Shortly after the Los Angeles Kings showed off the Stanley Cup at a raucous downtown celebration last June, they had another parade through the quieter streets of the laid-back beach towns where nearly every member of the organization lives.
During their unprecedented success over the last three years with a long-struggling franchise, these Kings haven't forgotten the source of their good fortune. To live where they live, to play how they play — the Kings all seem to realize they're profoundly lucky to be part of this hockey powerhouse, and they don't want the thrill to end.
"We all know it's a pretty unique set of circumstances here," captain Dustin Brown said. "We all came together, and we've been able to accomplish some great things together. A lot of athletes don't get that chance in their whole careers."
After two Stanley Cup titles and an NHL-record 64 playoff games in three seasons, the Kings still seem hungry for more. Almost the entire core from last season's championship team is back and determined to keep the Cup on the West Coast.
Just ask goal-scoring left wing Marian Gaborik, who joined the Kings in a trade late last season and immediately found a hockey soul mate in playmaking center Anze Kopitar. After leading the Kings with 14 playoff goals and winning his first Cup, Gaborik couldn't wait to re-sign with Los Angeles, passing on free agency for less than his probable market value.
"I've made enough money in my whole career, so it wasn't about money," Gaborik scoffed. "To get a taste of that Cup, I think that gives you motivation to repeat and to be hungry again. That is the motivation — to go back there and to do it with this team and to play in this environment, to play in this state. It's an awesome mix. I didn't want to leave."
The Kings are striving for some lofty accomplishments this year. The NHL hasn't even had a repeat champion since Detroit in 1997 and 1998, and Los Angeles could become the first team to win three titles in four seasons in a quarter-century.
Los Angeles might not dominate the regular season, but no opponent is more feared in the postseason. The Kings have won 10 playoff rounds in the last three years, and they're ready to challenge Chicago for postseason supremacy again.
Here are some things to watch when the Kings raise their banners and begin their title defense Oct. 8 against San Jose:
CONTINUITY: The Kings are remarkably intact, losing only 37-year-old defenseman Willie Mitchell in free agency. Every regular on all four forward lines returned, along with seven of their top eight defensemen. Such continuity is stunning these days, but general manager Dean Lombardi believed the champions should be rewarded with a chance to repeat.
QUICK BURST: Coach Darryl Sutter's Kings were the NHL's best defensive team during the last regular season, yielding just 2.05 goals per game. Jonathan Quick missed a big chunk of the year with an injury and didn't match his vaunted 2012 playoff numbers, but he remains one of the best big-game goalies in recent hockey history, and his surgically repaired wrist should be ready. Backup Martin Jones also returns after an impressive rookie year.
DEWEY'S DOMINANCE: Defenseman Drew Doughty ascended to the top tier of hockey stars in 2013-14 while winning an Olympic gold medal with Canada and a second Stanley Cup title in Los Angeles. He was arguably the best player on both of those title-winning teams, providing relentless aggression and puck-moving play. Doughty always rises to a big occasion, but this could be the year when he puts together 82 regular-season games of brilliance.
THAT 70'S LINE: Jeff Carter also has a gold medal and a Cup ring after last season, and the big center is back along with youngsters Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. They teamed up during the playoffs in a bruising trio dubbed "That 70's Line" in honor of their jersey numbers, and the group might end up playing together consistently this year.
JAZZ HANDS: Defenseman Alec Martinez is an L.A. hockey folk hero after scoring the overtime, series-winning goals against Chicago and the New York Rangers. He also absorbed plenty of good-natured offseason ribbing about his ecstatic, "jazz hands" celebration of his Cup-winning goal. The Kings are expecting another year of growth from Martinez, who could be an unrestricted free agent in the summer.
KEEPING RICHIE: Lombardi decided not to buy out the lavish contract of center Mike Richards, whose scoring has plummeted in the past few years. The Kings value Richards' responsible two-way play and leadership, even though it's not exactly worth the $5.75 million annual cap hit over the next six seasons. Los Angeles is hoping Richards rediscovers his scoring touch.