(Ed. Note: It’s an Olympic year in the NHL. So, naturally, we decided to use the trappings of the Winter Games to preview all 30 teams for the 2013-14 NHL season. Who takes the gold? Who falls on their triple-axel? Read on and find out!)
Thanks to the lockout, it took several months before the Los Angeles Kings could hoist their Stanley Cup banner. Once they did, the Kings discovered what the majority of defending champs realize: Defending the crown ain’t easy.
The Kings finished fifth in the West, once again battling with a pack of teams just to qualify for the postseason. But after the Kings were in, they rolled to the Western Conference Final after eliminating the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks (in seven games). Alas, the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks dispatched them in five games.
The Kings return their core. Can they once again raise the Cup? Or will a difficult Pacific Division keep them out of the playoffs?
Jonathan Quick was not very nice to his countryman Joe Pavelski.
Rob Scuderi, a rock on defense for LA, left to return to Pittsburgh on a 4-year deal. Dustin Penner took his talents back to Anaheim for a 1-year deal. Brad Richardson left for Vancouver, while the Kings traded Kevin Westgarth to the Hurricanes.
They also made one rather significant deal: Trading backup goalie Jonathan Bernier to the Toronto Maple Leafs for forward Matt Frattin, goalie Ben Scrivens and a pick.
The Kings traded for Dan Carcillo, signed defenseman Jeff Schultz but overall did more re-signing of their own talent than bringing in new faces.
Forward: Anze Kopitar led the Kings with 42 points in 47 games, although his goal pace (10 for the season) was the lowest of his career. Once again, his line was dominant at times: Playoff hero Justin Williams (six goals in 18 postseason games) and Dustin Brown (18 goals in the regular season), who was rewarded with an eight-year contract extension. He was also his usual charming self.
Jeff Carter had a stellar season in his first full year with the Kings, scoring a team-high 26 goals. Mike Richards struggled at times defensively, but had a 32-point season. Frattin’s going to get a look on that second line, with a chance to really make the Leafs regret sending him west.
Jarret Stoll, a.k.a. Erin Andrews’ better half, is fully healthy after suffering a scary seizure and could again skate on an energy line with Dwight King and Trevor Lewis.
Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan, Tyler Toffoli, Colin Fraser and Carcillo are also in the mix for forward spots.
Defense: After going into Beast Mode in the run to the Cup, expectations were high that Drew Doughty might have a Norris-caliber year. But he started slowly – at one point, he was a minus-11 on the season – but eventually found his form for the Kings, who needed him to log extra minutes due to injuries on defense. One assumes Robyn Regehr will be with Doughty this season, providing the defensive foundation that’ll allow Doughty to get involved offensively.
With Doughty getting the toughest assignments, Slava Voynov was able to have a breakout season on the second paring, with 25 points in 48 games. Scuderi paired with him last season; could Willie Mitchell, who missed all of last season with knee problems, be reunited with the Russian phenom this season?
Veteran Matt Greene’s injury last season limited him to five regular season gams before he returned for the postseason. Alec Martinez, who played with Greene during the Cup run, and last year’s rookie Jake Muzzin will compete for the No. 6 defenseman spot, with Jeff Schultz and Keaton Ellerby also in the mix. Derek Forbort continues to progress towards the NHL as well.
Goalies: Bernier bailed out Jonathan Quick last season, as the Conn Smythe winner struggled at times. This season is the first under his blockbuster 10-year contract, and Quick faces a crucial three-month test that’ll determine whether or not he’ll be the Olympic starter for the U.S. He needs to be much better than his .902 save percentage in 37 games last season. Ben Scrivens could be his backup, but the Kings also have veteran Mathieu Garon in on a tryout.
Darryl Sutter was his usual quote machine in 2013, while managing his lineup through injuries and ineffectiveness during the season. Following up a championship season isn’t easy; Sutter managed to get his team through the mire and back into the conference final.
Dean Lombardi has his core locked up forever and decided to bring back the same team (adding Regehr) last season. There’s been little in the way of a shakeup again this season; if the Kings start slowly, will Lombardi get antsy?
“I Love LA” by Young Dre the Truth does seem to mention the Cup and the Kings and ice.
The big two. Doughty and Voynov are two of the best defensemen in the NHL. In Doughty, they have someone who plays the tough minutes, and a ton of them.
The Los Angeles Kings will be top two in the Pacific Division and once again challenge for the Stanley Cup. Expect Quick to be back on this game, Lombardi to be quick to correct any problems in the team’s lineup and the rust from the Cup win to be a thing of the past.