Unlike the other four teams where maybe there could be hope for the future, in this case, the Los Angeles Kings have obvious signs that the future will be good and it will be enjoyable and they will be a force to be reckoned with. Don't believe me? Check this out:
Anze Kopitar: 32 G 45 A 77 PTS
Alexander Frolov: 23 G 44 A 67 PTS
Dustin Brown: 33 G 27 A 60 PTS
Patrick O'Sullivan: 22 G 31 A 53 PTS
Do you remember what place in the NHL this team finished last year? Second to last. They had the #2 pick in the Entry Draft and continued their road to filling the gaps in the defense - a defense that was so porous they allowed 266 goals last year, third worst in the NHL (Atlanta 272, Tampa Bay 267). With the second pick they chose Drew Doughty from the Guelph Storm out of the Ontario Hockey League. He alongside with University of Michigan stud Jack Johnson are the building blocks on which the backline of this team are going to be built upon.
That said, these are it for the highlights for this team. What's more incredible about the Kings is the fiscal responsibility that General Manager Dean Lombardi set in place for the Kings. They only recently signed Patrick O'Sullivan and they've got their eyes on the future despite having oodles of cap space and a glaring need to improve along the blueline and in goal.
Since even I can't sniff out these answers, I've gone to the source I trust best - another sarcastic hockey die-hard by the name of Rudy Kelly. You may know Rudy from his work at the Battle of California blog where they do triple-duty following the Ducks, Sharks and Kings.
I bothered Rudy with a list of questions I demanded answers for or it would be time for some regicide. He didn't answer and only said I'd be doing him a favor but when I told him that I wouldn't be able to resurrect him in a couple of seasons when the Kings are stomping everyone's asses in, he relented and offered up the information as he best knows how to dish it out.
HockeyJoe: I never thought I'd live in an age when
a Los Angeles team not named the Clippers was trying to be financially frugal but we know Phil Anschutz is rolling in money. Why are they insistent on staying as close to the salary floor as possible while seemingly hurting relationships with guys like Patrick O'Sullivan?
Rudy Kelly: Rich Hammond (the awesome beat reporter for the LA Daily News)
stated early in training camp that the Kings had a $40 million cash budget for this season.
There's two ways you can think about that: either they're going cheap and the Kings are screwed, or they're saving money in a lost year so they can spend more once they make the playoffs and are all awesome and rainbows come out of my ass.
I'm not sure if the whole Patrick O'Sullivan thing is really related; it's dangerous policy to just throw around money and rationalize it by saying, "Who cares how much money we spend, we're not near the cap." Next season the Kings have Kopitar, Johnson, Ted Purcell, Brian Boyle and Matt Greene up for free agency; they're going to need money. Plus, if Marian Gaborik wants to sign here we need that money too. (Hi Marian, love your work.)
HockeyJoe: The Kings seem to have very good scouting and are
seemingly teeming with youth at every position - why haven't we seen more and
better veterans mixed in with these guys to become more competitive right now
rather than biding their time towards the future? Selling guys on Los Angeles
and Hollywood and starlets galore can't be that hard....can
Rudy Kelly: I think the reason good free agents haven't been signing here is threefold:
One, the Kings are terrible. Sure, LA has hot chicks and nice beaches, but guys ultimately want to win a championship and they realize the Kings are ways away from doing that.
Two, the Kings probably aren't offering long terms.
Like I said, the Kings have a lot of good young guys coming up and they need
financial flexibility that doesn't afford for big free agents. A guy like, say,
Jeff Finger isn't going to sign with the Kings if he knows that in a year or two
the Kings will probably trade him to another team in a terrible city like, well,
any other place besides LA.
Three, Dean Lombardi isn't stupid. I can't really think
of a free agent signing this off-season that I actually felt was fair value. I
would have been pissed if the Kings had signed Ron Hainsey or Brian Campbell to
their ridiculous deals. Dean Lombardi has said he offered deals to Chris Drury
and Zdeno Chara but they just weren't enough. I can't say I blame him for
HockeyJoe: Offensively, there are guys on this team that will pile up points (Brown, Frolov, Kopitar) and outsiders will look at them and say, "These guys shouldn't be this bad - what gives?" What do you tell these apparent fantasy hockey gurus?
Rudy Kelly: The Kings are a pretty dynamic offensive team: they finished 12th in goals scored, which is pretty amazing when you consider they played 24 games against Dallas, Anaheim and San Jose, 3 of the top 6 defensive teams in the NHL last season. They should only get better this season with a new 2nd-line center (Jarrett Stoll) and more youth in the bottom six.
The problem, of course, is the defense. Our best defenseman is 21 year-old
Jack Johnson. Eek. New additions Matt Greene and Sean O'Donnell were basically
#6 defensemen on their old teams and 18 year-old Drew Doughty is going to be
their fourth defenseman. A bigger problem is that Johnson, Greene and O'Donnell
all take a lot of penalties, which is going to leave them short-handed a lot
more than they were last season.
Jason Labarbera is a good goaltender on a bad team, but he's proven a
little inconsistent and injury-prone over the past few years. I think the new
schedule change will help the Kings because they'll play more non-division
games, but those 24 games against the brutal Pacific are going to kill
HockeyJoe: If you were the GM: What kind of deal do you give Patrick O'Sullivan? Would Schneider have been a pick up? Khabibulin? What move would you make right now to get this team into the playoff hunt today?
(note: O'Sullivan was signed an hour after this e-mail correspondence was sent)
Rudy Kelly: Overall I'm really stoked (that's SoCal slang, baby) about Patrick O'Sullivan's deal. He ended up getting a 3-year, $2.95 million dollar deal, a deal that pays him while providing a lot of flexibility for the Kings going into next season. By the end of the deal the Kings will know who has panned out from their prospect pool and should have Alex Frolov either tied down or shipped off. I think O'Sullivan will eventually price himself off the Kings, but he's a good young player that can play all three forward positions and I'll enjoy watching him the next few years.
I would have loved to have Mathieu Schneider on the Kings and was
disappointed the Kings didn't get him. I think they could have gotten him easily because Schneider wanted to stay in Southern California but ultimately the Kings couldn't afford him. It is what is is. If I had wanted to get the Kings into the playoffs this off-season, I would have traded for Schneider and either Jay McKee from the Blues or Adrian Aucoin from the Flames. Both could have been had for cheap because they're teams were up against the cap.
I wouldn't have gone for Khabibulin because I actually think he's about as good as Labarbera at this point in his career. The Kings aren't that far off. They have a franchise player, a solid young defensive core, a great supporting cast, and a 3 good young goaltenders in the pipeline.
The Kings have made the stew; now it just needs to simmer for about 2
years. Of course, it does me no good because I'll be dead by then, but I'm sure my loved ones will be celebrating.
This is where all of us folks in the blogosphere and the hockey writing world all agree. There's a ton to like in Los Angeles and there's a zillion reasons to want to get in on the Kings bandwagon because it's going to fill up fast.
Even Mike Brophy from Sportsnet Ontario knows what's up:
"So let me say this then: the Kings could miss the playoffs and may very
well finish last in the West (I think the Islanders have the best shot at
finishing last overall), but I'd rather be the Los Angeles Kings than the
Toronto Maple Leafs, or the Islanders, or the St. Louis Blues, or the Vancouver
Canucks, or the Colorado Avalanche.
...When I look at the Kings I see a team that has the potential to take a
giant step forward very soon as long as ownership continues to show patience. GM
Dean Lombardi has been very calculating in turning this team around and he
understands there are no quick fixes in today's NHL."
The Kings are going to end up being a very good and very dangerous team.
Just not this year.
Like Rudy mentioned, their division is brutal with Anaheim, Dallas and San Jose. Mix in what should be a better Phoenix team and the Kings are going to take their lumps hard, especially with what figures to be suspect goaltending with Jason LaBarbera and Erik Ersberg (and Jonathan Quick mixed in too) made to look even worse thanks to very suspect defense.
I'm looking forward to watching the Kings play. They're going to score goals. They're going to play up-tempo. They're going to frustrate teams with their offensive talent. They're also not going to be able to stop anyone else from scoring either - firewagon hockey at its best, you just can't be a Kings fan and totally warm up to it since they're going to end up on the short end of the stick more often than not.
They're going to stink this year. The entire Western Conference is brutally difficult. Like I pointed out already, the only other true patsy is in St. Louis. Fear not L.A. fans, you're only a couple of years away from getting to stand on the top of the mountain and saying...