Mon Sep 14 12:02pm EDT
NHL season previews often sell you an impressive bill of goods before you realize, at the end of the season, you're holding an empty box. Which makes using advertisements and infomercials the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews, presented each day throughout September.
Last Season's Ad Copy: Fifth in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference (34-37-11, 79 points). Looking back, it's a little stunning that the Los Angeles Kings finished that poorly because there were so many positive developments from the season: Defenseman Drew Doughty's(notes) Calder-worthy debut in the NHL; Jonathan Quick's ascension to the starting goalie's job, which put him in play for a potential Olympic team selection; the slew of young players showing flashes of promise.
Yet, in the end, this was a bad hockey team under coach Terry Murray. So GM Dean Lombardi decided to finally get aggressive and execute some high-profile moves in order to make it a good one.
The Kings flirted with Marian Hossa(notes) to no avail, and then traded for veteran Ryan Smyth(notes) of the Colorado Avalanche. They signed Cup champion Rob Scuderi(notes), one of the most prominent defensemen on the UFA market.
Are these veteran additions, and the continued maturation of one of the most talented collection of prospects in the NHL, enough to get LA into the postseason for the first time since 2002?
Latest Gadgets (Offseason Additions): The Los Angeles Kings had been methodically building their roster for several years, with GM Dean Lombardi refusing to trade assets for a big ticket player like Vincent Lecavalier(notes). This summer, Lombardi finally added significant payroll in Ryan Smyth, a salary dump for the Colorado Avalanche. More importantly, he added a significant player.
When healthy, Smyth is a gritty rink rat who can score close to 30 goals and provide the kind of veteran leadership the Kings can use at the forward position. But health is a factor: Not necessarily in games lost to injury, as Smyth played 77 last season after playing 55 the year before; but in the sense that his 33-year-old body is about 67 in hockey years because of his style of play.
Defenseman Rob Scuderi arrived from the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, solidifying the Kings' blue line with a workhorse -- although his best season in the NHL came in his contract year. Still, if the Kings want figure out the playoff puzzle, they need "The Piece," right?
To The Recycle Bin (Offseason Subtractions): Defensemen Tom Preissing(notes) and Kyle Quincey(notes) went to Colorado in the Smyth trade, after Quincey had a stellar season off the Red Wings' scrap heap last year. Center Brian Boyle(notes) is with the Rangers; veterans Derek Armstrong(notes), Kyle Calder(notes) and Denis Gauthier(notes) weren't re-signed. (Not for nothing, but that's three of the four players who appeared on "The Price Is Right" for the Kings last season; et tu Dustin Brown(notes)?)
And Now, A Short Message From Dustin Brown And The Los Angeles Kings:
The Pitchman (Top Offensive Player): After a career year in his sophomore season, Anze Kopitar's(notes) numbers dipped (27-39-66) last season. He averaged 0.80 points per game, which isn't exactly No. 1 center material, even if he's the team's top-liner. Kopitar played extensively with Dustin Brown (24-29-53) last season, but Coach Terry Murray could shake up the lines a little considering the similarities in Brown's and Smyth's games. A healthy Justin Williams(notes) could be on Kopitar's wing. Bottom line: With seven years on his deal and this team poised to contend for a playoff spot, it's time for Kopitar to blossom. Anything under 75 points will be a disappointment.
Introducing ... (Potential Breakout Player): Jonathan Quick wasn't Jason LaBarbera(notes), Erik Ersberg(notes) or Jonathan Bernier(notes) entering last season, which is to say he wasn't considered among the goaltenders that would make a difference on the Kings.
So much for expectations: Quick won the starting goaltender's job, going 21-18-2 including a 7-1 stretch at the end of January. He's not the incumbent heading into camp, but it's still his job to lose in many ways. Should he win it again, he'll be behind an improved defense and poised to be one of the conference's top net-minders -- in a contract year, too.
Operators Are Standing By (The Defensemen): Scuderi averaged 19:10 TOI during the regular season, which ballooned to 20:30 in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Kings had to overpay him (four years at $3.4 million on the cap per season) to get him to move West. But the Kings won't have to rush younger defenders along with him there.
Were it not for the intrinsic bias against defensemen by voters and some kid goalie in Columbus, Drew Doughty was probably the rookie of the year last season. He played in all situations for an average of 23:50 TOI per game, and had a respectable 27 points. A regression would be rather shocking.
Doughty spent the majority of his time under the tutelage of Sean O'Donnell(notes) last season. Matt Greene(notes) will need a new dance partner with Quincey gone; shouldn't be too hard to find one since everyone knows how far Greene will go to stop a puck. Jack Johnson(notes) and his spiffy new contract will make an impact, while Davis Drewiske(notes) and Thomas Hickey(notes) battle for playing time.
The Spokesmodel (The Goalies): We've already given Quick a shine earlier in the preview, but here are the facts: 21-18-2, 2.48 GAA, .914 save percentage and four shutouts. Not bad for a former third-round pick whose previous NHL experience totaled 141 minutes.
Erik Ersberg (8-11-5) or Jonathan Bernier (5-8-4) are both in contention for the other NHL spot. Bernier, the team's No. 1 pick in 2006, is still considered the future of the position by many ... but Quick's not exactly eager to prove them right.
The Inventor (The Coach): It was a little surprising when Terry Murray, the epitome of old school coaching, took over the relatively fresh-faced Kings. To some, he felt like a retread for a team attempting to move forward. But Murray turned out to be a good tactician and a father figure for a slew of young players. He still may not be the guy behind the pine with the Kings turn the corner as a franchise again, but he could very well guide this collection into the postseason.
2009-10 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: B+ (No. 7 kill in the League last season.)
"What happens when you allow an NHL general manager to rebuild a franchise from the ground up through patience, intelligent drafting and shrewd moves, rather than mindlessly doling out picks and prospects and overpaying for players to fill in the gaps? We'll find out this season."
"The local media, fans and the Los Angeles Kings themselves have much higher expectations for themselves this year and that is to qualify for the post-season party. But to be invited, center Anze Kopitar must at least show that he is on the way to becoming recognized as a legitimate, number one center across the league. Hitting the 30-goal and 80-point plateaus will be needed from the Kings' best center since Wayne Gretzky. The Kings will also need young goaltender Jonathan Quick to show that he was not just a flash in the pan last season."
"This season the Kings will improve on their offensive numbers while keeping the defensive mentality they miraculously found last year under Terry Murray. The young talent of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Drew Doughty will continue to develop with the help of veterans Ryan Smyth, Rob Scuderi, and Sean O'Donnell."
"Same as every other season: failure, but less failure than the previous season"
"The Kings aren't quite the black 'n white 'Oh God, I can't possibly answer a phone and cover my feet at the same time!' stage of an infomercial, but they're not the 'This blanket has sleeves, now I can watch my son's softball game in comfort!' either. Imagine a sepia-toned clip where someone is forcing their leg through a Snuggie hole. That's the Kings."
Don Draper Says ...
"What makes a King? A scepter? A crown? No, a man is a King because he commands respect and exudes dread. Which is why Raitis Ivanans, gentlemen, is a King."
Results May Vary (Biggest Issues Facing the Team): Rich Hammond basically covers all the bases on Inside The Kings regarding the questions facing this year's team: What does the top line look like, and can the trickle-down of talent make the Kings' secondary scoring stronger? Do Doughty and Quick improve? Is this the year for always-on-the-cusp players like Bernier, Hickey, Oscar Moller(notes), Wayne Simmonds(notes), Peter Harrold(notes) and Teddy Purcell(notes) to make the jump to dependable NHL contributors? (BoC sees Simmonds as a second-line scorer this year.) What does Alexander Frolov(notes), who scored 32 goals last season, give you in his contract year besides trade bait?
Above all else: Can Jarret Stoll find love ... again?
Warranty Expires (Prediction): On paper, there are at best three playoff spots in play in the Western Conference. The Kings aren't as good as the Sharks, but they're better than Phoenix. Conceivably, it'll come down to one of the Kings, Ducks and Dallas Stars making the playoff cut. With strong goaltending, more consistency and strong veteran contributions from Smyth and Scuderi, the Kings could be the one to emerge from that pack.