The Los Angeles Kings won two Stanley Cups in three years. But the gap between the Kings, the Vancouver Canucks and the rest of the Pacific Division is closing.
The consensus among NHL fans is still that the California teams are the top three in the Pacific Division. However, the Los Angeles Kings are starting to look like a team the Vancouver Canucks could beat to a playoff spot. No, seriously, the Kings aren’t that good anymore.
After winning two Stanley Cups in three years, the Kings only won one playoff game over the past two years. On the bright side, they made the playoffs at all in the past two years; but simply making it isn’t enough for a club that was on the verge of becoming a dynasty.
Compared to the 2015-16 season, the Kings didn’t make many changes. Instead, they are mostly relying on what they already have — which can be both a good and a bad thing. A good thing, because there will be no adjustment needed and everyone knows what’s expected from them. A bad thing, because the past two years have mostly been a downhill ride for the club.
Tanner Pearson — Jeff Carter — Tyler Toffoli
Teddy Purcell — Anze Kopitar — Marian Gaborik
Dwight King — Nick Shore — Dustin Brown
Adrian Kempe — Trevor Lewis — Kyle Clifford
Andy Andreoff, Michael Latta, Jordan Nolan
Dustin Brown was the Kings’ captain for the past eight years and he was one of Team USA’s captains for three major tournaments as well. There is no doubt that Brown is a good leader, but the Kings want to change things up a bit. Anze Kopitar is next up to lead his team — which is something he has been doing for a long time anyway.
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Other than that, the club hasn’t seen much change. On offense, the Kings only added Teddy Purcell and Michael Latta. While Purcell is expected to play a middle-six role, Latta might not even make the roster out of training camp. Still, the Kings have a competitive group of players.
Kopitar and Jeff Carter are a terrific one-two punch; Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Purcell and Marian Gaborik are solid top-six scorers. The bottom six is still solid as well, and it might get some youth infusion with the addition of Adrian Kempe.
The Kings led the league in Corsi for in the 2015-16 season, and they won’t just fall down a cliff this year. However, they only ranked 14th in goals for, and cannot afford to do any less this season.
Brayden McNabb — Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin — Tom Gilbert
Alec Martinez — Matt Greene
Rob Scuderi, Zach Trotman
As Vancouver Canucks fans, we know what it’s like to have a terrible defense. It’s something Kings fans have no idea of.
L.A.’s top-two defensemen, Drew Doughty and Jake Muezzin, both made Team Canada’s roster for the World Cup of Hockey. Even with Jay Bouwmeester in the mix, Canada has probably the strongest defensive group in the tournament, so that’s a good thing to have. Likely playing on the third pairing is Alec Martinez, who is actually the No. 3 on the depth chart and could easily play on an NHL top pairing as well.
Behind those three, the Kings have players like Gilbert, Brayden McNabb, long-time injured veteran Matt Greene and aging Rob Scuderi. But still, this is a very, very solid group.
The Kings are regularly one of the top Corsi teams in the league and finished third in the NHL in goals against this year — so there is nothing to worry about.
The Kings went from Vezina-caliber Jonathan Quick to “still very good but not the best anymore, what the hell is going on” Jonathan Quick. So, he probably won’t be ranked atop NHL top 50 lists anymore, but he is still one of the most respected goalies on the planet. The Kings are doing okay here.
What changed are the club’s backup and third goalie, and both are well-known names as well. Jeff Zatkoff went into last season as the backup of the Pittsburgh Penguins who, as you might know, ended up winning the Stanley Cup. As you might also know, rookie Matt Murray kind of stole the show in Steel City and Zatkoff’s chances of being the Penguins’ backup in 2016-17 would have been close to zero. He is a solid backup but nothing more.
Then there is Jack Campbell. Once drafted 11th overall by the Dallas Stars, he is now a minor leaguer who spent the 2015-16 season in the ECHL. The talent is still there, but Campbell is a total wild card. Still, the Kings have a very solid goaltending group overall.
1. Jonathan Quick
You might be noticing a theme in our Pacific Division previews. The goalie is once again one of the most important players on the roster. In this case, we have a former Vezina-caliber goalie who is on the verge of becoming “just extremely good.” A .918 save percentage is all right, but it definitely isn’t the kind of elite goaltending that led to two Stanley Cups.
2. Dustin Brown
After being stripped of the ‘C’, is Dustin Brown still a good-enough player to be a part of the team until 2022? It has been four years since Brown put up 22 goals and 54 points in the regular season, plus 20 points in 20 playoff contests. Since then, he steadily regressed with 27, 27 and 28 points in the past three years. The Kings need him to be a leader again, or things could go downhill quickly.
3. Tom Gilbert
This seems like a random selection for a key player but it really isn’t. Tom Gilbert is a former Edmonton Oiler who also knows how to play like an Oilers D-man. In L.A., he might be relied on as a second-pairing player, though, and the Kings really need him to be solid.
The Kings likely won’t become a dynasty with their current core. But it’s also tough to argue they aren’t a playoff team anymore. Doughty and Kopitar are still top-10 skaters in the NHL, Quick is still a top-five goalie. The supporting cast isn’t as good as it once was, but it should still be enough to compete for the top spot in the Pacific Division.
This might not make any sense right now, but while the Kings are certainly competing for the top spot, they also look like a team the Canucks could beat this year. At least if the Canucks stay healthy and play like a team that has legitimate playoff chances. That, by the way, will be difficult enough.
Third in the Pacific is certainly a reasonable prediction for the Kings. From there, they can go anywhere — as they showed when they went from eighth in the Conference to a Stanley Cup.