The Los Angeles Kings would rather forget all about last season. They finished with just 71 points, their fewest since 2006-2007, and bowled their way through a few coaches until settling on Todd McLellan. He was hired April 16 after the ejecting of Willie Desjardins, who was brought in to replace John Stevens after a 4-8-1 start.
So, where does that leave us? According to assistant coach Marco Sturm, it leaves us with a team not used to losing. “I think last year, it caught them maybe a little bit off guard,” he said. “And that’s why we just couldn’t get out of the hole and all of a sudden, the season was over. So I think it’s going to be a totally different mindset this season for sure.”
Having a “totally different mindset” would be good if the Kings want to see the playoffs. But Los Angeles scored the second fewest goals in the league last season and had a 27th overall power play. They also allowed 263 goals against, giving them a differential of minus-61 – the worst in the Western Conference.
The Kings need to score more, defend better, receive more from their top players, and get better goaltending. And yes, that “totally different mindset” has to set in.
Anze Kopitar led the Kings in scoring with 22 goals and a total of 60 points. That’s a big-time lapse from the 32-year-old Jesenice native. In fact, Kopitar had 92 points in 2017-2018 – including a career-high 35 goals. If we’re being honest, there are a few blotchy seasons in his career and the centre can’t even really call 2018-2019 his worst year. But it sure is close.
Dustin Brown was second overall in scoring with 22 goals and 51 points in 72 games. As with Kopitar, you can’t say 2018-2019 was his worst year. He did manage 10 more points in 2017-2018, but he floated without even reaching 40 points for the five seasons prior. Brown didn’t shoot the puck very much last season, but he was still pretty efficient when he did.
Add Tyler Toffoli to the list of diminishing returns, sadly. The 27-year-old tied Ilya Kovalchuk with 34 points, although the Russian had more goals. Toffoli had just 13 in 82 games, which averages out to make 2018-2019 his most unsatisfactory campaign. The forward also finished on the lesser side of plus-minus for the first time in his career.
It may sound like it’s all doom and gloom for the Kings and scoring. It’s true that basically every prominent forward took a step back last season. Kovalchuk’s return to the NHL was far from a stunner, as he was well off his typical point-per-game form. It’s hard to say what Los Angeles thought they were getting, but dude’s locked in for two more.
Drew Doughty is and should be the player the Kings build around. The defenceman is the highest-paid skater on the team and he’s signed for the foreseeable future, so everything goes though the 29-year-old. Doughty is the ice-time leader by far and he makes pretty efficient use of his time. Despite LA’s offensive afflictions, he still pushed out 45 points.
After Doughty, things taper off. Alec Martinez is the next-highest earner among blueliners and he’s also the oldest. The 32-year-old had 18 points in 60 games and was limited due to injuries and illnesses. And amusingly, the Kings are the worst team he’s ever been on. To think, Martinez scored the Cup-winning goal in 2014.
For the Kings, tightening up the D is one of many jobs. The club has a host of defenceman signed for just one more year, so you have to think some tinkering might be in order. Derek Forbort, Paul LaDue, Sean Walker, Joakim Myer, and Kurtis MacDermid are all in contract years.
Jonathan Quick is still the man in goal for the Kings. The 33-year-old has four years to go on his current contract and he’s got a lot to prove this season. He might be able to spark Los Angeles, coming off a career-worst season last time out. His 3.38 goals against average and .888 save percentage were indicative of how far the Kings have fallen.
If Quick stays healthy, he’ll see a lot of starts. But this also could be the year the Kings turn the keys over to Jack Campbell. He is set for a pay raise when his contract kicks up in 2020-2021, so it might be time to let the rubber hit the road. He picked up 10 wins in 25 starts last season, with a 2.30 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. At least one King was putting together a career-best year.
Look, it’s easy to dump on the Los Angeles Kings. This is not a good hockey team and the issues are rampant. It’s easy to see that what’s going on here is more than just a matter of attitude. When LA finds out they can’t win with this group, the healing can begin. But until then, it looks like 2019-2020 will be more of the same.
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