The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup over the New Jersey Devils last night, and as with almost every season, there are some people that I've never met who I was really happy for. I was happy for Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll who had come so close in 2006, surprisingly smiling for Willie Mitchell who had the wonder of a child in his eyes as he skated around with the Cup, excited to see Dustin Penner who had a particularly difficult season in L.A. end on a very sweet note, and of course, overjoyed for Rudy Kelly, the best damn Kings' fan in the land. But the guy I was happiest for was probably Colin Fraser.
Colin Fraser was the stinky end of the stick that the Kings were forced to take on when they traded Ryan Smyth to the Oilers. It was clear at the time of the trade that Los Angeles would have been happier with nothing than whatever damaged goods the Oilers were trying to send their way. This was made obvious time and again over the summer when the Dean Lombardi was stumping to get some kind of additional compensation from the Oilers, or at least have Fraser sent back to Edmonton until he was fit to play. For Colin Fraser, that meant an entire summer of not knowing which doctors you were listening to, not knowing which team was cutting your checks, and not knowing which team you'd be trying to come back to when you were finally ready to play. About the only thing he knew was that there were two teams arguing about which team would be stuck with him.
In the end, that team was the Kings, and with a team with as much forward depth as Los Angeles had, Fraser's spot on the roster was anything but assured, especially coming off foot surgery and a season with the Oilers that saw him score just five points in sixty-seven games. It couldn't have been easy for him when the Kings were taking their time activating Fraser from injured reserve, but when Fraser got back into the lineup, he stuck.
From November 10 until the end of the regular season, Fraser played in all sixty-seven regular season games with the Kings, playing almost ten minutes each night on the fourth line and the penalty kill with a revolving door of linemates. It wasn't a huge role, but the fact that he'd grabbed one while veterans like Trent Hunter and Ethan Moreau couldn't must have felt great.
When the Kings added Jeff Carter, that could have been the end for Fraser, but with the coach reluctant to decrease Jarret Stoll's minutes and Fraser playing well, the Kings instead decided to use Carter on the wing and let Fraser continue anchoring the fourth line. At the start of the last round, Fraser scored one of L.A.'s two goals in a 2-1 Game One victory and head coach Darryl Sutter let the praise fly:
It doesn't bother me to play - I don't call them our fourth line, I call it Colin Fraser and whoever is playing with him. So if they're on, they can play against anybody. If you look at it, the (Fraser) goal last night was against Zajac's line. You know what, I'm confident whoever is playing with Fraz, as long as they're doing the job.
Now, I know that Sutter wasn't trying to use these guys against the opposition's top dogs all the time or anything, but that kind of verbal sure must sound like music to a guy who wasn't wanted by anyone ten months earlier. Last night, I heard Colin Fraser describe himself as "damaged goods" to start the season when he was talking with Scott Oake after the game. I also saw him standing on the ice as the seconds counted down knowing that he'd earned his spot on the Stanley Cup champs. For that, I offer a hearty congratulations, and raise a glass. Way to go, Colin.