September 14, 2010
Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights ... the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we've decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It's a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene...
Last Season (46-27-9; 101 points; 3rd in Pacific, 6th in the Conference)
Pegged to be a future Stanley Cup contender, the Los Angeles Kings took the first small step in that direction with a sixth-place finish in the Western Conference and their first playoff appearance since the 2001-02 season.
Boosted by an offense that increased their goal scoring by 34 from the 2008-09 season, the Kings announced themselves as a team on the rise. From Jonathan Quick's(notes) 39 wins to Anze Kopitar's(notes) career high 34 goals to Drew Doughty's(notes) ascension to a Norris Trophy candidate as a 20-year old, the development of LA's young players is turning them from a laughing stock into a legitimate franchise -- all thanks to GM Dean Lombardi.
A six-game series loss to the Vancouver Canucks gave many of the Kings experience in the NHL postseason, something valuable moving forward as a franchise.
Can they build on that, or will taking that next step be hindered in the always tough Western Conference?
GM Dean Lombardi angled for the big fish in Ilya Kovalchuk(notes), but he soon became too rich for the Kings' blood -- a move (or lack thereof) that shows he's committed to the franchise's future and young talent currently on the roster.
If he can remain healthy as he comes back from a January concussion, Mitchell will replace the veteran leadership that left when Sean O'Donnell signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. A steady defensive presence, Mitchell will also be a benefit to Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson(notes) on the blueline.
When in doubt, give the puck to Kopitar. That was the offensive mindset last season for the Kings as the Slovenian forward hit career highs in goals (34), assists (47), points (81), power play goals (14), shots (259), and finished a plus player (plus-6) for the first time in his career.
Other than Kopitar's production, the scoring was spread out as no other King finished with more than 60 points.
You figure Dustin Brown(notes) and Ryan Smyth will be good enough for another year of 20-25 goals and (hopefully) 60-plus points. Also, Wayne Simmonds(notes) showed great strides last season and looks to gain on his career high 40 points last season.
Down the middle Michal Handzus(notes) and Jarret Stoll(notes) have provided adequate secondary scoring with Handzus coming off a 20-goal season and Stoll continuing to be dependant in the face-off circle (56 percent on draws).
Wrestler(s) That Best Symbolize the Team
Much like the "Dead Man", the Kings have appeared and then disappeared from the NHL playoffs in clusters. They'll qualify for a number of seasons in a row and then miss out for another handful. It's been that way since they entered the league in 1967. And as LA suffered from a large playoff drought in the 2000's, they are rising again, much like the Undertaker every time you think he's "dead."
(Except for 'Taker's biker gimmick, because that just sucked.)
Goals against are down. Shots allowed are down. Terry Murray's preaching has worked. It also helps that the Kings have had defensive-minded blueliners like Rob Scuderi(notes), Sean O'Donnell and Matt Greene(notes) the past two seasons, and that Drew Doughty has developed into an annual Norris Trophy contender.
The addition of Willie Mitchell will only help the growing defense corps. As Jack Johnson and Doughty continue to develop, they'll be able to learn from vets like Mitchell and Scuderi. Same goes for youngsters Alec Martinez(notes), Jake Muzzin and Thomas Hickey(notes), all three could potentially see plenty of time with the big club.
You'd think with after a breakout season that saw him post 39 wins, a 2.54 goals-against average and lead his team to the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade, Jonathan Quick would have more job security in Los Angeles. With the reigning AHL goalie of the year in Jonathan Bernier(notes) waiting in the wings and expectations high on the West Coast, Quick will need to prove that his 39-win season wasn't a fluke.
There could be a ... ahem ... quick hook for Quick if he struggles out of the gate.
Match We'd Pay To Watch
Ryan Smyth versus Mark Messier in a crying contest. Both are allowed to use trigger objects. Smyth can broadcast highlights of Messier's jersey retirement nights and Messier can just hold up pictures of Edmonton.
Wiry Wayne Simmonds caught the attention of many while putting up career highs in goals, assists, points, and plus-minus (which he led the Kings in). Simmonds is developing from a third line grinder to a dependable scoring winger that plays a physical game.
Up until the Olympic break, Jonathan Quick was money. A career-high 35 wins through mid-February gave Kings fans hope that he could lead them deep into the playoffs. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, Quick wore down and only won five of his 17 starts before the playoffs began; and in a first-round series with Vancouver posted a 3.50 goals-against average and .884 save-percentage.
With Jonathan Bernier waiting in the wings, Quick will need to prove his second half fall was just a fluke.
You can't stop Drew Doughty, you can only hope to contain him.
The Kings were a top-10 team in power play success last season (20.8 percent), led by Anze Kopitar (14) and Ryan Smyth (11) who were the only Kings to hit double digits in goals. Drew Doughty took on more power play time and it showed as he increased his goal total from three in 2008-09 to nine in 2009-10. Only Philadelphia (68), San Jose (65), Vancouver (68), and Washington (79) scored more times than Los Angeles.
Despite the successes of the power play, it was LA's shorthanded unit that did it no favors. Finishing 20th in the NHL (80.3 percent) last season, the penalty kill unit has already taken a hit with Matt Greene's shoulder surgery that will keep him out of the lineup for the earlier part of the year.
Terry Murray's emphasis on defense since taking over the reigns behind the bench for the 2008-09 season has worked like a charm. In Murray's two seasons in charge, Los Angeles has watched their shots-allowed per game average to drop to 27.6 from 32 in 2007-08 and their goals against to decrease from 226 in 2007-08 to 211 a season ago.
All GMs have a plan for their team. Some are willing to stray from it time and time again if they feel an opportunity is there to give their club a better shot at winning the Stanley Cup immediately.
Dean Lombardi has a plan for the Kings. It's a plan he's been sticking to since the Kings hired him in April 2006. Lombardi knew what Ilya Kovalchuk could bring to his up-and-coming team, but he wasn't going to risk the future for a potential quick power-up that the Russian sniper might provide. He thought about the salary cap ramifications and future contracts decisions that will need to be made on guys like Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds, Jack Johnson and Jonathan Bernier. Lombardi stood firm by his 15-year, $80 million offer to Kovalchuk, despite the forward's desire for a $100 million deal.
The Lombardi plan is still in place and losing out on Kovalchuk might be a blessing in disguise for the Kings.
2010-11 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: B-
Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)
As has been said about many Stanley Cup contenders, you need to lose first before you can learn how to win. Last season was the Kings' time to lose and grow. They have a Final Four caliber team -- one that, with a little luck, has Cup potential.
Los Angeles Kings' Entrance Music to the 2010-11 Season
Like Edge's original theme, we think we know these 2010-11 LA Kings as a team ready to compete, but will we be surprised come this spring with a giant spear to the gut instead?