Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
The Kings' Stanley Cup banner won't have to share space on Staples Center's wall of honor with the banners that commemorate the Lakers' NBA titles. Tim Leiweke, the Kings' governor and chief executive of their parent company, AEG, believed a singular accomplishment deserved singular recognition and so cast his eyes elsewhere.
When the Kings raise that banner a week from Saturday, before they open this lockout-shortened season with a noon game against the Chicago Blackhawks, it will reside in the rafters above center ice. There, in glorious solitude, it will be displayed not as a memento but as a promise.
"We're going to do something different," Leiweke said, "so we have room to hang the others."
The others — as in other championship banners. And for once in the existence of this often-cursed franchise, that can be said without causing laughter or spit takes in response.
Leiweke is convinced the Kings will deliver more titles, and with playoff-MVP goaltender Jonathan Quick under contract for the next decade and a young core, the Kings should be in the mix for a long time. Although AEG has put its sports holdings up for sale and a new buyer might want a lean payroll, Leiweke has given General Manager Dean Lombardi the budget and the mandate to become the first team to repeat as Cup champion since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings.
"We're committed to spending whatever it takes to win again. We're committed to spending whatever it takes to keep this nucleus together," Leiweke said Thursday at a kickoff news conference at Staples Center.
"Our fans don't want a free beer or free hot dog. They want another Cup. We get it."
Fans probably do want free beer and hot dogs after waiting through a tedious labor dispute that is expected to end on Saturday with ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement by players.
"And another Cup," Leiweke said. "In fact they probably want a free beer out of the Cup, which is OK too."
The Kings plan to appease fans with merchandise and perks, including replica Cup banners to those who attend the opener, replica rings to those who attend a game on a date to be announced, and autograph sessions for season-ticket holders. Other make-nice gestures are still in the works. They started with an impressive gesture Thursday, announcing they had teamed with McDonald's to donate $1 million to four local charities with the hope of increasing that donation during the season.
The best item they can offer is the chance to contend again. Their for-sale status hasn't undermined that, according to Leiweke, who was instrumental in pushing NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to restart the negotiations that led to a tentative labor agreement on Sunday.
"The theme we created two weeks ago when we started talking about if we come back is, 'The journey continues,' " said Leiweke, who intends to remain in charge of the Kings under the next owner. "We're not going to spend a lot of time talking about what we just went through. We're focused on what we'd like to go through."
If they have a chance to repeat, it's in large part because of Lombardi, who rescued the Kings from the NHL's rubble and dispelled the culture of losing by assembling a gritty, cohesive team. Lombardi has kept the Cup roster intact, a remarkable feat in a salary-cap era — or any other.
Typically, Lombardi is approaching this win-again mission studiously. He asked an array of NFL players and coaches how they handled the pressure of defending a title and he will share their thoughts with his players. They have a head start, he said, because of the tough-mindedness that fueled their rise from a No. 8-seeded team to Cup champion.
"It's not about recapturing the feeling. It's about writing a new story," he said. "And the one thing they know about that story is when they fulfill it and get to the end, it's the greatest feeling in the world."
Great enough to allow them to drink free beer from the Cup.