck, which elicited a video from a fan who had taped the last two minutes of the game while sitting behind the Kings goal. The video clearly shows Elias flipping the puck up with his stick, then skating over to goalie Martin Brodeur, then eventually leaving the ice.
The controversy, and the search, was on.
"I don't think any Devil has it, or else we would have it by now," said Robitaille.
Would they? The final puck is a big deal in Stanley Cup playoff games because the winning team often grabs it and hangs it on a motivational board in their dressing room — one puck is hung for each victory. Because of this, the losing team often tries to steal it.
It gets so messy that linesmen who usually pick up the pucks after regular-season games are instructed by the NHL to leave the pucks alone after Stanley Cup Final games so nobody can accuse them of swiping it. In the most recent celebrated incident of a lost championship puck, the Chicago Blackhawks are still looking for the winning puck from their 2010 NHL championship, won in an overtime game, with many of their fans still blaming a linesman for picking it up.
"If a Devil had it, he might not have been real happy with it, he might have thrown it in the stands," said Robitaille. "If one of our fans has it, we will make a deal with them to get it back. We need that puck."
You hear that? If that puck is burning a hole on your dashboard or dominating a spot on your dresser, the Kings will ask no questions upon its return, and you can probably get some free tickets out of it. Just don't try to con them. The pucks all contain an obvious Game 6 marking, and also a hidden marking.
The problem is, the real puck might too valuable for the average fan to return. A Chicago restaurateur offered $50,000 for the return of the Blackhawks puck, and you could probably make half that much selling this one at auction. So the puck could be sitting right around the corner and the Kings might never see it.
Me, I still think one of the Devils has it. Using my amateur detective skills, I would guess that Elias, a classy player, is handing the puck to Brodeur in case it was the great goaltender's final game, which it is not.
"I hear he's coming back, so if that's the case, he would have given it back to us, right?" said Robitaille.
A Devils spokesman said they had not been contacted by the Kings and thus had no idea what I was talking about. Allan Walsh, agent for Elias, said, "Patrik is on vacation and I've not had an opportunity to talk to him about it."
Somebody is going to have to sing sometime. The puck stops here, and the Kings will not rest until it actually does.