The Los Angeles Kings have become the perennial cup contender their fan base has long dreamed of by winning Lord Stanley’s trophy two of the past three years while having a core of players both in their prime and under contract for the foreseeable future.
General Manager, Dean Lombardi, has created a locker room of talented focused characters surrounded by an organization built on a foundation of accountability. He spoke to the team camaraderie at the victory parade rally this past June:
“The franchise has now evolved to another level.[The fans], myself and my staff are now super-charged by another motivating force. Simply stated, to watch this group of men make a commitment to themselves, as individuals, to be the best they can be, and most importantly, their commitment to each other, that touches all of our souls and transcends their sport.”
Dean has become a cap magician who is now emulated by other franchises. He has an uncanny ability to target players who possess “team first” DNA coupled with on-ice success. Yet, under the new cap of $69 million for the 2014-15 season, Lombardi has put together a complete 23 player roster signed at $68,791,894 1 with other teams like Chicago, mulling over tough decisions in order to balance their budget.
The Kings stand pat with nearly all of their 2013-14 teams returning to defend their title. They have core players such as Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter locked up well through the latter part of the decade and last year’s spring addition of Marian Gaborik, has blossomed in to a 7-year cap friendly $4.875M.
Gaborik could have signed with other teams for bigger money but his chemistry with Anze Kopitar and his belief in the organization’s dedication to each other boasts that the Los Angeles Kings possesses the aptitude for continued success.
Jeff Carter paralleled his homecoming to Gaborik’s:
“You know what? The same thing happened for me when I came here. That’s what these guys do here. They teach you to do the right things, and I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
Though the path to Jeff Carter and the LA Kings first Stanley Cup Championship in 2012 had exalted such dominance; the journey of the 2014 Los Angeles Kings was a living testimonial of how perseverance and mental toughness are the bone and marrow of professional sports. Their resiliency forged broken and bruised bones into Stanley Cup silver.
They were the first team in NHL history to win three playoff games 7’s on the road.
They were crowned the ”Kings of California” by resurrection from an 0-3 series deficit against the San Jose Sharks- a fete only done by 3 other teams in NHL history- and by ousting the Anaheim Ducks in a 7-game display of back-and-forth offense.
Despite trailing 3-times, they took their prior playoffs season redemption against the Chicago Blackhawks by beating them in a thrilling overtime game 7.
In the Stanley Cup Final, they closed out 3 of their 4 wins in overtime against, all-world goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers, to again, ascend to their throne.
They were able to muster enough perseverance and resolve to crown their Stanley Cup journey with
So what does that mean for the expectations of the 2014-15 Los Angeles Kings?
The expectation is not a secret. The Kings must defend their crown and become the first team in the cap era to win back-to-back championships. Unless you count them as back to back FULL-season Champions (get your shirt via royalhalf.com).
There is no doubt that the Kings have proven that they are a franchise built for playoff success.
However, during the regular season, inconsistencies in play and scoring prowess are areas the Kings will want to improve on.
In the past three seasons, the Kings have finished 26th (2013-14), 10th (2013) and 29th (2011-12) in goals-for amongst 30 NHL teams. The re-emergence of Jeff Carter (27G, 23A) and the addition of Marian Gaborik bolster an already fearless offense of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, Mike Richards, Trevor Lewis, Dwight King and their two budding rookies, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.
It’s hard to predict that adding a single player will nourish their regular season scoring drought, but despite sparse scoring how do they still manage to make the playoffs and bring two championships to the city of Los Angeles?
What gives, or better yet, what doesn’t give?
The reigning Jennings Trophy winners are a stingy team. Last year they allowed the league’s lowest average of 2.05 goals against per game.
Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Slava Voynov, Matt Greene, Robyn Regehr (if healthy) and, Stanley Cup goal clincher, Alec Martinez, account for their defense. The loss of veteran blue-liner, Willie Mitchell, to cap space and ultimately free agency, is a point of interest or concern, depending how you want to interpret it.
Mitchell’s absence may provide the opportunity for young talent like 6’4 Brayden McNabb to crack the roster, or allow the Kings to option other players with more NHL experience such as Jeff Schultz (re-signed) to fill in for Regehr or in back to back game situations.
The play of goaltender, Jonathan Quick, never ceases to amaze. Though his numbers in 2013-14 (2.07GAA, .915sv %) found him 14th in the league, there is no doubt that the confidence he has in the team in front of him is shared by his teammates. (Reminisce about unbelievable saves from 2013-14 NHL here courtesy of KingsVision).
Martin Jones showed that he is more than capable to back up Jon Quick, with his 7-game winning streak and .934sv% and 1.81 GAA in 19 games played.
Finally, at the helm is head coach Darryl Sutter with returning assistant coaches John Stevens, Davis Payne and goaltending coach, Bill Ranford. Multiple NHL teams inquired about John Stevens for a head coaching position, yet he decided to stay in LA. The belief in the system in place in Los Angeles has everybody drinking the water. It’s not a matter of luck or fortune. It’s about attitude and commitment.
I’m reminded of a quote from Darryl Sutter from 2012 when asked by a reporter whether the LA Kings were a team of ‘destiny’, where he replied, “What’s that?” The coach makes no excuses for what he sees transpire on the ice.
In 2014-15, who knows what records will be broken, which players will become legends or if the Kings will hoist Lord Stanley even that much higher. I do know that with this Kings team, you have to expect the unexpected and that is another piece of their history, their armor.
The Kings season begins October 8, 2014 where they will raise their second banner and simultaneously pour salt in the open wound of the San Jose Sharks.
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