Los Angeles Kings’ beat writer Dennis Bernstein, from TheFourthPeriod.com, gives us the following article on expectations for the upcoming 2010-2011 season:
LOS ANGELES, CA — When we last left the Los Angeles Kings, they were picking up the remnants of their guts from the Staples Center ice after a six-game, first-round defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks.
While the bitter disappointment permeated the post-game locker room, it was tempered with the knowledge that this team was on an upward arc and even better days were coming.
Kings fans were buoyed by the reality that this team broke the century mark for the first time in eighteen seasons, possess a future Norris Trophy winner in Drew Doughty and have one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL.
To put the cherry on top of this tasty sundae, July 1 was supposed to be they made the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk, the one missing ingredient on the team, a proven 40 goal scorer. Word on the street was the Russian sniper’s first choice was Los Angeles, so to put this Top 5 talent with an emerging team could only result in eventual and ultimate joy in and around Manhattan Beach.
It’s funny how expectations rile up a fan base, I got a note last month that said, ‘I feel bad for you because you have the worst hockey beat in the NHL. Kings fans are bi-polar.’
That’s a tad bit harsh; I’d say more manic depressive.
A few weeks later, the Kings DID acquire a Russian left winger but there was no one hour special on TSN concluding with Alex Ponikarovsky saying, ‘I’ve brought my talents to Hermosa Beach.’ Giddy up, Poni.
That’s where the story of the Kings off season starts. Kings GM Dean Lombardi jettisoned one enigmatic Russian forward, Alex Frolov, for one a little less curious and more willing to play defense and accept a second or third line role.
Other than that, they rid themselves of enforcer Raitis Ivanans, easily replaceable due to some amazing statistics; he played in 61 games, took only 18 shots and couldn’t register a point. Derek Boogaard laughs at that offensive output. Lombardi declined to bring back Freddie Modin, a solid citizen but little more given prolonged healing from injuries and Randy Jones, whose agent should be contacted by every NHLer by virtue of getting this player a $3 million.
While those moves are addition by subtraction, the Kings do need to do addition by addition. The curious timing of top four defenseman Matt Greene’s shoulder surgery will have him miss the beginning of the regular season. Since most players have significant procedures shortly after the season concludes, we’ll speculate that the injury was incurred during the off season training regimen that’s now a requirement for NHL players.
While Lombardi remains steadfast in his deliberate approach to building a reserve list, many Kings fans are scattered around the Southland trying to avoid the impending falling sky. Some say they’ll drop 10-12 points off of last year’s breakthrough season, others fear that the playoffs won’t be a final destination this season.
Easy does it.
Isn’t the reason that a team builds an infrastructure and puts in a development program are for times like this? With Lee Stempniak and Slava Kolzov the best remaining options to fill the yawning hole on the left wing, why wouldn’t the Kings give Andrei Loktionov and the forgotten man, Oscar Moller, a shot for the first part of training camp?
Yes, Matt Greene probably misses the first month of the season, but is that a reason to make a deal for Tomas Kaberle, who brings a game this defense already has, Doughty and Jack Johnson move the puck quite nicely, thank you.
Will Brayden Schenn forge his way into the lineup as the second line center and push Jarret Stoll to the wing?
Shouldn’t the fan that sits in the upper reaches of Staples Center be excited that I’m able to name players that come from inside the organization as possible solutions and not be fearful?
If Lombardi and coach Terry Murray think that another year of seasoning is necessary for Schenn, they could go after Marc Savard before the calendar turns to October.
Shouldn’t you be secure in the fact that a GM that built a sterling franchise a few hundred miles north of you is not desperate to make the wrong moves?
Dean Lombardi has been at this game too long and deftly outbid other serious playoff contenders (Sharks, Capitals and Canucks) for Willie Mitchell. Though coming off concussion issues, the former Canuck defenseman gives the Kings additional big time minutes and sets up the blueline to rival any in the Western Conference.
Factoring into the equation is the reality that the top teams in the West are worse, not better than last season.
Chicago claims they’ve only lost two players off the Stanley Cup winning team that made a difference, but nine new faces spells chemistry issues to me. Sharks fans will lie to your face when they tell you Antero Niittymaki will take them deep into the playoffs. The Red Wings are smart as always, but even a year more aged.
When I ponder that the Vancouver Canucks are my favorite to emerge from the West at this point, should Kings fans really be concerned a few weeks from camp?
Only if you’re bi-polar, but that’s a way of life in Los Angeles.
I don’t have much to contest or add to that. Dennis has a writing style that I admire. He falls under the ever-dwindling category of real reporters, but maintains the levity and humor of a blogger.
He brings up some key points, namely that nearly the entire Western Conference, sans Vancouver, but particularly the Pacific Division, has taken a bigger hit than the Kings’ have this offseason. With San Jose missing their star goaltender and a future hall of fame defenseman, the Ducks featuring a hugely weakened defense, the Coyotes unsure whether a guy in Lee Stempniak who scored 14 goals in 18 games is even worth resigning [note: of course just a few short hours after I wrote this, Phoenix went and signed Stempniak to a 2 year deal, but I'm not rewriting the original sentence out of principle, laziness or spite... your choice], and the Stars looking virtually the same besides hoping Kari Lehtonen can stay healthy for a full year, the Kings’ are primed to at the very least, repeat last season’s performance and playoff appearance.
Scratch that. With the addition of Willie Mitchell, the Kings’ are one of the few teams in the West I can objectively say have improved (again, outside of Vancouver who we can all agree looks pretty formidable, if not still absurdly red-haired and freckled). While several question marks still remain, most notably the consistency of Scott Parse, the rehab of Matt Greene and the performance of youngsters in camp such as Jonathan Bernier, Brayden Schenn, Andrei Loktionov, Oscar Moller, Thomas Hickey, Jake Muzzin and several others, once the teary-eyed veil of missing out on Ilya Kovalchuk is removed, there is much to be excited about as training camp looms only weeks away. Lets also not forget a guy named Kyle Clifford who I anticipate with huff and puff and blow Staples Center down once the opportunity arises.
It is quite an exciting time when we can look at our Kings and say they have not only improved, but also maintain much room from improvement, inside and out of the organization.
Personally I am at the point where I am content to go into the season with what we have in the bank, knowing that interest has grown in Kopitar, Simmonds, Doughty, Johnson and hopefully Quick. That the investment in Bernier is primed to pay dividends. That the opportunity for several sleeper hits in talented prospects is not just possible, but bordering on likely.
Is this the bi-polar flip flop Dennis refers to, from the June gloom that struck in July to the relative calm I (and hopefully you) now feel about the LA Kings? Perhaps.
I would prefer to look at it as a flow that is being carefully ridden. Turbulence of free agency to placidity of a shored up defense. But my preference doesn’t always matter.
Dennis is right. We are a bi-polar bunch. Two months ago all we could think about was the need for goals, goals and more goals! Now with a top 4 on defense that rivals any in the West, if not the league, that supposed hole previously filled at LW by Mr. Cap Space, seems less pronounced.
It almost seems like the time for a season preview has come.
I still smell a trade on a the horizon. And before Scribe and I get to the 2010-2011 season preview, I may have to throw a forward fit.