The Los Angeles Lakers may be in deep decline, but the Kings promise to bring plenty of victories to the Staples Center this winter. With another deep playoff run, the 2012 Stanley Cup champions planted their flag as one of the NHL’s elite franchises, and that won’t change any time soon.
GM Dean Lombardi has built a fast and physical hockey club in Southern Cal that can do it all, and they should have no trouble hanging with the best of the west for years to come. So can they out do the Chicago Blackhawks’ recent feat of two championships in four years with their second in just three?
The steady presence of goalie Jonathan Quick certainly suggests that they can. The 27-year-old star followed up his 2012 Conn Smythe win with a strong season and another bid for playoff MVP honors. His 1.86 goals-against average and .934 save-percentage in the playoffs didn’t match his otherworldly numbers from the previous year, but they were still good enough to establish him as the favorite to start in net for Team USA at the Sochi Olympic Games.
The Kings won’t have anything to worry about in net, so long as Quick can stay healthy. L.A. took a risk in dealing top-notch backup Jonathan Bernier to Toronto, and they’ll now have to rely on Ben Scrivens if something goes awry. A veteran of just 32 NHL games, Scrivens is far from proven. The former Cornell netminder’s numbers are mediocre at best. So expect this deal to be scrutinized throughout the year.
The Kings also acquired Matt Frattin and two second round picks in the trade. The young Frattin lost roughly half of his final season in Toronto to a knee injury. The University of North Dakota product had ten points in ten games before injury struck, and he’ll look to regain that pace out west. Capable of playing on both wings, the 25-year-old will challenge for a top-six role in camp.
One of the NHL’s best centers, Anze Kopitar is entering the prime of his career. The 26-year-old should be in line for his first 80-plus point season since 2009-10. Meanwhile Jeff Carter ought to continue his run as one of the league’s elite lamp-lighters.
Head coach Darryl Sutter will hope that Carter can teach youngster Tyler Toffoli a thing or two about scoring in the NHL. The 2010 second rounder was nigh unstoppable in juniors, and he remained dominant after jumping to the AHL last fall.
Toffoli’s 51 points in 58 games with the Manchester Monarchs earned him a late season call up to The Show. The rising star had 11 points in 22 big league games including the playoffs, guaranteeing himself a spot on the NHL roster this fall. Pencil him in as a preseason Calder favorite.
Captain Dustin Brown signed an eight year extension this summer, and he’ll continue to provide his trademark grit. Brown’s leadership and hard-nosed two-way game will continue to set the tone in the locker room.
The league’s seventh ranked defense lost Rob Scuderi in free agency, but they should have no trouble coping. Drew Doughty is still around, and Slava Yoynov should be in line for an expanded role. The 23-year-old Voynov was arguably L.A.’s best player in the postseason, providing 13 points in 18 games. A monster in the clutch, the Russian could be a breakout star this season.
In addition to their usual Pacific foes, the Kings will welcome the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames into their division this season. The Ducks and Sharks should be dangerous once again, and the arrival of the Canucks only adds to the regular season challenge.
Despite the degree of difficulty in the Pacific, the Kings are undoubtedly the most complete team in the bunch. With a combination of speed, sandpaper and goaltending that can’t be matched, L.A. should be in line for its first division title since the Gretzky-era.
Darryl Sutter’s bunch have proven to be late-bloomers in the past few seasons. Two years ago, they hoisted the cup after finishing eighth in the west. However, the rigors of the realigned NHL should add some urgency to their division title chase, meaning this will be the year they get it done.
Backed by the Pacific’s best defense and goaltending, they should be able to edge out the competition and snatch one of the top seeds in the Western Conference.