Over the Next 30 days I will be Previewing each of the National Hockey League Clubs heading into the 2011-12 season starting from the Anaheim Ducks. Day 13 of the series belongs to the official AarifDeenReport Los Angeles Kings Preview.
Please resort to myhockeybuzz page for previews of teams falling before this team.
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Wasn’t it just a few years ago that the Kings were one of the laughing stocks of the league? It’s funny how fast things changed. When they met for training camp last season they had something that hasn’t been in Los Angeles for a long time. A legitimate starting goaltender in Jonathan Quick, a number one defenseman in Drew Doughty, and a top line centerman in Anze Kopitar. The average age of the three players? Just 22 years old.
At the start of the season in October, the Kings were considered one of the top teams in the West. Fresh off their first playoff appearance since 2002, Los Angeles was ready for an improvement from their 2010 first round exit. Contenders they were, and contenders they proved to be. Through the first 15 games of the season, the Kings were winners of 12 games. Quick began to prove he was not just a one hit wonder and Doughty was looking to build off his Gold Medal Winning, Norris Trophy finalist 2010 season.
Unfortunately the Kings won just 1 of their next 8 games, bringing their record to an average 13-10-0. They were barely holding onto their playoff spot and were in the midst of battling in the toughest division in the NHL.
The Kings continued to play above average hockey bringing their record to 36-25-5 in mid-March. That’s when they began their surge toward the post-season. Winners of 8 of their next 10 games, LA was making their way up the standings and into the playoffs with lots of momentum.
Things however came crashing down during this 10 game surge. While playing the Avalanche on the 26th of March, the Kings suffered a huge blow to their roster. A loss big enough to help diminish their hopes to making a run to the cup. While battling for the puck along the boards, Anze Kopitar was pressured by O’Byrne who was shoving him to the boards. While the two continued to fight for the puck, Kopitar fell back awkwardly on his right ankle and was unable to get up after numerous attempts. The injury, seen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XloT_-R-xnE
knocked Kopitar out of the remaining 7 games of the regular season, and all of the playoffs. He has yet to play since that day.
Murrays team won just 3 of their last 7 games and limped their way into the playoffs with a first round date with cross-state rivals, the San Jose Sharks. While they were able to split the first two games in San Jose, things fell apart in game 3 of the series. Through the first 21 minutes of that game, Los Angeles built a commanding 4-0 lead on the Sharks. They sent Antti Niemi to the bench and the Staples Center crowd roaring. However, 7 goals were scored the rest of the way. 6 of them belonged to San Jose. The Kings had blown their 4-goal lead and lost the game 6-5 ultimately destroying all momentum and push they had left in the tank. Already without their top centerman, Los Angeles also lost game 4 at home and were eliminated in 6 games, three of the losses came in front of their home crowd.
We’ll never know for sure if Kopitars injury is what lead to their early exit, or if they just weren’t good enough to beat the 2nd seeded Sharks. But one thing we know for sure is the Kings, being one of the youngest teams in the league, are on the rise and will continue to build on their season in 2012.
Major Players Added:
Heading into the summer, Dean Lombardi willingly promised to take the next step in building a championship squad, and it didn’t take long for him to make one of this summers biggest moves.
No, not Brad Richards. Mike Richards is now a member of the Los Angeles Kings. Shocking the hockey world was a trade that sent Wayne Simmonds and future-star Brayden Schenn to the Philadelphia Flyers for team captain and identity Mike Richards. I mean if Gretzky was traded to the Kings 23 years ago, can one really be shocked anymore? The Flyers captain had just completed the third year of his whopping 12-year contract that he signed over 3 years ago. Proven to be one of the NHL’s best two-way centers, Richards will do a great job centering the 2nd line in Los Angeles, and his leadership will be great for the youngsters as well. Number 10 will be loved in LA for a long, long time.
When the 2010-11 season was underway, the Kings were said to be one of the contenders in the Western Conference. 12 months later, Dustin Penner, Mike Richards, and now Simon Gagne have all been added to the top-6 for the Kings. Gagne was added for two reasons. One, he’s a goal scorer that plays with a lot of heart and can score the big goals. Two, he and Richards were linemates in Philadelphia and will use their chemistry to build a lethal second line in Los Angeles. Under contract for the next 2 seasons for $3.5 million per year, Gagne will be in for a raise if he can return to the great scorer he was in Philly before his disappointing season in Tampa last year.
With a 6 week gap between unrestricted free agent signings, The Kings signed veteran leader Ethan Moreau to a one-year deal worth 600k in mid-August. The former Oilers captain will provide tons of leadership for the youngsters and will help the Kings through their playoff run as well.
The Kings acquired Colin Fraser from the Oilers in a trade involving Ryan Smyth. While the fourth0liner was a throw-in for the Kings to eliminate Smyths salary from their cap, the trade proved to be extremely controversial due to Frasers health. Lombardi addressed the media many times and slammed Tambellini and the Oilers management. Don’t expect anymore trades between the two teams anytime soon.
Who Was Lost:
F Wayne Simmonds was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers
F Brayden Schenn was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers
F Alexei Ponikarovsky signed with the Carolina Hurricanes for one-year worth $1.5 million
F Michal Handzus signed with the San Jose Sharks for two-years worth $5 million
F Ryan Smyth was traded to the Edmonton Oilers
The Kings will be looking for their first appearance in the 2nd round of the playoffs in eleven years this season. They haven’t accomplished a series win since 2001 when they upset the Wings in the first round before the Avs eliminated them in the 2nd round. A playoff spot is pretty much all but ensured for the Kings this year. They sport one of the best top 6 in the NHL and their bottom players will be lead by Stoll and Richardson.
With Williams and Kopitar both healthy and ready to start the season, the two will look to build off their chemistry last season and lead the Kings alongside Dustin Penner. While that top line looks great, and has tons of firepower, their second line is proven to be just as good, if not better. Richards and Gagne most likely will be joined by hard-hitting captain Dustin Brown to round out the top two lines. If those 6 forwards can stay healthy, Los Angeles will score tons of goals.
If the offense looks great in LA, the blueline looks even better. Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson will lead the defense that has numerous options with youngster Voynov and Hickey looking to crack the roster on opening night. With a mix of young talent and veteran leadership provided by Stanley Cup Champion Rob Scuderi and former Canuck Willie Mitchell, the defense has a perfect mix of talent and leadership that will make Quick’s job a lot easier.
It’s not like Quick needs much help anyway. The 25 year old netminder has won 74 games the last two seasons. 10 of them being shutouts. The underrated goalie is slowly making his way to elite status while being challenged by Bernier. The young backup goalie, who has the potential to be a starter himself is looking to push Quick aside and take over the crease. If he can’t do that, he sure will force Quick to play hard each and every night in order to keep his starting role.
From top to bottom the Kings have one of the most complete rosters in the National Hockey League this year. 1993 was the last time they made a finals appearance. With this roster healthy and playing up to their potential, LA could easily see another trip to the finals. The first time since Gretzky was around.
Deen’s Projected Lineup:
Dustin Penner - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Simon Gagne - Mike Richards - Dustin Brown
Kyle Clifford - Jared Stoll - Kevin Westgarth
Brad Richardson - Trevor Lewis - Ethan Moreau
Drew Doughty - Willie Mitchell
Jack Johnson - Rob Scuderi
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene
It’s going to be a long successful season in Los Angeles during this years regular season. After finishing 1st in the Western Conference, the Kings will match-up against the Colorado Avalanche in the first round. They will eliminate the Avs in 6 games on their way to their first ‘Final 8’ appearance in 11 years.
In the 2nd round, the top seeded Kings will go up against the 7th seeded Chicago Blackhawks. A quick series between the two teams will end in just 5 games. In game 5, in front of their home crowd at the Staples Center, the Kings will eliminate the 2010 champions and head to the Western Conference finals where they will play the surprising St. Louis Blues
Another great series will see the Kings advance to the Stanley Cup finals after eliminating Halak and the Blues in 6 games. In the Stanley Cup Finals the Kings will play a series that will go the limit. Game 7 once again will decide the Champion of the NHL. In front of their home crowd, the Eastern Conference team will win the championship. The Los Angeles Kings, similar to the Canucks last year, will go one game from winning the cup, but will ultimately miss out on their chance at glory in game 7.
For the first time since 2007 the Stanley Cup winning team will win it in front of their home crowd. A great year for the Kings. But it will end with disappointment. Which team will beat the Kings in the finals? That will be revealed when their preview is released. Enjoy the wait!
Deen’s Daily Tidbits:
This is just getting ridiculous now. Wade Belak, you will always be remembered as the great character you were on and off the ice. Its so unfortunate that Wade was lost to another case of depression. Three players now have died tragically this summer. Will the horror end? Pray to god it does.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren suffered broken rib bones and shoulder bones after a horrifying motor bike accident yesterday. Thankfully he will be okay. He’s currently residing at a New Jersey local hospital.
The official Winnipeg Jets jersey will be unveiled later today. I can’t to see the number of jerseys purchased within the next 24 hours by Jets faithful
Jay Pandolfo is looking to make a comeback after accepting a try-out from the New York Islanders.
Dustin Byfuglien is up to 286 lbs?! How in the world is he gonna move out there? I find it hard to believe Big Buff gained 40lbs over the summer break.
Thanks for reading! Follow me on twitter @AarifDeenReport please!