The Kings are set for a transition period after big changes to the front office and coaching staff, but will a few fresh faces be enough to rejuvenate and return them to Stanley Cup glory?
Welcome to 2020 Vision, our new feature taking a look at how the roster of each NHL team may look three seasons from now when the 2019-2020 season begins.
Over the next month we’ll profile one team, in alphabetical order, each day and project what their roster (12 forwards, six defensemen, two goalies) will look like.
There were some ground rules for this exercise. We didn’t allow any blockbuster trades or free agent signings, but we did make assumptions about teams re-signing their own UFAs and RFAs.
Therefore, this isn’t intended to be a fantasy-like look at the league in 2019-20. Instead, since this is part of the THN Future Watch family, it’s meant to be a realistic, best-case-scenario projection for each team based on players already under contract, and prospects in their system.
It’s almost hard to believe it’s been three seasons since the Kings hoisted their second Stanley Cup in three years, and it feels like it was only yesterday there were discussions about Los Angeles as one of the greatest franchises of the modern era. But finishing outside the playoffs two times in three seasons and winning only one game the other time they got to the dance sees the Kings, once league royalty in more than just name, entering a transition period.
The new-look in Los Angeles is led, of course, by big changes in the front office and behind the bench. Gone is coach Darryl Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi, the architect of the Kings’ Cup-winning teams, has been put out to pasture in favor of new blood. In their places stand John Stevens, a longtime assistant in Tinseltown, and Rob Blake, and the duo will be tasked with trying to return the Kings to their former glory.
Offensively, Los Angeles should have plenty of firepower on their top two lines in 2019-20, with a mix of veteran, prime-aged and fresh-faced talent with which to work. The assumption is Anze Kopitar’s down year was only that and that Jeff Carter, who will be in his mid-30s, can still produce as the veteran anchors with Pearson and Toffoli set to snipe away as the team’s top wingmen. A lot of hope lies in the development of a few prospects, however. Gabe Vilardi, drafted 11th overall in June, projects to crack the lineup sooner rather than later, and if he, Adrian Kempe and Jaret Anderson-Dolan can earn spots in Los Angeles, it stands to make the Kings younger, faster and better up front.
However, it appears as though the cornerstone of the Kings will be their defense. Drew Doughty will still be driving the bus on the blueline, and with Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez, Los Angeles is sure to maintain a healthy top-three. Add in Kale Clague, a puck mover with serious upside, and the Kings should have two strong pairings. Pencil in Derek Forbort and Paul LaDue as the third-pairing, too, though there will be challengers for those spots.
And it’s going to remain Jonathan Quick’s job to lose in goal, but after cycling backup goaltenders in and out of town over the past several seasons, Los Angeles might be hoping they have something for the future in Cal Petersen. Drafted by the Sabres in 2013, Petersen opted for free agency after leaving college instead of signing in Buffalo. If the NCAA standout works out, the Kings could finally have Quick’s successor lined up.
GOT IT: Options and flexibility on defense. Clague is the top defensive prospect, of that there’s no doubt, but LaDue was solid in his first full professional season, even getting a look at NHL duty for a quarter of the campaign, and Forbort played well alongside Doughty for much of the 2016-17 season. Depending on his development, though, Jacob Moverare could challenge for an NHL job.
NEED IT: To start building prospect depth to build a cheaper, more talented bottom-six. Los Angeles hasn’t had a top-10 draft choice since 2009, but, worse yet, have only had a top-30 selection four times over that span. Maybe that’s the price of competing for Stanley Cups, but the depth in Los Angeles is going to get very thin, very fast if the Kings don’t start holding onto their picks and possibly looking into deals that can give them higher draft choices.
A panel of scouts ranked Los Angeles’ prospect depth as the worst in the league in THN’s Future Watch 2017. If the Kings don’t start building that up, the bottom-six could be the difference between competing for a post-season spot in three years or starting to bottom out.
CAP WATCH: You may notice the absence of a certain Dustin Brown from the roster. That’s because we’re assuming a buyout for Brown, whose contract is set to run until the end of the 2021-22 campaign, is in the offing. Brown wasn’t downright awful this past season, but he also didn’t rediscover his prior 20-goal, 50-point form. So, at $5.875 million per season, he’s got to go. That’s especially true given Doughty will be up for a new contract ahead of the 2019-20 season.
Doughty’s deal has to be the Kings’ biggest concern right now, too. By the time his contract is up, he could command a contract with a cap hit of $9 million-plus, and, at current projections and with Brown on the roster, that would eat up nearly half of the Kings’ roughly $21.7-million in cap space. Add in new contracts for Kempe, Forbort, LaDue, Nick Shore and Jonny Brodzinski, and the Kings could be in a serious cap crunch.
BOTTOM LINE: If all goes according to plan, the Kings should have a more-than-capable top six and two solid pairings on the blueline, but the depth issues caused by a thin prospect pool threaten to derail Los Angeles’ chances of becoming a true Stanley Cup contender in three years’ time. Until they fill out their roster with young talent that’s ready to contribute, playoff heartbreak might be where the Kings peak.
Previously: Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars | Detroit Red Wings | Edmonton Oilers | Florida Panthers
Up next: Minnesota Wild