Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr have made their peace, the embarrassing lockout is over and hockey is finally back. The NHL will now squeeze a forty-eight games season and a complete playoffs into the next six months. The Kings, who barely squeaked into the postseason and then went on a dominant run to win their first Stanley Cup are uniquely positioned for a quick start. This truncated season will reward teams that can start quickly. They’ll be no preseason games so teams that return the core of their roster from the previous year should be strongly positioned to get out of the gates quickly.
Of course repeating as Stanley Cup Champion is harder than winning it in the first place, at least in the modern and more parity-filled NHL. The days of the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins winning multiple titles in a row are long gone, with the Detroit Red Wings being the last to repeat nearly fifteen years ago. The Kings will also have the clichéd target on their back as they go from plucky eighth seed getting hot at the right time to defending champion. Still the entire core returns from last season save the retirement of role player Ethan Moreau, so the Kings should be primed for a quick start.
Here’s a rundown of the roster.
Goaltending: In Jonathon Quick the Kings have one of the youngest and most talented netminders in the NHL. The team smartly rewarded last year’s Conn Smythe winner with a ten-year $58 million dollar contract. Quick gives the club great stability and a player who should be a perennial Vezina Trophy candidate. For insurance they have the very talented former first round draft pick Jonathan Bernier to back up Quick. If the team chooses to keep the talented Bernier they have an outstanding backup with a career 2.50 Goals Against. If they choose to trade Bernier they have a tremendous chip to bring instant help in others areas or talented prospects. It’s an excellent position to be in. Considering the quick start to the season and the potential for back to backs due to the shortened schedule the Kings may be smart to hold onto Bernier as an option at the trade deadline.
Defense: Although seen as risky at the time the Jack Johnson trade turned out to be the right move and didn’t have an adverse effect on the club’s defensive core. Drew Doughty started slow following his contract dispute but still played a heavy volume of minutes and had a strong regular season. Doughty’s commanding playoff performance cemented his position as one of the top defensemen in the league and a future perennial Norris Trophy candidate. Rob Scuderi is a capable veteran and a sold partner for Doughty. In Willie Mitchell the Kings have a steady veteran along the lines of Scuderi. Mitchell teamed up well with Slava Voynov last year and they should again be a consistent second unit behind Doughty/Scuderi. With everyone back there’s no reason Quick and the defensive corps shouldn’t continue to lead a club near the top of the NHL in goals against.
Forwards: Make no mistake the defense and goaltending carried the Kings to the 8th playoff spot with the offense kicking in during the playoffs. After a fairly pedestrian regular season the line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams exploded in the postseason with Williams scoring twenty points in twenty games. Due to injury the club will be without Kopitar for three to four weeks to start the season. The more high profile but less productive line of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner could be in for a big season. Richards had an up and down regular season but has been a consistent 75 to 80 point scorer during his career. He flourished in tandem with Carter in the playoffs and there’s no reason that can’t continue. For all his talent and sheer size and athleticism Dustin Penner has been an enigma during the regular season. If his strong playoff performance can carry on into the regular season the Richards line has the ability to be elite. The third line Jarrett Stoll, Trevor Lewis and Simon Gagne is a nice mix of young talent and veteran leadership.
Prediction: Typically a championship team with every player back is the bonafide preseason favorite to repeat. So the big question: are the Kings a legitimate power that will continue their ascent or did they capture lightning in a bottle? A lot of things went right for the club in the postseason. Quick is an elite goaltender but it’s hard to imagine him repeating his utter dominance of last season. And can the Kopitar line continue to produce like they did in the playoffs? The rapid fire season will be a test of the Kings depth and resolve. They are equipped for the long haul and should be a contender for a top three spot in the west. Come playoff time, anything can happen.
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