Kings: Five Things You Need To Know
By Scott Burnside
If there's a team that's well-poised to be the first repeat Stanley Cup winner since the Detroit Red Wings did so in 1997 and 1998, it might well be the Los Angeles Kings, given the continuity behind the bench and up and down the roster. The Kings snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed after making a coaching change in December, with GM Dean Lombardi rolling the dice and bringing in old pal Darryl Sutter with whom he'd worked in San Jose. The Kings then ran roughshod over their opponents, going 16-4 in the postseason en route to their first championship, including a stretch that saw them win 10 straight road games. Now, they will return the same impressive blend of skill, grit and defensive responsibility this season that made them unstoppable last spring.
1. Quick's health
If there is a pressing question for the Los Angeles Kings at the outset of the season, it's the health of playoff MVP Jonathan Quick. He had offseason back surgery to correct a herniated disc and, while it wasn't a significant procedure, there are never any small back issues, especially if you're the kind of goaltender who turned in a .946 save percentage, tied for the best save percentage in playoff history for a netminder with 10 games played and compiled a 16-4 playoff record. Quick was so vital to the Kings' efforts last season that he was rewarded with a 10-year extension worth $58 million that begins next season. His continued durability will be a key to any repeat plans the Kings might have. Although Lombardi did in fact have some serious discussions about whether to trade youngster Jonathan Bernier, including a discussion with the Chicago Blackhawks, the goaltending tandem will remain in place at least until the trade deadline, at which time you can bet that Lombardi may choose to use the Bernier chip to try and bolster his squad for another run at the Cup. Assuming Quick is healthy and ready to go, it would be no surprise if he ended up on the Vezina Trophy ballot for a second straight year.
2. Cup Hangover
Is it possible to have a Cup hangover with a lockout-shortened NHL season? Well, in 1995 when the NHL also wasted half a season to a labor dispute, the New York Rangers went from a Cup win in 1994 to a 22-23-3 record and the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Lombardi has been using some of his time during the lockout to talk to other pro sports personnel about how to avoid the seemingly inevitable letdown after winning a Stanley Cup. If there is a positive, it's that Sutter, who replaced Terry Murray just before Christmas behind the Kings' bench and went 25-13-11, will still be a fresh factor for his lineup. There may be a time when the Kings will grow tired of the demanding veteran, but that time isn't now. There are also enough youngsters in the mix, like defenseman Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, Jordan Nolan and Dwight King to say nothing of young anchors Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, that complacency shouldn't be an issue. As for the straight fatigue factor, starting a season in late January has to mitigate, if not erase, that issue entirely.
3. Kopitar Injured
Speaking of Anze Kopitar, the Kings had a bit of a bad break when their most dynamic forward -- he had a team-best 76 points to lead the Kings in scoring for the fifth straight season and then tied for the playoff lead with 20 points -- suffered a knee injury on the eve of a new collective bargaining agreement and is expected to miss the first part of the regular season. That could open up a spot for a youngster like Andrei Loktionov to take a run at a roster spot out of a shortened camp, but for a team that struggled through most of last regular season to get into an offensive rhythm, this is something the Kings could have done without.
4. Captain, O Captain
If you watched captain Dustin Brown for even 10 minutes during the playoffs, it is difficult to imagine the team actually contemplated dealing him at the trade deadline. But that's the truth. Whether the rumors of his being in play were a catalyst or not, Brown responded with a terrific stretch run and then was a force in the playoffs, tying Kopitar for the team lead with 20 points in 20 games, including three game-winners. His quiet leadership is another significant factor in the Kings getting back to a championship.
5. Offense Vs. Defense
The Kings, of course, were a study in contrasts last season: the team that struggled through the first 50 or so games compared to the one that ended up covered in confetti and champagne on the Staples Center ice after Game 6 of the finals. The biggest question mark is whether Sutter can get more out of a team that finished 29th in goals per game last regular season. They went from an average of 2.29 goals per game in the regular season to 2.85 through four playoff rounds. Having Jeff Carter, acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline, should help those numbers, and having Drew Doughty ready to roll from the get-go as opposed to last year when his level of play was put off by a contract impasse that dictated him missing training camp. One of several positive indicators, Los Angeles was 13-5-3 in 21 games after acquiring Carter, outscoring opponents 63-42 over that span. Also, Doughty led all defensemen in playoff scoring with 16 points. Defensively, this is as tough a team to play against as there is, allowing two goals or less in 53 of 82 regular season games and allowing just 1.50 goals against in 20 playoff games.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering 14th NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 1
Still No. 1: Jonathan Quick
A little misleading to stick him in the "Rising and Falling" category, but hey, it's my column, and I'll make an exception here. After signing a 10-year contract over the summer, Quick underwent back surgery in August. It's quite possible that had the season started on time, he would've missed significant work in the early months (and we might've seen whether Jonathan Bernier actually is a No. 1-caliber goalie). It's unclear exactly when he would've been able to return had the season gone as planned, but we don't have to deal in hypotheticals anymore: The L.A. Times reported earlier this week that Quick has been cleared to play. And he's still the top choice in fantasy, with a slight edge over New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist.. -- Tim Kavanagh
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Kings:
• June 25: Re-signed C Jarret Stoll and C Colin Fraser.
• June 28: Re-signed G Jonathan Quick.
• July 1: Re-signed LW Dustin Penner.
• July 16: Re-signed LW Dwight King.
• July 27: Named Davis Payne assistant coach.
• RW Trent Hunter (unrestricted free agent)
• LW Ethan Moreau (unrestricted free agent)
• RW Scott Parse (unrestricted free agent)