The 2003 NHL draft is one of the keys to the Los Angeles Kings’ success. Not only did the Kings select future captain Dustin Brown in the first round, but the Flyers selected Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
Brown, Richards and Carter are crucial components for the Kings, who hold a 2-0 lead over the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Kings have never won the Stanley Cup.
Nobody could have predicted that this trio would be together in 2003, when they were drafted. The Flyers selected Carter 11th overall, 5-10 spots ahead of where he was projected by most of the scouting services. One of the players the Flyers skipped over to pick Carter was Brown, who was selected 13th by the Kings.
Richards was selected by the Flyers with the 24th pick of the 2003 draft, about five or six spots ahead of where he was ranked by the scouting services. Richards was traded to the Kings last June in a deal that brought Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds to the Flyers. The Kings picked up Carter at the trade deadline from Columbus, where he was traded on the same day the Flyers sent Richards to the Kings.
It’s not a surprise that Brown, Carter and Richards became good players. The surprise is that they all ended up on the same team. The Carter-Richards duo was supposed to bring a Stanley Cup to Philadelphia. Instead, reunited with fellow 2003 first-rounder Brown, they appear poised to bring the Cup to L.A. If the Kings win the Cup, Carter’s unassisted overtime goal in Game 2 will certainly be considered one of the series’ turning points.
The Flyers’ 2003 draft further benefited the Kings in the third round. The Flyers chose forward Colin Fraser with the 69th pick, one of four third-round picks for the Flyers in 2003. (The other 2003 third-rounders were right wing Stefan Ruzicka, defenseman Alexandre Picard and center Ryan Potulny.) Fraser is a gritty role player for the Kings.
Two other Kings players were drafted by the Flyers. Justin Williams, who plays on the Kings’ top scoring line, was selected 28th overall by the Flyers in 2000. Simon Gagne, who recently was cleared to play for the first time since December, when he sustained a concussion, was selected 22nd overall by the Flyers in 1998.
By the way, Kings assistant general manager Ron Hextall was selected by the Flyers in the sixth round (119th overall) of the 1982 draft. Assistant coach John Stevens, replaced as Flyers head coach by Peter Laviolette, was selected by the Flyers in the third round (47th overall) of the 1984 draft.
Given the presence of Hextall and Stevens, as well as general manager Dean Lombardi, a former Flyers scout and assistant to Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, the Kings’ penchant for picking up ex-Flyers is not surprising.
It also isn’t surprising that the draft is one of the keys to the Kings’ success. The surprise is that it’s the Flyers’ draft that may have put the Kings over the top in their pursuit of their first Cup.
THUNDER CONNECTIONS: The connection isn’t quite as strong as the Flyers-Kings connection, but the Oklahoma City Thunder certainly have benefited from the presence of a pair of former Sixers point guards: Scott Brooks and Maurice Cheeks. Brooks is the Thunder’s head coach. Cheeks is one of his assistants.
BEATING THE ODDS: The NBA is trying to dismiss questions about the legitimacy of its draft lottery. The New Orleans Hornets leap-frogged several teams to get the top pick in the NBA draft. The Hornets, a struggling franchise, are owned by the NBA. Hmmm.
There is a deal in place to hand over operations of the team to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. Overcoming the lottery odds to get the No. 1 pick seems like a terrific welcoming gift for a new franchise owner. Add in the fact that the NBA prevented the Hornets from trading Chris Paul to the Lakers then allowed them to trade him to the Clippers, and it’s understandable why conspiracy theories abound.
This isn’t the first time that the NBA draft lottery has aroused suspicion. In 1985, when Patrick Ewing was considered the best big man to come to the NBA in 15 years, the downtrodden Knicks overcame the odds to miraculously get the first pick.
PREMATURE PAT: I’m tempted to give myself a pat on the back for still having my preseason championship picks (Kings and Thunder) alive in the playoffs, but I’ve also learned not to count my chickens before they hatch. We’ll revisit this topic next week.
FIRST-PLACE FOES: The Phillies face a pair of first-place teams (as of Sunday) this week, hosting the Dodgers for four games before hitting the road for three games at Baltimore. But the obstacles are not as formidable as it might seem. The Dodgers and Orioles broke five- and six-game losing streaks, respectively, this weekend.
If we count the Marlins, who moved into a tie for first place in the National League East with Sunday’s win over the Phillies, the Phillies could face three first-place teams this week.
LEADING QUESTION: What will it take for Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to move Juan Pierre to the leadoff spot and drop Jimmy Rollins in the order?
SPORTS HEAVEN: In addition to the Phillies-Marlins game on Sunday, sports fans could have attended the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championships in Philly, the USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championships at PPL Park in Chester, or the FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover. That’s quite a wide spectrum of sports attractions in the Delaware Valley. And if the Flyers or Sixers were still playing …
CHAMPIONSHIP FORM: Jimmie Johnson’s dominating performance during Sunday’s FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks sent a message to the rest of NASCAR: the former champ is determined to get his title back.
Johnson, who had won five straight Sprint Cup championships until Tony Stewart ended his reign last year, picked up his first win of the season at Darlington on May 12. He followed that performance by winning the Sprint All-Star Race, which does not count in the standings. He finished 11th at the Coca-Cola 600 due to a pit stop mistake, then completely dominated Sunday’s race at Dover, leading for 289 of the 400 laps. Keep an eye on Johnson next Sunday at the Pocono 400.
Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for more than 23 years, is rooting for the L.A. Kings and all their former Flyers, only one of whom (Justin Williams) has won a Stanley Cup, to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.