20 Questions with #20 – Interview with Luc Robitaille

From the 1984 NHL Entry Draft to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. From his 500th goal in 1999 to his retirement in 2006. Kings fans have been watching Luc Robitaille for two decades now. He’s strayed from Los Angeles a few times, yet his heart always belonged to the Kings. Today marks another milestone in the incredible career of the young kid from Montreal who grew up to become the greatest left wing of all time.

Prior to his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame later today, we had a chance to sit down with Luc…we went all the way back to the beginning and tried to cover everything in between…it was 20 Questions with #20:

Recently the Kings had a Dad’s Trip, something they didn’t do back when you were playing. Yet, the bond between father and son was still important – especially when you’re younger. Do you remember any advice your dad gave you prior to being drafted?

My dad never said much to me about playing. He never missed a practice or a game. I think there was one game in Juniors though where he said “I drive two hours to watch you everyday. I don’t care if you play bad, but you have to work hard.” It never happened again. I didn’t want to disappoint him.

You had a great career at Hull (Junior Hockey), you were the player of the year in 85-86 and the the CHL later created an award named after you (The Luc Robitaille Trophy). Now, its given to the team that scores the most goals in a season. The Kings have drafted six guys that have played for a team that won the award…

Wow, I didn’t know that.

Well, I’m not sure if its a good thing Luc, none of those prospects have panned out yet.

(He laughs) Hang in there. Sooner or later one of them will work out.

There isn’t a ‘Luc’ jinx?

No, no, no. Don’t say that. One of them will pan out. (he laughs some more)

Well, Nicolas Deslauriers was taken in the third round this year…

Yeah, he’s a real good player. He had a pretty good season.

So I shouldn’t mention the possibility of a jinx to Dean?

No, no. Don’t mention it to him. (More laughter)

In 1986 you beat Ron Hextall for the Calder Trophy. Do you like to tease him about that now that you guys work together?

No, I never do. That’s something I should though. I’ve never teased him about that. I tease him about a few of the goals I scored on him though. He said he doesn’t remember any of them, but I say I do and I can show him the video. I know he remembers.

After your second season with the Kings the big trade went down for Wayne. Do you remember how you found out he would be your teammate and what your thoughts were at the time?

Bruce McNall called me the day before the trade was about to happen and I still wasn’t sure it was really going to happen. The next day I was in Montreal when it happened and I had to do a couple hundred interviews. There was no way to get a hold of Wayne because of the press conference, so people starting asking me questions.My thoughts were pure excitement. I idolized Wayne, so to get the best player in the game was great. That was the most excited I ever was in my career about getting a new player on my team. To be able to watch him day in and day out was just amazing.

The Kings had a great season in 1990-91, winning the Smythe Division. How close was that team to threatening for the Cup? When I talked with Kelly Hrudey recently he said he thought the Edmonton Oilers were what held you guys back; that those guys just had something special and it was hard for you guys to get past them.

Well, I think every year once we got Wayne we thought about it. You know we had John Tonelli, Kelly Hrudey, Mike Krushelnyski, Larry Robinson. We had good stay at home defensemen in Tom Laidlaw and Tim Watters. We felt every year we had a shot that year. That being said you never know. But, we felt that way every year.

As far as the Oilers, well – we beat them in the playoffs one year, they beat us the next year. They still had a good aura. But we had some good runs against them. I actually thought Calgary and Edmonton both gave us the most problems.

In the ’92-93 season Gretzky was hurt and you were given the ‘C’. Many people have said that you played differently as the captain. Do you think so?

I think so. Barry Melrose gave me a lot of respect with that. To tell you the truth, it was my first time in LA playing on the top line. All the years prior I was always on the second like. So that changed a lot of my responsibilities. I remember Barry asking me to work hard every day and it certainly paid off. I enjoyed the responsibility.

The following year the Kings missed the playoffs and then things got weird. There was a lockout, you were traded to the Penguins. Did having Tomas Sandstrom in Pittsburgh make the transition any easier for you?

Well, I knew Howard Baldwin. When I went there he treated me real well. I had a fairly decent year, about a point a game. We had a good run in the playoffs. We lost to New Jersey and they won the cup that year. I enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh. The only reason I left was Howard went to my agent – because of the lockout I was able to file for arbitration – he wasn’t going to be able to pay me. We didn’t know at the time, but he was in trouble financially. He did me a favor and sent me to New York.

Let’s talk about your time as a Ranger. You got the chance to play with the guy that many people claim is the best captain in all of sports, Mark Messier. What did you learn from him?

I learned a lot from Mark. I was really impressed with how hard he worked every game, he was such an impact on every game. What impressed me the most though was the way he lead. He lead with a constant positive thoughts. If you worked hard and you were honest, you were part of Mark’s group. If you weren’t working hard and you weren’t honest, you were just literally out. That’s why Mark won so many cups because of the way he lead. He was definitely one of the best leaders I ever played with.

In August of ’97 one of Dave Taylor’s first moves as the new GM of the Kings was to bring you back to Los Angeles. How excited were you at the time?

I was excited. Dave talked to me right away. I knew what was expected of me in LA. Larry Robinson was the coach, it was a good fit. Unfortunately, I was hurt the first year. I played with a bad groin, a hernia, for a long time. Then I had to have hernia surgery. But the team played well. We were staring to build a team. That was fun.

The last year at the Forum, in ’98-99, you went out with a bang – playing all 82 games and scoring 39 goals, the most you had put up in five years. Was that intentional?

Like I said, the year before I had the hernia surgery and I was not feeling good about my game. It was hard to play with a bad groin all year. Then once I fixed my hernia I got into a new training program. I got a lot stronger and bigger. That’s when the players were getting faster and bigger. Literally I changed my career that summer. I probably added ten years to my career that summer.

A lot of fans still don’t understand what happened in the summer of 2001 and why the Kings didn’t resign you. What can you share?

I still don’t quite know what happened either. I thought we had a great run. When it comes down to a contract its always about one guy. I had a great year. I was 11th in scoring in the league. We had done everything right. But then I was offered a pay cut. I wasn’t expecting a huge…um…I don’t know what I was expecting. But I was expecting something. When I was offered a pay cut – you know – that never happens to the leading scorer on your team. I was really disappointed. It happened 24 hours before the July deadline. It was certainly weird the way it happened. There was not a lot of communication. I didn’t understand it. But at the time I wasn’t going to go and shop myself around. I was going to go for the team that really wanted me. So that’s what I let the Kings know at the time – I said “If you want me, you have until tomorrow to sign me” and that was going to be it for me. They never called me back.

You went on to win the Cup in Detroit your first season there. Then, at the end of your second season the team was swept by Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs. You were about to be a free agent again. Do you remember your first thoughts about what you were in store for?

I don’t really remember. We were so disappointed in the way that season ended. We knew we had a good team and we knew it wasn’t going to last forever. That summer, Ken Holland sat me down. He’s a very special person. Once that happened I knew I was going to be a free agent.

Your wife, Stacia, has always been so supportive throughout your career. What were her thoughts when you told her you had a chance to come back to LA to finish your career?

Tim Leiweke had mentioned to me previously that when my deal was up he wanted me to finish my career in LA. So Stacia and I planned on calling Tim. I knew he would live up to his word. He has been so good to me and my family through the years. It wasn’t really much of a surprise at that point.

After your final game (up in San Jose) the Sharks players and coaches came onto the ice to congrats you. Did that surprise you at all?

It really surprised me and at the same time it was one of the proudest moments of my career. teammates and your opponents are the people that know the price you pay to play every day. And I know I played my career in an honest way, the right way. So when they did that it was special. It certainly was one the greatest memories of my career. Sometimes the little things make you feel good about situations. That was a big thing for me. I remember Big Joe Thornton approaching me and he spoke very highly of my career and that meant a lot to me.

Regarding the Hall of Fame festivities, what are you most nervous about?

I just don’t want to screw up the speech. i want to make sure everything goes smooth in that way. I don’t want to forget anybody. I’m not really nervous. Its such a great honor. I’m just going to be happy to be part of it and to enjoy every single moment because it never happens again. Its going to be such a blur though. They told me they’re going to keep me.

Tell us about the Omaha Lancers. Your part owner with Mario Lemieux, right?

Yes. I always wanted to give back to Juniors. I played in the US my whole career. When this team was available in Omaha we started looking into the USHL. We started getting familiar with Junior Major in the US and the chance for kids to go to college. I really liked that concept. Its been fun.

You were recently on NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s radio show. Why do you think he gets booed so much around the league?

They’ve booed every commissioner in the history of sports, ever since the first sport was created. I remember the fans used to boo John Ziegler when he was commissioner. Its just the way it is. I think they get a kick out of it. But Gary has done a lot of stuff throughout his time with the NHL. He’s made a lot of changes. Fans all have their opinions. But at the end of the day, what Gary has done with our league he has helped make it so that we compete at a higher level every night, the buildings are fuller now than ever before, he’s done an amazing job – but, there’s not a commissioner that doesn’t get booed. If you get the job of Commissioner, you have to expect to be booed – everywhere.

If you were the Commissioner, what one thing about the game would you look to change?

Oh gosh. well, we all like to play Commissioner. But the one thing I would like to do – we all talk about improving tv – the one thing I like to do is get rid of the hurry up faceoffs. Give more time to talk about and tell stories about our great players between whistles.

Fans in Los Angeles obviously loved you Luc. They get your autograph on just about anything. What about for you, is there any important memorabilia you’ve kept from your career?

Its kinda funny because when I was younger I didn’t keep much. When I’d get a jersey or something I’d give it to my mom, but I never thought much about it. Once I started having kids I thought Man I gotta start keeping stuff. So I have some stuff in boxes. I kept some stuff when I won the Cup. Believe it or not when we were going to the Finals in ’93 I was keeping a lot of stuff. I just had a feeling. The funny thing is, in that series my wife…she knew everybody in the arena and she came to all the games. Most of the time she’d forget her ticket, but they knew where she sat. So, that year in the playoffs I forgot to give her tickets for the first round. She was bugging me to give her the tickets for the second round and I forgot again. By the time we got to third round I said I’m not giving them to you! I remember thinking that’s probably the only uncut tickets in existence. So when we made the Finals I said Man if we win the cup this is going to be awesome.

You’ve stated that helping the Kings win a Stanley Cup is your number one priority as team President. What other goals have you set for yourself?

Our fans deserve for us to put a product…and to be a franchise…that acts like one of the top franchises in pro sports. When Mr. Anschutz and Mr. Leiweke gave me this job they let us have people working for the Kings 365 days a year. We take a lot of pride in giving great service to our fans and we’re trying to be at the forefront of things, like what we’re doing on the internet. We’re trying to do as much stuff as possible to be a successful franchise, on and off the ice. Look at what Dean has done too, like redoing the locker room for the second time in two years. We’re trying to treat the players with a lot of class. When you look at other teams, like the Dodgers or the Detroit Red Wings, they do all the little things right. That’s what we’re looking at. That’s our goal.

Thanks Luc. Congratulations on your well deserved honor.

Luc Robitaille, member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Word Association with Luc Robitaille – talking teammates and opponents

High / Low with Luc

Interview with Seth Ambroz of the Omaha Lancers – probable 2011 first round pick

Interview with Rob Blake

Interview with Kelly Hrudey

Interview with Robb Stauber

To read other interviews we’ve done with Luc here on Mayors Manor, simply type his name into the search box near the top right corner of this page.

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