The Hockey News is rolling out its 2017-18 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds, until the start of the season. Today, the Los Angeles Kings.
Stanley Cup odds: 34-1
Key additions: Mike Cammalleri, LW; Christian Folin, D; Darcy Kuemper, G
Key departures: Ben Bishop, G; Brayden McNabb, D; Matt Greene, D; Devin Setoguchi, RW
How close are the Kings to blowing it up?
It feels strange to ask such a dramatic question, but look at the clues. The Kings (a) have missed the playoffs twice in three seasons, (b) just fired their coach, (c) just fired their GM and (d) name Mike Cammalleri, 35, as their top off-season acquisition. New GM Rob Blake is in a tough spot. If this team starts to sink again, it would make sense to start thinking about dealing veterans for picks and prospects. Drew Doughty, who has two years left on his deal, would be the hottest trade deadline commodity in recent memory. Then again, first-line center Anze Kopitar is signed through 2023-24 at a $10-million AAV. Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick – name the member of L.A.’s mini dynasty and he’s been rewarded with a long-term contract. Some of those deals, especially Brown’s and Marian Gaborik’s, would be near impossible to trade, so L.A. may have to stick it out and try to rebuild on the fly. The Kings’ management just has to hope all those shot attempts start turning into goals and that this team becomes a contender again. That way, Blake won’t have to stare down any difficult roster decisions next March.
The Kings turn back the clock on an aging roster, stay healthy all year and go on to win their third Stanley Cup in seven seasons, joining Pittsburgh (three in nine seasons) and Chicago (three in six seasons). We’ll all ask again: a modern-day dynasty? But how do we get there from here, especially when “here” means a second season out of the playoffs in three years? So much depends on the health of goalie Jonathan Quick, who turns 32 in January with a lot of wear and tear. He’ll have to play 60-plus games for the Kings to stay among the top teams in the Pacific.
A new game plan under coach John Stevens is sure to spark the offense. L.A. finished 25th in scoring last season with Darryl Sutter. The Kings were great in terms of puck possession but lousy when it came to shooting percentage. It’s not likely Stevens will deviate much from Sutter since he served under him as an assistant, so execution will become paramount. Tyler Toffoli is sure to rebound from a poor season and approach 30 goals again. And Mike Cammalleri, when healthy, is an excellent triggerman himself, especially on the power play.
Los Angeles remained in the playoff hunt last season because 34-year-old Peter Budaj rose from the dead (and a couple seasons in the minors) to display solid goaltending in the face of doom. But he has moved on to Tampa Bay, and because of limited cap space, all Los Angeles has in reserve of injury-prone Quick are fringe stoppers Darcy Kuemper and Jeff Zatkoff. For either of them to do what Budaj did last year is not only unlikely, it’s unfathomable.
Also complicating matters is the fact the Kings have just three defensemen (Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez) with more than 100 games of NHL experience. Derek Forbort was impressive as a rookie last season, averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time, and Christian Folin, Kevin Gravel and Paul LaDue showed promise in NHL spot duty. But that still leaves a lot to prove on the back end, especially if there are question marks between the pipes. Los Angeles is banking on bounce-back years from quite a few players. That’s a big ask when many of those players are on the back nine of their careers. A bad start could spell disaster for the Kings.
THN’s PREDICTION: 5th in Pacific. The Kings still have too much talent and play too sound of a possession game to totally bottom out, so they shouldn’t be horrible by any means. On the other hand, the Pacific Division now belongs to the Anaheim Ducks and rising Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. The Kings did very little to improve their roster this off-season, so it would make no sense to predict them passing the top dogs in the standings.
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