The Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings avoided the difficulties of keeping their roster intact, a problem that has plagued previous champions.
GM Dean Lombardi re-signed centers Jarret Stoll and Colin Fraser, along with left wing Dustin Penner, and inked goaltender and playoff hero Jonathan Quick to an expensive, long-term extension.
With stars such as Quick, forwards Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, and defenseman Drew Doughty all returning, along with their key depth players, the Kings appear in great position for a repeat.
Of course, that’s by no means a certainty. The 2011 Cup champion Boston Bruins entered last season with their roster virtually intact, but struggled through the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover, resulting in an inconsistent 2011-12 season, followed by a first round exit from the 2012 playoffs.
The Kings, like other defending Cup champions in recent years, will find defending their title a tougher row to hoe.
Critics suggest the Kings simply got hot at the right time, noting their inconsistency throughout much of last season, barely making it into the 2012 post-season (finishing eighth in the Western Conference, 13th in the league’s overall standings).
Defensively, the Kings were among the top teams in the league (second overall in goals-against average, fourth-best penalty kill, tied for fourth in fewest shots against per game) and remained so throughout the playoffs.
Their offense during the regular season, however, was another matter.
Only the Minnesota Wild scored fewer goals per game than the Kings and L.A.’s power play was middle of the pack (tied with Buffalo for 16th overall). While its offensive production improved during the playoffs, it was 12th among the 16 playoff teams with the man advantage.
Those numbers would explain the rumors this summer linking the Kings to unrestricted free agent right winger Shane Doan before he re-signed with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Partially responsible for the Kings’ woeful offensive numbers last season were Doughty’s subpar first half following a contract dispute, Penner’s offensive struggles and Simon Gagne’s lengthy absence from the roster due to injury. Carter wasn’t part of the lineup until late February following a trade from Columbus.
Doughty, Carter and Penner were significant factors in the Kings’ march to the Cup last spring. With Doughty, Carter and a healthy Gagne in the lineup for a full season, along with a rejuvenated Penner, the Kings could see a significant improvement in their offensive production this season.
Even if the Kings should struggle through the Cup hangover, Lombardi isn’t expected to make any major moves comparable to his acquisition of Carter last February and Richards in June 2011. He’ll be patient with the roster that brought the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles for the first time in franchise history.
Should the need arise for an offensive boost, however, Lombardi does possess a valuable chip in backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who reportedly requested a trade leading up to last season’s NHL trade deadline.
Bernier told TVASports’ L.A. Lariviere this summer he expected to be dealt near training camp, but of course that was before the current NHL lockout postponed this season’s camps indefinitely.
It could be wishful thinking on Bernier’s part to be moved before the start of this season. He currently has one year remaining on his present contract and would become eligible for restricted free agent status next summer.
Lombardi isn’t in any rush to move Bernier, preferring to keep him as a backup for Quick to begin this season. It’s also likely that, whenever the NHL returns to action and depending on what’s contained in the next collective bargaining agreement, there might not be much of a market for him at that time.
Bernier’s value, however, should increase as struggling teams in need of goaltending help could come calling by mid-season.
If the Kings should struggle offensively again, Lombardi could dangle Bernier – separately or in a package offer – for a scoring forward.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla’s Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.