The Los Angeles Kings missed the playoffs for the third time in five seasons in 2018-2019 and it’s safe to say nobody was all that surprised.
The Kings finished eighth in the Pacific Division and 15th in the Western Conference, posting a 31-42-9 record. They scored just 202 goals, with only the Anaheim Ducks scoring fewer out West.
The book on the Kings has told the same tale for a number of years now: this is a franchise that is too old, too slow, too large.
But is this true?
The Kings’ current forward group has an average age of 28.4, according to CapFriendly. The defence averages out at 26.5.
But the top four forwards in terms of contract value are all north of 31. That group includes Anze Kopitar, Ilya Kovalchuk, Dustin Brown, and Jeff Carter. Trevor Lewis is under contract for next year and he’s 32, while the youngest regularly contracted forward is 25-year-old Alex Iafallo.
Defensively, this is Drew Doughty’s team. The 29-year-old inked an eight-year deal on July 1 of 2018 and will be contracted to the Kings through 2026-2027. A modified no-trade clause kicks in around 2023-2024.
These contracts handcuff the Kings to a certain game plan and efficiently leave them prisoners to their own devices. General manager Rob Blake has just $8.7 million of cap space with which to work in this off-season. They’ve got a year to go on Mike Richards’ recapture penalty, plus the buyout of defenceman Dion Phaneuf will ding them over $2 million in 2019-2020 and nearly twice that in 2020-2021.
In 2018-2019, only two Kings had over 20 goals – Kopitar and Brown. Kopitar’s 60 points led the team, while Brown followed up with 51 and Doughty posted 45 points. Seven of Doughty’s eight goals were on the power play.
Goalie Jonathan Quick had just 16 wins in 46 starts. The 33-year-old posted a career-worst .888 save percentage, unless you count his .855 save percentage across three games in 2007-2008. Quick put up a 3.38 goals against average.
It’s hard to imagine a worse season for the starting goalie and the Kings have some decisions to make, particularly if his play doesn’t bounce back in 2019-2020. Quick is clearly a long way off his top form and that 1.95 GAA from 2011-2012 looks like a distant memory, but what can you do?
Once again, it’s about contracts. Word around the campfire was that the Flyers were knocking on the door about Quick sometime around December, but that story dissolved.
What went wrong for the Kings in 2018-2019 was the same thing that went wrong the year before that and the year before that. This is a mishandled, fraught team struggling under the weight of their own misadventure. What was once a winning franchise now no longer looks or plays like one, but Dean Lombardi’s win-now-pay-later outlook hedged enough bets to keep this group in place for years.
The Kings will enter 2019-2020 with Todd McLellan as their new head coach and Alex Turcotte as a pretty darn good first-rounder. That’s not bad.
But at the core, it’s the same group and the same song. That puts these Kings right back here next summer, with more questions, more contracts to sort out and more of what went wrong.
(Lead photo credit: NHL.com)