Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the Los Angeles Kings.
When coach Terry Murray was fired after 29 games, the Kings were 13-12-4 and couldn't put the puck in the net. So there was some shock and awe when Darryl Sutter was brought on to replace him, considering he wasn't exactly known for offense fireworks.
Turns out he was the perfect coach to finally get Los Angeles its first Stanley Cup.
Sutter went 25-13-11 in the regular season and the Kings steamrolled through the Western Conference playoffs with a 12-2 record. They went on to defeat the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final in six games, with goalie Jonathan Quick taking home the Conn Smythe. They were the first No. 8 seed to ever win the Final.
It was Dean Lombardi that hired Sutter and made several key additions -- the Mike Richards trade in 2011, the Jack Johnson for Jeff Carter swap, bringing on Willie Mitchell, Dustin Penner and Simon Gagne in the last few years -- to build this champion.
Will we watch Quick dropping F-bombs at another Cup celebration at the end of next season?
"OK, So Nothing Like The Flyers, in Hindsight.
The band is back together. The Kings did more retaining of talent — like Jonathan Quick's 10-year extension and Jarret Stoll's 3-year deal — than acquiring new players. They even hung onto Jonathan Bernier during a summer when several teams were looking to upgrade their netminding.
Forwards Scott Parse and Trent Hunter weren't re-signed. Andrei Loktionov was assigned to the AHL before the lockout but instead left for Russia.
At forward … The Kings bring back a deep and talented group that played their roles to perfection in the postseason.
The Anze Kopitar line with Justin Williams and Dustin Brown dominated the postseason to the tune of 55 points in 20 games combined. After reportedly being shopped by the Kings at the trade deadline, Brown scored 20 points in 20 games in the playoffs with a plus-16. Kopitar had the same plus/minus and point total, to go along with 76 points in the regular season. A star was born.
Mike Richards had high notes and low moments in his first year with the Kings, failing to post big offensive numbers (44 points) but doing plenty of little things right. Carter scored nine points in 16 games after the trade with Columbus, and 13 more in the playoffs. Dustin Penner — more famous for breakfast-related injuries than production in the regular season — had 11 points and two game-winning goals in the playoffs. Jarret Stoll popped in 21 points during the regular season. Gagne, when healthy, was an asset on the left side.
Like any championship team, it was the grunts that made the difference for the Kings. Players like Trevor Lewis, Dwight King, Colin Fraser and Jordan Nolan played key roles in every series and added unexpected offense. Brad Richardson returns, and Kevin Westgarth is back to drop the hammer.
On defense … Drew Doughty's regular season was thrown off by his holdout, but he still played 24:54 per night and posted 36 points. His 16-point performance and 26:09 TOI in the Cup run put the 22-year-old into the MVP conversation. His partner Rob Scuderi was steady and strong.
Mitchell was previously Doughty's veteran guide, and took on the role with rookie Slava Voynov. The stay-at-home veteran defenseman was a key on the Kings' penalty kill. Voynov, despite the expected freshman lapses, enabled Lombardi to move Jack Johnson without creating a lineup hole.
Matt Greene, Alec Martinez and Davis Drewske fill out the corps.
In goal … Jonathan Quick earned a Cup ring, playoff MVP, a 10-year contract and probably the starting gig for the 2014 Sochi Games. Quick had his best season as a King with a 1.95 GAA and 10 shutouts. Bernier is back as his backup.
It really couldn't be anything but "The Black Parade", could it?
Tactically, he didn't revolutionize what Murray was during. He just challenged the players, pushed them, shook off the malaise and focused them as a group. His loopy press conferences, like some kind of Zen farmer, were memorable. More memorable: The incredible results he achieved during the Kings' run to the Cup. Who knows how long he'll coach the team; for one postseason, he was the right man for the job.
Lombardi was finally vindicated after years of patiently building this roster and refusing to go all-in on quick free-agent fixes (like Ilya Kovalchuk). The Richards trade was bold; the Carter trade perhaps even bolder. The fact that he's locked up the core for years will keep the Kings in the Cup hunt.
Doughty. With Lidstrom out of the way, perhaps Doughty becomes the next perennial Norris Trophy candidate in the Western Conference. His down year last season could be chalked up to everything from the holdout to the coaching change, but his performance 3
Well, "star" is a little much, but Trevor Lewis is poised to continue his unexpected playoff offense (9 points in 20 games) on a line with Jarret Stoll next season. At 25 years old, he's better than 7 points in 72 games — and he's already an accomplished defensive stopper.
Dustin Penner has a likeability rating that helps cover his periods of invisibility offensively, and there's no question his playoff heroics helped make up for an enigmatic regular season. He's on a 1-year contract, so no harm if he doesn't live up to expectations.
"Most National Hockey League arenas feature beer-stained hockey nerds with popcorn in their teeth, making it entirely possible you'll be the best looking person in the building.
"But not in Los Angeles.
"Seriously, how are you supposed to get laid if David and Victoria Beckham are the benchmarks?
"Paid for by People Not Getting Laid."
The lockout isn't helping many NHL teams, but it should help the Los Angeles Kings become fully rested and ready after their extended season. With nearly the entire team back, it's not difficult to imagine the Kings contending for the Cup again — and, potentially, playing for another one at the end of the season.