This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the Los Angeles Kings.
What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?
Well, the entire team was, after winning their second Cup in 3 years.
As in 2012, their defense was at the forefront of their success this past season. The Kings led the NHL with a minuscule 2.05 goals-against-average and finished behind only the Devils with 26.2 shots allowed per game. They were also the top team in the league in most possession statistics.
In addition, LA finished as the 3rd best team in the NHL in 5-on-5 play, with a 1.28 goals for/against ratio.
Leading the charge was one the NHL’s premier two-way players, Anze Kopitar. He played nearly 21 minutes per game, scored 70 points including 29 goals and added 26 points in 26 playoff games. He also posted a +34 and finished second in Selke Trophy voting.
Ever since joining the Kings, Marian Gaborik has been Kopitar’s right-hand man, so to speak. The two developed excellent chemistry which translated into 16 points in 19 regular season games, followed by a league-leading 14 goals in 26 games in the post-season. Gaborik also signed a long-term extension before becoming an unrestricted free agent to remain with the Kings for the next 7 years at a very low 4.875 cap hit.
While they didn’t play together much during the regular season, the line of Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson enjoyed a remarkable playoff run, combining for 21 goals and 51 points, on their way to earning the nickname “That 70’s line” (due to their jersey numbers all being in the 70’s).
“Mr. Game 7″ Justin Williams enjoyed his best playoff run ever, scoring 25 points in 26 playoff games and leading the league with a +13 on his way to a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He also contributed 2 goals and 3 assists in the 3 game 7s the Kings played, bringing his career game 7 record to 7-0 with 14 points scored, an NHL record.
What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?
Not everything was rosy for the Kings this past season. They were absolutely miserable on the powerplay, converting just 15.1% of their chances, good for 27th in the NHL.
Mike Richards had a very difficult regular season and playoffs, as he fell all the way down to the 4th line. He finished with a combined 14 goals and a -12 in 108 games (regular season + playoffs). He’s only averaged 16 goals per 82 games so far with the Kings, leading many to speculate on whether the Kings would be wise to use a compliance buyout on the 6 remaining years of his contract, but they decided against it.
Team captain Dustin Brown is another player who like Richards, has played a hard game in his career leading many to wonder about his health. His 15 goals were the lowest he’s had since his second NHL season i 2005-06, and that includes the shortened season in 2012-13.
While Drew Doughty was absolutely all-world in the post-season, his regular season was sort of mediocre. After starting the season with 4 goals and 7 points in 14 games, he scored just one goal in each remaining month of the season.
So what did they do to get better?
How would a team that won the Stanley Cup get better? They will be returning an identical roster in 2014-15 with the exception of Willie Mitchell who signed with the Panthers, and why wouldn’t they? They’ll be counting on improvements from within from youngsters like Pearson, Toffoli and Slava Voynov, and a return to form for Richards and Brown.
Player to watch
Jake Muzzin played some of the best hockey of his life in last year’s playoffs. Firmly established as Drew Doughty’s defense partner, look for Muzzin to see an increased role and improve upon his 24 regular season points. He’s got an absolute cannon from the point. That should help improve the Kings’ lackluster powerplay.
…nearly every team that finished behind them last season has improved.
They will make the playoffs if…
They don’t suffer from the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover. This team is deep and skilled at every position and should be there to defend their title.
They will miss the playoffs if…
They don’t get more from at least some of Richards, Brown, Toffoli, Pearson and goaltender Jonathan Quick, who was rather ordinary last season.
What should we expect this season?
The Kings return a lineup that won a Stanley Cup in 2014, and most of a roster that won it in 2012. The danger there is that nearly every team that finished behind them last season has improved.
Pair that with a short summer and some players who have lots of tough miles on their bodies, and the recipe may be there for the Kings to have a tough road back to the Stanley Cup Final.
They should be a playoff team, but I don’t think there’s enough to be a top regular season club. They do however have a chance at earning a place in history this season if they can win their 3rd Stanley Cup in 4 seasons.
They certainly have a good enough team to do it, but in today’s NHL, and especially in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, the odds are stacked against them. Having said that, who’s willing to bet against the Los Angeles Kings at this point?
46-26-10 102 points, 3rd in the Pacific Division, 5th in the Western Conference