We’re now something like 48 days out from the start of the NHL season so I figure this is as good a time as any to start doing the season previews. This is mainly for two reasons: 1) I am lazy and there’s no way I’ll do one of these every day, and 2) This is early enough that if I just stop doing them entirely you’ll have forgotten by October anyway. Oh and I guess also to show off my near-infinite knowledge of the National Hockey League. I’ll be previewing the teams in reverse order of finish in the 2007-08 season. Please note, though, that this is the opinion of one man, however smart and handsome he may be.
Los Angeles Kings, you’re on the clock.
It’s been a tough few years to be a Kings fan.
The team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002, but unlike the Penguins, whose success has been built upon years of lucky ping pong ball bounces and on-ice ineptitude, has usually finished high enough to get draft picks outside the top 5. Never mind the bad free agent signings (HOW much for a 37-year-old Rob Blake?) and years without a passable goaltending situation (Garon, Burke, Cloutier, LaBarbera, Cechmanek, etc.), the team has been stuck between rebuilding and trying to win for the last several years. At least, I hope so for their sake.
But that’s different now. The GM Dean Lombardi has probably gambled his job on new coach Terry Murray, who has to make Los Angeles actually care about hockey again the way the Ducks almost did when they won the Cup if the team is going to compete.
Not this year. The Kings are going to be an awful, awful team in 2008-09. Like, real bad. The team finished second-to-last in the NHL last season and got worse. A truly great quartet of forwards in Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Alex Frolov and Patrick O’Sullivan return for the Kings, but they’ve also lost sure-thing 30-goal guy Mike Cammaleri.
Not that offense was ever the problem for L.A. to begin with. The problem is, and has always been, defense and goaltending. So when Blake and Lubomir Visnovsky, the two biggest minutes-eaters on defense, left by free agency and trade, respectively, things got appreciably worse. Offensive defenseman Jack Johnson, he of the 11-point, minus-19 2007-08 campaign, and Tom Preissing, who is actually good, is now the No. 1 pairing in L.A. Preissing, though, has only averaged 20 minutes in a season once in his four-year career.
However, they are buttressed by such blueline luminaries as Matt Greene (career 0.09 points per game and minus-31), Denis Gauthier (four points and a minus-11 in 43 games and no playoff appearances with Philly last year), and Peter Harrold (a veteran of 37 NHL games). That’s it. Five NHL defensemen on the roster. And yes, the Kings are way, way below the cap floor so they’ll have to sign someone, but the list of remaining free agent defensemen is, uh, slim. Big Joey DiPenta, maybe? Marek Malik could be yours for the right price. One supposes that the biggest blueline question centers around whether or not 2007 pick Thomas Hickey or 2008 pick Drew Doughty (both as yet unsigned) are ready. If both are, the Kings might not have too big of a problem keeping the puck out of the n…
Oh wait, the goalie situation. Right. Jason LaBarbera is the No. 1 guy right now (by default more than anything else, like merit), with three rookies vying for the backup role that will likely be won by 26-year-old Erik Ersberg. Ersberg was outstanding in his few games last year, posting 2.48/.927 in 15 games, in which the Kings went 6-5-3. But whether or not he’s ready to play 40, 50, or even 60 games (with those numbers, he’s certainly deserving) remains to be seen. The Kings also have promising 20-year-old QMJHLer Jonathan Bernier who was not-so-good in four games for L.A. last year, and Jon Quick, a UMass product who was impressive in Manchester.
Still, there are too many questions, especially on the blue line, to really give this team any sort of credit this year.
More after the jump.
The Hero: Anze Kopitar. Kid’s just 21 and already has 52 goals and 138 points in 154 career games. He has proven that he works well with linemates Patrick O’Sullivan and Dustin Brown (he combined on 41 goals with Brownie this year, and 15 with O’Sullivan in the latter’s brief time on the top line). If Kopitar improves at the rate he’s already shown, he could become a 90- or even 100-point player. This kid is the definition of “player.”
The Darkhorse: A lot of candidates here, but I’m going with Erik Ersberg. If he can handle a the rigors of a full NHL schedule (and he’s never played more than 41 games in a season), he could become one of the best goalies in the league in a very Hank Lundquisty way. However, his playing time will be hampered by Jason LaBarbera, especially early on, and he might not get a chance to establish himself until it’s already too late in the season.
The New Guy: Jarret Stoll. He was brought in to replace Mike Cammalleri, and if he can replicate the 68-point pace he posted in Edmonton getting just 18:23 per night, the Kings will be very glad to have him as the second-line center. If not, he’ll get bumped down the depth chart pretty quickly. There are some promising rookies lying around (college hockey products like Teddy Purcell and Brian Boyle), and Alex Frolov is a monster as a second-line wing, but if Stoll can’t make the second unit go, the Kings offense could turn one-dimensional in a hurry.
The Big Question: Can the goaltending of Erik Ersberg and Jason LaBarbera bail out a struggling franchise and bring the Kings back to the playoffs for the first time in six years?
Acquired St. Louis’ 2009 fifth-round pick
Acquired Calgary’s 2008 first-round pick and 2009 second-round pick
Acquired RW Brad Richardson from the Colorado Avalanche
Acquired D Matt Greene and C Jarret Stoll from the Edmonton Oilers;
Acquired D Denis Gauthier and a 2010 second-round pick from the Philadelphia Flyers
Acquired left wing Richard Clune from the Dallas Stars.
D T.J. Fast (to St. Louis for pick)
C Mike Cammalleri and a 2008 second-round pick (to Calgary)
2008 second-round pick (Richardson deal)
D Lubomir Visnovsky (Stoll/Greene deal)
D Patrik Hersley and LW Ned Lukacevic (Gauthier deal)
RW Lauri Tukonen (Clune deal) (As many have pointed out, it’s Tukonen, not Kukonen. Typos are hard sometimes.)
RW Brian Wilsie (to Colorado)
D Rob Blake (to San Jose)
D Brendan Buckley (to San Jose)
D Richard Petiot (to Toronto)
Apropros-of-nothing TLP predicted finish: The Kings have a great foundation, but Ashton Rome wasn’t built in a day. Fifth in the Pacific, 13th in the West, 24th in the NHL.