After a little time away, we’re back with our look at the Los Angeles Kings. The club finished 48-28-6 last season, just a point behind the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks. They were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs and issues of team depth came to the fore. This vulnerability was apparent a year prior, when the Kings missed the post-season. They haven’t won a series since 2014.
So how do the Kings return to glory? For one thing, the salary cap haunts them. They’ve been up against it the last few seasons thanks to big contracts for the likes of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown, and Jonathan Quick. They had to let Milan Lucic go and didn’t make much of a fuss during the free agent frenzy, with Tom Gilbert and Jeff Zatkoff the only notable selections.
Los Angeles has just $30,000 in cap space going into 2016-2017, so what you see is what you get. The Kings will look to Kopitar and Co. to continue to fulfill key roles, while their defensive game should continue to dominate. Last season, they allowed just 192 goals against. This occurred because the team stuck to a plan, but injury trouble could once again shed some light on the Kings’ weaknesses.
Up front, the Kings have identifiable strengths. Kopitar had 74 points in 81 games, including 25 goals. He averaged 20:52 of ice time a game and registered 177 shots on goal. The Slovakian forward is one of the game’s great two-way players and his hands give him the opportunity to put up consistent points. He has a huge part of this team.
Scarborough’s Tyler Toffoli had a terrific season in 2015-2016, with a career-high 31 goals and a greater degree of consistency to his game. The 24-year-old had a total of 58 points, with 213 shots on goal and an average of 17:18 of ice time per game. He’s blessed with a quick shot and a high level of skill that translates to significant offensive output. While he can lose some puck battles due to a lack of overall strength, Toffoli is a good bet for some goals.
With Lucic out of the picture, the Kings still have some tried and true players to come up with offence. Gaborik had just 22 points in 54 games last season, but the 34-year-old from Slovakia can still provide scoring at his position. He’s still capable of explosive speed and theoretically has a spot alongside countryman Kopitar, which should result in more goals and more opportunities as his career winds down.
Teddy Purcell was signed in July and the Kings are hoping the St. John’s native will bring some depth to the roster. The 31-year-old had 43 points in 76 games last season and could see time on the top unit with Kopitar and Gaborik, which could present some chances for big numbers. And Jeff Carter impressed with 62 points last season, including 24 goals. He’s a solid pick for a second line centre, even if Los Angeles’ tendency to move younger could impact his ice time.
Doughty is coming off his first Norris Trophy and his best season since 2009-2010, so it’s hard not to consider him as the team’s best defenceman if not the best defenceman in the NHL. Last season, he finished with 14 goals and 37 assists. He has the wheels and longevity to be a franchise player and the Kings will be looking to him to propel the attack once again. The 26-year-old is in line for even more this season, which is a scary thought for the opposition.
Jake Muzzin typically accounts for the other half of the top pairing. He had a solid 2015-2016 campaign and even registered 203 shots on goal, a career-high. He finished his second consecutive season with at least 40 points and contributed to the power play. He also gives the Kings a physical edge, with a nasty side that can help keep things in line at both ends of the ice.
Rob Scuderi is a veteran presence for Los Angeles on the blueline. The 37-year-old won’t put up many points – he had 10 last season – but he’s a sturdy player and knows his role. Gilbert is the new hire and his mobility will continue to be a factor. The 33-year-old can put up significant minutes and knows how to move out of all three zones, which gives the Kings plenty of options from their own end.
Quick is still the man in Los Angeles and he’s been with the club through thick and thin. The 30-year-old was 40-23-5 last season with a goals against average of 2.22 and a save percentage of .918. He posted five shutouts and remains a workhorse between the pipes. Quick is unsurprisingly a quick goalie, plus he’s a durable and confident player. He is prone to scrambling and can go down too early in some situations, but he’ll pile up wins.
Zatkoff is the backup. He was drafted by the Kings in 2006 and he’s back in the fold after a detour through Pittsburgh. Los Angeles is hoping the 29-year-old from Detroit can start to emerge as the resilient netminder they know he is. The book on Zatkoff suggests issues with the glove hand and some trouble with rebound control, but he still has his uses as a depth goaltender.
The Kings haven’t exactly benefitted from top draft position over the past few years, so the prospect pool is a little on the thin side. They haven’t had a first round pick in the last two years, but there is the hope that some depth players can be found in the bunch. Winger Adrian Kempe is on the list. The 19-year-old Swede was drafted in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and seems set to emerge as a quality power forward.
Michael Mersch is another projectable forward for the Kings. The 23-year-old has been in the mix for some time now, but the loss of Lucic could finally open the door for a big league arrival. Mersch is not an overly physical player, but he shoots the puck well and can put in time on the power play and the penalty kill.
The Path Ahead
The Kings may once again run into depth issues, but they have such a deadly top layer that it’s hard to imagine them struggling much. Los Angeles will have little trouble scoring goals, but it may be time to start thinking about a transition to some younger talent. Still, any team that boasts Kopitar, Doughty and Quick will come up big in the end.