September 13, 2011
It's going to be another year of blockbusters and huge flops in the NHL. Which teams blew out their budgets for big name stars and gigantic special effects to score Michael Bay-levels of box office gold? Which teams are bloated action retreads and terrible sequels? Find out in Puck Daddy's 2011-12 NHL Season Previews, running throughout the month.
The Los Angeles Kings' 2010-11 season changed dramatically on March 26. That's when star center Anze Kopitar(notes) was lost to a broken ankle, joining forward Justin Williams(notes) on the shelf as the playoffs loomed.
Williams returned for the first-round series against the San Jose Sharks, but the often-chaotic quarterfinal eventually went San Jose's way in six games. (With Joe Thornton(notes) scoring the series clincher, no less.) The Kings finished 46-30-6 with 98 points, good for seventh in the conference.
This summer brought a few interesting signings, a few key departures and one stunning trade that has some looking at the Kings as a Stanley Cup contender. Can they finally make their mark in the West after years of patient building? And when will unsigned restricted free agent Drew Doughty(notes) join the party?
Former Flyers captain Mike Richards(notes) arrives after one of the most stunning and controversial trades of 2011. Philadelphia wanted to clear both Richards and Jeff Carter(notes) out of their dressing room; Los Angeles obliged, sending power forward Wayne Simmonds(notes), prized prospect Brayden Schenn(notes) and a second-round pick for Richards, who is signed through 2020.
The Kings signed Richards's former teammate Simon Gagne(notes) to help solve their offensive problems on left wing, inking the oft-injured player to a 2-year deal. Veteran Ethan Moreau(notes), formerly of Columbus, signed a 1-year deal and really doesn't like being called fragile.
Ryan Smyth's wish to head back to the Edmonton Oilers was granted, as the Kings traded the veteran for a seventh-round pick and Colin Fraser(notes). Alas, the trade became a contentious one between the Kings and the Oil given Fraser's health; as of this writing, MulletGate was still pending.
In free agency, the Kings lost Alexei Ponikarovsky(notes) to the Hurricanes (OK, not so much "lost" as "let leave") and Michael Handzus to a 2-year deal with the rival Sharks. Oscar Moller(notes) left for Sweden.
At forward, oh, what the Kings could have been last postseason with a healthy Anze Kopitar in the pivot. The team's star center saw his season end after scoring 73 points in 75 games. He's still feeling the aftereffects from the surgery, but he's one of the top offensive threats in the conference when healthy.
Gagne scored 40 points in 63 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, missing a portion of the year with an upper-body injury. When he scored 34 goals two years ago, Gagne skated on a line with Richards in Philly.
Richards is still one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL, but his goal-scoring took a tumble last year and he just wasn't the same difference-maker he was in 2009 when, for example, he had seven shorthanded goals. Chemistry issues, off-ice concerns … whatever they were, hopefully Richard left them behind in Philly so the Kings can have one of the best one-two punched as center in the league.
Shootout ace Jarret Stoll(notes) was fifth in scoring for the Kings last season with 43 points, skating in the top 6. He was an outstanding 57.5 percent on faceoffs, and will need to be solid again with Handzus gone.
Dustin Penner(notes) … was a bust. Six points in 19 games followed by a disappearing act in the playoffs. GM Dean Lombardi said Penner is at a career crossroads: "He can choose to use his athletic ability to either become a dominant power forward in the National Hockey League or be a dominant number four hitter for the El Cid Lounge in a men's softball league — the choice is his."
(Wouldn't it be great if he skated out, tossed his stick to center ice, saluted the crowd, then picked up a bat and a six-pack?)
Scott Parse(notes), Kyle Clifford(notes), Trevor Lewis(notes), Brad Richardson(notes), Fraser and Moreau round out the forwards. Kevin Westgarth(notes) is around to pound the flesh of anyone who dares speak ill of the Kings. Watch out for Andrei Loktionov(notes), a highly regarded center prospect who could make the team.
On defense, let's just go ahead and assume Doughty's back; which means a player who averaged 25:38 per game and played over four minutes per game on the power play is back. Doughty's stats regressed, especially on the power play. But at 22 years old in December, he's an elite young defenseman and the cornerstone of the blue line.
Doughty skated with war horses Willie Mitchell(notes) and Rob Scuderi(notes), who had 122 blocked shots in his second season in LA. He also saw time with Jack Johnson(notes), who was second on the team in ice time (23:11) and sixth in points with 42, a whopping 28 of them coming on the power play. Alas, power-play points do nothing to bring down one's plus/minus, and Johnson finished minus-21.
Matt Greene(notes), Alec Martinez(notes) and Davis Drewiske(notes) fill out the defense; Thomas Hickey(notes) remains perpetually waiting in the wings, while Slava Voynov could be a training camp factor.
In goal, Jonathan Quick(notes) follows a season in which he started 60 games and won 35 of them, posting a stellar 2.24 GAA and .920 save percentage. Jonathan Bernier(notes) will be back as well for 20-25 starts — provided Quick doesn't falter.
"Point Break," the 1991 action classic in which a well-dressed collection of mischief makers look for the big score near the California surf. With Mike Richards as a stoic Johnny Utah and Jarret Stoll as Bohdi.
Two summers ago, Dean Lombardi aggressively went after Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) but couldn't convince the superstar to come to L.A. So he went a different route this time: Trading for a star with a long-term deal (Richards) rather than signing one (even though the Kings did their part in courting Brad Richards(notes) as well). Lombardi has constructed a deep, talented blue line and a top six group of forwards that can match up well in the West. He was aggressive with Penner at last year's trade deadline, and it didn't pan out (yet); will he be as aggressive this season?
Terry Murray is entering his fourth year in Los Angeles and is in his 61st year on Earth. He's probably lasted more than most expected when he was hired in 2008 to replace Marc Crawford. But he's gotten the Kings to the playoffs in consecutive years, and now he has two legit centers anchoring his top lines.
Scott Parse struggled with a hip injury that limited him to just five games after a 24-point rookie season. Said Dobber in his fantasy outlook on Parse:
They tried him out on the first line and he managed four points in five games. If healthy, he makes an excellent dark horse. He is versatile and has good offensive instincts. In the right situation he could be a 55-ponts-in-75-games player, though I wouldn't count on more than 40 points.
Still, that's 16 north of his career best.
"I SERVE NO KING, STHEPHEN! COME BACK HERE SO I MAY BRAIN THEE!"
With Penner's offense in question, a lot of scoring responsibility falls on Simon Gagne on left wing. When Gagne's healthy, he can produce, and it's exciting to think how a reunion with Richards might affect him. But he's an injury prone player on a team that can't afford to lose much from their top six. (Please note that Penner is ineligible here, having already been a bust.)
Any time we get a chance to post this video, we take it. The fact that all three guys are still with the team three years later makes it all the more relevant. GO KIIIIIINGS!
Outside of Doughty's contract status, though it can be tied to it, we'll go with the power play. It ranked 21st in the NHL last season at 16.2 percent, which is unacceptable given the talent on it. Richards and Gagne will try and bolster a unit that has shown potential — it went 5-for-24 in the playoffs. But that's far too many goals being left off the board in a tough conference during the regular season.
The Kings will be bolstered by the Richards addition and Kopitar's return. With Dallas and Phoenix taking a bit of a hit this summer, the division could offer a few more points for the taking. Expect the Kings to finish around fifth or sixth in the West, and then challenge for the conference title in the playoffs - especially if Lombardi is active at the deadline, and hooks something more effective than Penner.