Eric Roberts The Hockey Writers
State of the Los Angeles Kings
In the overall picture, at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season the Los Angeles Kings were better than they were at the end of the 2014-15 season. Last season, the Kings finished in second place in the Pacific Division with 102 points. Two seasons ago, Los Angeles finished in fourth place in the Pacific Division with 95 points. That’s a seven point increase and a jump two places up in the division’s standings.
However, the big takeaway from the two seasons was that the Kings we able to get back into the post season in 2016, something they didn’t do in 2015. When Los Angeles didn’t qualify for the playoffs in 2015 it came as a shock to most. The Kings had qualified the previous five season and had won the Stanley Cup twice in the previous three seasons.
Making the playoffs, as the number two seed in the Pacific at that, this season was supposed to be the Kings righting the ship. Qualifying for the post season was supposed to erase the blip from 2015 off the radar.
If only things played out that way.
Instead, after just five games, the Kings were bounced from the playoffs in the opening round of the post season by none other than their instate rival, the San Jose Sharks. As the Kings skated off the ice at Staples Center after their 6-3 loss to the Sharks in Game 5, things didn’t feel much different from when the Kings were finished on the final day of the regular season in 2015.In some ways it felt worse.
Maybe it was the fact it felt like the Kings were never really in the series. In the five games played the Kings had a lead for under four minutes of play. Yes, in five games, one of which featured some overtime action the Kings were up on the Sharks for just over three and a half minutes. Was making the post season and losing in that fashion better than not making it all?
Sure the Kings were able to get into the post season and get a shot at the Cup, something every team hopes for. This resulted in Los Angeles being able to play five more games this year. But after being eliminated in just five games there seemed to be the same questions, if not more, facing the Kings as there was in 2015.
Not the Kings of the Past
Team defense has been the Kings’ bread and butter for quite sometime. Over the three seasons where they Kings won the Cup in 2012 and 2014 and just missed a shot at the Cup in 2013, this was clear that was why the Kings were successful.
Over the last two seasons, the Kings, although they have tried to stick by this style of play, have sputtered when it comes to the defensive side of things.
It’s not as if Dean Lombardi hasn’t tried to address the situation. Luke Schenn, who came to Los Angeles via trade along with Vincent Lecavalier, was a possible solution. Circling back to Kings of the past, Rob Scuderi was brought back to Los Angeles as a possible solution to the team’s depth issues. The Kings even tapped into their farm system and called up players like Kevin Gravel and Derek Forbortin hopes of fixing the problem.
No matter the fix things never felt right. Schenn seemed too slow. Scuderi wasn’t the Scuderi of the past. Gravel and Forbort are both young and primarily served as plugs to fill wholes so never really had a chance to find a rhythm.
Outside of Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin, who were both shifted up and down the Kings’ defensive pairings in order to spread the wealth, the Kings d-men were shaky.
Doughty was out there for every situation for the Kings, up a man, down a man, down two men, late in the game with a lead or in the hole, Doughty was out there. This resulted in Doughty averaging just under 31 minutes of ice time a night for Los Angeles. He was the Kings’ workhorse and Los Angeles didn’t get much after that.
Unless cloning becomes a thing in the near future and Lombardi can get Doughty in a pod, he is going to have to get to work and get the Kings’ blue line back to something of what it used to be.
Time for a King Sized Shake Up
It might not be the popular opinion, although it has caught some steam around, is the need for some kind of shake up in the Kings’ locker room. Obviously what the Kings have at the moment isn’t working. What exactly needs to be changed is up for debate. However one of the major hold ups when it comes to changing the Kings’ roster for the better is their salary cap situation.
Los Angeles’ pocketbook is tight, very tight, and with the salary cap expected to raise to $74.5 Million things won’t get much better for the Kings.
For the Kings, they have just under $51,000 locked up in Anze Kopitar ($10 million), Dustin Brown ($5.875 million) Marian Gaborik ($4.87 million), Doughty ($7 million), Alec Martinez ($4 million), Muzzin ($4 million) and Jeff Carter ($5.272 million).
Factor in a new contract for Tyler Toffoli, who put up career numbers last season and will become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of next season, and possibly Milan Lucic who wants to stick around and the Kings’ finances get even tighter.
When it comes to freeing up money it is obvious who in the Kings locker room wont be in any kind of trade talks. Players like Doughty, Carter, Jonathan Quick, Toffoli, Martinez and Muzzin are vital parts of the core and will be for some time.
That leaves Brown and Gaborik as the lone players eating up sizable amounts of money that aren’t quite living up to their paycheck. Moving one of these players would free up some money and get some fresh faces in the locker room, two birds one stone.
Brown recorded just 11 goals, matching a career low, and 28 points, just one higher than his career low of 27 which he hit in 2013-2014 and 2014-15, last season. Much like Brown, Gaborik’s play has slowly dropped off and has been prone to get injured. Both have been middle of the pack players statistically while they hold up big time money.
Both have been vital parts to the Kings organization and cashed in on contracts expiring while the Kings were fresh off two Stanley Cups in three years. They signed the big contracts when they could, you can’t blame them for that. But now both their play and salaries are hurting the team and something needs to happen in order to make room for other players like Lucic, Toffoli or someone Lombardi wants to bring to Los Angeles.
Now with the Kings possibly needing to shake things up these salaries are serving as a double-edged sword. They are eating up a sizable chunk of the team’s cap space and making it difficult to move the player associated with the salary.
The Core is there for the Kings which should prolong their window for success from slamming shut on them. But there is tweaking needed in Los Angeles and the last two seasons has made that painfully apparent. A second lengthy summer for Lombardi and the Kings will provide them with plenty of time to try to find the needed quirks.
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