Stanley Cup on the Lips of Kings
The few times I’ve been around the Kings in the last few weeks, two words have been the leitmotif amongst players: Stanley Cup. And as crazy as this might sound like, I didn’t give them a strange look and laugh snarkily in response.
Let me get this out of the way: this team can win the Stanley Cup this season.
The Kings did three big things to help get them over the hump of consecutive first-round playoff exits: trade for Mike Richards; sign Simon Gagné; re-sign Drew Doughty.
The Mike Richards trade did surprise me. Not only did they give the Philadelphia Flyers Wayne Simmonds, but General Manager Dean Lombardi also handed over the previously untouchable prospect Brayden Schenn. Having been accused by fans of not being able to pull the trigger on bringing talent to the team, this move told the fans with an exclamation point that Lombardi was serious in turning this team into serious Stanley Cup contenders.
Lombardi quickly followed this up with the signing of Gagné which would help fortify the scoring needs on the wings for the Kings. But then came what some had termed Drewmageddon: when would restricted free agent Doughty sign? It was clear that Doughty was not going to get an offer sheet from any other teams, so it was basically a showdown between Lombardi and Doughty.
Finally last week the eight-year, $56 million dollar deal was done. Doughty won on the money front and Lombardi won on the length of the term - it doesn’t coincide with Anze Kopitar’s free agency.
So everyone is here, including quiet pickups like Ethan Moreau and Trent Hunter. Well not here but in Europe where the Kings open the season on Friday, and things look good.
But just because the team can win the Cup doesn’t mean they will win it.
First of all Doughty will need to improve on his subpar season last year. He did show up to the team in shape and looking fast on the ice, but the question is how long will it take for him to get into game shape. Doughty, in addition to a concussion he suffered early in the season, didn’t look completely together until the second half of the season. He’s going to have to do better than that this year.
But that doesn’t take any scrutiny off of fellow blue liner Jack Johnson and his -21 rating. That rating is inexcusable.
Talking with a scout during one of the Kings’ preseason games he noted that both Doughty and Johnson needed to get the puck to the net more often. While they do try to get the puck there, they often miss hitting the netting out of play or making a nice dent in the boards.
Since they’re the two on the power-play most often, they’re the two blue liners with the long-term contracts, they’re the two the team has staked their future on, a -21 rating and blind shots into the ether will not get it done.
Kopitar has looked good throughout training camp with his bionic ankle and will center the first line. Richards will center the second line giving an added scoring threat the Kings have sorely lacked. That moves Jarrett Stoll to the third line which is a more natural fit for the center.
Dustin Penner also has quite a bit to prove since he is in a contract year. But he too looked fit coming in to training camp, and he will be needed for that added physical presence in front of the net that coach Terry Murray loves.
This team has the talent and the experience. Anything less than the Western Conference Finals for this team will be a failure. So here’s to some May and June hockey in Los Angeles.
Here are my predictions.
1. Washington Capitals
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Buffalo Sabres
4. Boston Bruins
5. Philadelphia Flyers
6. New Jersey Devils
7. New York Rangers
8. Tampa Bay Lightning
Champions: Washington Capitals
1. Detroit Red Wings
2. San Jose Sharks
3. Vancouver Canucks
4. Los Angeles Kings
5. Chicago Blackhawks
6. Nashville Predators
7. Anaheim Ducks
8. Calgary Flames
Champions: San Jose Sharks
Stanley Cup Champions: Washington Capitals in 6.