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LA Kings Season Preview
AP photo by Jae C. HongWhen the best moves made by an organization in the off season are in the front office, you can probably bet that it isn't going to be a stellar year on the ice. However, new GM Dean Lombardi was instrumental in turning San Jose into a legit contender. And new coach Marc Crawford is a flat-out winner. He coached the Avs to a championship in 1996. The previous season he was the NHL's Coach of the Year. Since then he's had a largely successful run in Vancouver.
On the ice, there'll be more questions than answers in what can probably be described as a rebuilding year.
One of the positives will be the defense. Future hall of famer and great locker room presence Rob Blake is back. Aaron Miller is another quality d-man that can be counted on. It should be mentioned that while I don't want to say that this group will be watching “Matlock” reruns during intermissions... they ain't young.
In goal for the Kings this year will be... Well, I'm not entirely sure. Dan Cloutier, who Crawford coached in Vancouver, is now in LA. He has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, but expecting him to put it all together – and to stay healthy – is like expecting the Dixie Chicks to play at The White House. He'll be battling Mathieu Garon and Jason LaBarbera. Actually, if I was a betting man, I'd say that Cloutier will battle his groin, Garon will battle inconsistency and LaBarbera will get a lot of playing time by default.
Losing Pavol Demitra is going to be a blow to the offense. Expecting Alyn McCauley -- a defensive specialist -- to replace his output is probably more than a little silly. There should be ample opportunities for youngsters to get a chance to earn playing time.
Luc Robitaille's number will be retired at a ceremony this season. It probably won't be long after, that people will be calling for him to pull his jersey down from the rafters and wear it on the ice. (Maybe someone should call Marcel Dionne as well.)
One good reason to watch the Kings this year will be Sean Avery. He dates actresses. He flips off photographers. He does push-ups on the ice after scoring. He gets kicked off the team. And he's a colossal pain in the ass to opponents too. Avery is the new breed of NHL tough guy. He can also play.
The days of the one-dimensional hockey goons are gone. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has gone too far in his efforts to sanitize hockey. He seems to want to make it more palatable to -- and thus more popular with -- the American viewing public. That's working well, eh? The league has put into place an "instigator rule." Something which, quite frankly, is the worst idea since FINAL DESTINATION 3. (Was there even a FINAL DESTINATION 2?)
Say a player from Team A takes a run at a player from Team B. Another player from Team B would come to the rescue of his fallen comrade and beat the snot out of the player from Team A. Simple, right? That's how hockey has been played since the sport was invented. Now the instigator rule would put the player defending his teammate in the penalty box and leave his team a man down for two minutes. Without the possibility of getting their ass kicked, players will be taking runs at the other teams' star players with impunity. Stars will get injured. Scoring will go down. Which kind of flies in the face of this whole "new NHL" thing, no?
What era enjoyed the largest growth of hockey in the U.S.? The Gretzky-era? Well, Wayne always, always had a tough guy nearby. Guys like Marty McSorley and Dave Semenko would wail on anyone who even looked at Wayne the wrong way.
I may have gone off on a rant there.
In conclusion, even during this rebuilding time, watching Rob Blake in a Kings jersey again and seeing young players trying to make their mark, will be fun this season.
Plus, there is every possibility that Sean Avery will do something completely loony at some point. And that, my friends, is entertainment.
Peter serves his instigator penalties at www.peterdewolf.com
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