2013 Stanley Cup Champions – Can the Los Angeles Kings Repeat?
Go ahead. You know you want to. Lift it above your head. Be careful. Alright, that’s enough. Put it down. Gently. Soak it in. Watch as it glistens in the sunlight. Beautiful. Run your hands along it. Allow your fingers to take in all of the names engraved into the silver. That’s what history feels like. Be delicate. This is not about ego, this is about glory. Feel the grooves that run between each ring. The bowl itself. Yes, there are names in there too. Observe the exquisite craftsmanship. An object that rewards a considered touch.
This is the Stanley Cup, and it’s property of the Los Angeles Kings for the moment. The question is whether or not it will remain property of our Kings a year from now.
Our victorious Kings team is intact (Sans Dwight King, but Clifford can take his spot, and King is an RFA and still Kings property and so could sign at any moment.). On top of this, our clever architect, Dean Lombardi, has just over $8.5 million in cap space to play with.
We know what we have in the Kings: A well-coached, defensively impenetrable, offensively stacked team with brilliant goaltending, so let us focus on other teams who might threaten the Stanley Cup calling Los Angeles home for another year.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are always the first team that comes to my mind in terms of a perennial contender of the last few years. Any team with Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Letang and Fleury is a threat. Dan Bylsma is a fantastic coach. In the glorious 2012 Playoffs, though, they could not keep their emotions in check and, as a result, found themselves letting in an average of five goals per game. A year from now, this team is another year older and another year more mature, but at the same time, the Kings’ game is to get the other team off of their game. If any team can constantly frustrate another team and force the opposition into an uncomfortable style of play, the Los Angeles Kings can. We saw it with the St. Louis Blues and the Coyotes. Especially now that the Penguins have lost Jordan Staal, the Kings can match up very well with Pittsburgh. Sure, Crosby is obscenely talented, but Kopitar is a master of the two way game, and Doughty, in this year’s playoffs, put on display his considerable defensive chops. Crosby can be held in check. Malkin was contained by Couturier in this year’s playoffs. If Couturier can defend against Malkin, Mike Richards can. The list goes on. A strength of the Kings’ lineup is that it contains many two way players, and so players like Kopitar and Richards can defend against players like Crosby and Malkin (who are less skilled defensively), and go on the offensive. The wild card is Marc-Andre Fleury. When the Penguins won the cup in 2009, he played exceptionally. In the 2012 Playoffs, he was a sieve. Even if he plays a great game, though, we have the best goaltender in the league. So there. The Kings can beat the Penguins.
The next team that could pose a hazard are the Vancouver Canucks. I hate them. You hate them. Pretty much everybody outside of British Columbia can’t stand these divers. With Daniel Sedin in the lineup, they managed to win one game against our Kings and bring another to overtime. Add Jason Garrison to the mix, and the hole left by Christian Ehrhoff’s signing with the Buffalo Sabres is finally filled. As they have been for a few years now, the Canucks are a high skill, low character team. A lesson that Dean Lombardi learned while GM of the San Jose Sharks is that a room full of talented assholes will not win championships. There is a reason that he put such emphasis on bringing in “locker room guys” when he started managing the Kings. The Kings’ room is so packed with character that Lombardi needed to bring in Carter just to create some diversity (and maybe to score goals). There is a reason that the Sharks have a choking culture, and the Canucks, as shown in four of the seven games of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, do as well. With so little leadership in the room, the Canucks are incredibly vulnerable to teams like the Kings who can keep it together through tough situations, and, as I said before, play a game that is about taking the other team off of their game. Even a healthy Canucks team will not beat this Kings team.
With the New York Rangers, it remains to be seen how their offense will shape up. They are similar to the Kings in that they have a preposterously sturdy defense, with one of the best goaltenders in the world behind it. At this point though, the Kings win in every category. I would take Brown, Kopitar, Mike Richards and Carter every day over Gaborik, Brad Richards, Callahan and Stepan. I would take Doughty, Voynov and Mitchell over McDonagh, Del Zotto and Girardi, always. Lunqvist won the Vezina but Quick won the Conn Smythe. I’d take Quick. Even if the Rangers manage to pick up Nash, the Kings still win this matchup.
The Blues could also stand in the way of the Kings’ winning a second consecutive championship. Yes, the Kings swept the Blues in this year’s playoffs, but as the media was so fond of saying, the series was closer than the number of wins and losses indicated. The games were hard fought. Apparently. With another year of Hitchcock as coach and the Blues attending their first Hitchcock training camp, the team’s discipline will likely improve. Even with more developed discipline though, like the Rangers, I believe that the Blues have a similarly built team to the Kings, and that the Kings win the matchup every time. Once again, I’d take Brown, Kopitar, Richards and Carter over Backes, Oshie, Perron and Berglund. I’d take Doughty, Voynov and Mitchell over Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk and Jackman. The tandem of Halak and Elliot doesn’t even hold a candle to our big, beautiful, baby faced goaltender. If the Kings face the Blues again in the upcoming playoffs, the stars look to be aligned for another show of Los Angeles’ superiority.
“How about the Red Wings?” You ask. “They are a model franchise! They always contend!” Sorry to say, but the Lidstrom years are over. The Red Wings also failed to pick up Ryan Suter to stem the bleeding. The Wings were a first round exit with Lidstrom. Without him, it is difficult to imagine them getting any further.
“How about the Devils?” You suggest. “We just played them in the Stanley Cup Finals a few weeks ago!” Just as the Red Wings lost Lidstrom, the Devils lost Parise. With the Captain gone, taking with him a huge chunk of the Devils’ leadership and talent up front, with Brodeur only getting older, and with Bryce Salvador unlikely to repeat his playoff performance of this last season, the Devils have missed their opportunity at the Cup.
“How about the Sharks?” you inquire, nervously. “Talk about a team loaded with talent!” More like a team loaded with assholes. On top of this team not having the leadership to carry them through the playoffs, the big names in San Jose are getting on in years. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are 32. Dan Boyle is 35. The Sharks are pretenders. They bring their fans false hope in the form of a veteran team with plenty of experience, but this team is not built for a championship.
“How about the Blackhawks?” you propose, tensely. “Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Sharp. This team is dangerous!” Yeah, they are. Except that their goalie is terrible. Brutally awful. Not even passable. He loses them games. Get a new goalie and we’ll talk.
“How about the Wild?” You plead, fidgeting in your chair. “They just picked up Parise AND Suter!” Yeah, they did. For $7.5 million apiece. For 13 years each. $2.5 million left in cap space. Heatley is signed for 2 more years at $7.5 million per. Another pretender.
“How about the Bruins or the Capitals?” You vociferate anxiously, the Kings fan in you trying desperately to find a reason that the Kings cannot win another championship. Conn Smythe Winner, Tim Thomas, stopped calling Boston home. He’s done and they’re done contending. Three seven game series’ en route to the Stanley Cup. Thomas stole them their championship. The Capitals? Bring some depth in and we’ll talk.
“How about the Predators or the Coyotes?” You demand hysterically, grasping desperately for any team that could possibly stand in the way of 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. No Ryan Suter. No Ray Whitney. Potentially no Shane Doan. Don’t make me laugh. The pieces are in place for a Kings’ repeat. Stop searching for roadblocks.
You glance around turbulently, crazed, before focusing, placid. A sly smile slithers across your face. In the tone of a hunter who has just caught his prey, “How about a lockout?” you question, already knowing the answer. You got me there.