What Went Wrong is our annual series where we look at the teams that failed to make the playoffs. Over the coming weeks, we’ll go through them team-by-team, discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2018-19 or that they’ll need more from going forward.
The Los Angeles Kings placed 30th overall in the league in 2018-19 and finished with the worst record in the Western Conference. Los Angeles failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in the last five years. The Kings have been knocked out in the first round of the postseason both times during that five-year span, while winning just one game. That comes after a stretch that witnessed the Kings qualify for the playoffs for five straight seasons, while winning the Stanley Cup twice (2012 and 2014).
The NHL has changed since then and Los Angeles has not adapted to today’s game. The team’s suffocating defensive style, which served them well during their years of success, doesn’t cut it now because clubs built on skill, speed and youth have been overwhelming them. The aging core of the Kings didn’t do them any favors in 2018-19, especially when it came to producing offensively, and adding the 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t do the team any good.
The Kings finished 30th in the league with 199 goals for and 30th overall in goals for per game (2.43). Top-line forwards Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown co-led the team with 22 goals apiece, but there was a significant drop after that with Kovalchuk scoring 16 markers and Alex Iafallo recording 15 goals. Los Angeles finished last the league in expected goals for (155.4), which measures where shots are coming from compared to the league-wide shooting percentage from that location.
Los Angeles had the worst goal differential in the league at minus-61. The team struggled in the defensive end in addition to their problems offensively. The Kings had the 10th-worst goals-against per game in the league (3.16). Jonathan Quick had some injury issues in 2018-19 and he didn’t look particularly comfortable when he was in the crease. There has been some chatter that Los Angeles should move on from him, which probably has something to do with the decent numbers provided by Jack Campbell and Cal Petersen. Quick still has another four years left on his contract. The more pressing needs for the Kings, though, is more puck movers on the back end and some forwards who can provide a spark in the attacking zone and score some goals.
The Kings fired head coach John Stevens following a 4-8-1 start, but the club didn’t show any signs of improvement under interim bench boss Willie Desjardins. Los Angeles announced that Desjardins will not be brought back, so General Manager Rob Blake will be searching for a new bench boss this off-season. He stressed that whoever is hired will be tasked with changing the culture of the team and making sure the club has a better work ethic after players criticized the way that practices were ran over the course of the year. The team could also use a shakeup on special teams after finishing 27th on the power play and 29th on the penalty kill.
Los Angeles started the process of trading veteran players in 2018-19 when the team sent Jake Muzzin to Toronto for a first-round pick and a couple of prospects. Carl Grundstrom, who was acquired in deal, provided some immediate help with five goals and one assist in 15 appearances. The Kings also obtained Carl Hagelin from Pittsburgh in exchange for Tanner Pearson and then shipped Hagelin to Washington for a third-round selection. Los Angeles has 10 picks to work with for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Unfortunately, the club slipped to the fifth overall pick at the NHL Draft Lottery, but the scouts will have some strong players to choose from in that spot because of a solid class. There could be more moves coming either during the summer or next year because this roster is in need of overhaul. It would also free up spots for Adrian Kempe to take on a larger role, while giving prospects like Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Akil Thomas, Rasmus Kupari and Sheldon Rempal a chance to step up.
Jonathan Quick - Quick was limited to just five games in the first two months of the season and he underwent knee surgery. He wasn’t able to develop a rhythm early in the year and seemed to be playing catch-up. Quick went 7-11-4 after the All-Star break, while posting a 3.84 goals-against average and .869 save percentage. The 33-year-old netminder had the worst numbers of his career with only 16 victories, a 3.38 goals-against average and .888 save percentage over 46 appearances. If Quick can stay healthy then he should be better, but he will need much more support both offensively and defensively from his teammates.
Jeff Carter - Carter accounted for only 13 goals and 33 points in 76 contests in 2018-19. He has topped the 30-goal plateau four times in his career. Carter had 32 markers in 2016-17 along with 66 points in 82 contests. He was limited to just 27 matches in 2017-18, but he still managed to generate 13 goals and 22 points. Carter will have to bounce back next year to provide some much-needed secondary scoring. He could also turn into a possible trade chip because he was available to be moved this past campaign.
Ilya Kovalchuk - Kovalchuk still has two years left on his contract. He found himself in the doghouse with coach Desjardins for some defensive struggles and spent some time as a healthy scratch. Kovalchuk had 16 goals, 34 points and a minus-26 rating in 64 contests during his return to the NHL from the KHL. He will look to rebound in 2019-20 and developing a good relationship with whoever takes over as the team’s next head coach will probably be a big part of that.
Tyler Toffoli - Toffoli slipped to 13 goals and 34 points in 82 games this past season after he had 24 markers and 47 points over 82 matches in 2017-18. The 27-year-old forward found the back of the net 31 times in 2015-16 when he supplied 58 points, but he has been unable to return to that form over the last three seasons. Toffoli has been plagued by inconsistent play, but he is capable of providing offense and the Kings need him to find his scoring range. It’s possible he could be traded at some point because he was close to being on the move on deadline day.