The Los Angeles Kings are out of playoff contention, of course. It was Monday’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets that sealed the deal, with the Kings’ 1-6-0 record over their last seven games hardly indicative of a playoff-ready club.
So, what happened?
Los Angeles has, after all, missed the playoffs in three of their last five seasons. The once-battle-ready team won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014 in a streak during which they made the post-season in five straight outings.
But now the Kings have entirely fallen off the radar and are close to a non-threat as can be in today’s NHL.
We’ve speculated about the reasons. We’ve pondered a team that appears to be too slow and too big for today’s NHL.
This season, the Kings tried to pull things together by firing head coach John Stevens 13 games into the year. Willie Desjardins took over and the club made a bunch of moves. They acquired Carl Hagelin in November and traded him away by January, sending him to the Washington Capitals. Los Angeles also dealt Jake Muzzin to the Maple Leafs in January and traded Nate Thompson to the Habs in February.
Did it matter? Hardly.
Sure, the Kings may have the rights to Sean Durzi but this is the least offensive team in hockey. And in this context, that’s not a good thing.
Los Angeles can’t find the net and that’s been apparent through this season’s many losing streaks. In February, they dropped 10 straight. They are last in the NHL in goals scored, second last in goals per game.
Is it age? Maybe. The Kings have a glut of players over 30, with Ilya Kovalchuk, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick, Trevor Lewis, Alec Martinez, Anze Kopitar, and Dion Phaneuf all north of the mark and all critical players. Star defenceman Drew Doughty is a year shy of 30 and he, along with Kovalchuk, signed a big deal in the off-season.
At one point, the formula seemed to work. They could enter the post-season and bash things around a little, using big bodies to hammer and punish the opposition. But now, the opposition is gliding around the husky squad and there’s no speed to offer up a counterattack.
That could change. Maybe. There are possibilities for a new coach if Desjardins doesn’t stay. And Adrian Kempe is coming into his own, with the 22-year-old posting a dozen points in 22 games since the All-Star break. Carl Grundstrom, who came over in the Muzzin swap, knows Kempe and could form a potent punch up front. They played together in Sweden.
But is it enough? Are the Kings too locked into big, slow players to make a splash next season? Is it time to reinvent the wheel in Los Angeles and change the entire approach? Or will obstinacy carry the day once again and ease this team into yet another missed opportunity next year?