The Los Angeles Kings won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history and they did so in dominant fashion, losing four of 20 games as an eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Kings team that isn't going away. They have their core under contract and have cap room to either re-sign their own free agents or add more talent from external sources.
It was really quite a season for the Kings. They entered 2011-2012 as contenders, after acquiring Mike Richards from Philadelphia in the summer, but an injury to Simon Gagne and a terrible season for Dustin Penner contributed to a goal-scoring shortage for much of the year, but just as it was looking like their inability to score would prove to be their undoing, the Kings fired head coach Terry Murray and replaced him with Darryl Sutter.
It's not as though Sutter has been considered a coach of firewagon hockey, but the Kings played a more aggressive game under their new bench boss. They also added some size up front, trading for Jeff Carter and calling up Dwight King and Jordan Nolan from the AHL.
Those big bodies started to create havoc on the forecheck and turnovers started leading to more goals. Over the final quarter of the season, the Kings averaged better than three goals per game; suddenly, they weren't so offensively-challenged.
Though they finished two points behind Pacific Division champs Phoenix, the Kings were an eighth seed; an unlikely and atypical eighth seed, but an eighth seed nonetheless.
The Stanley Cup champions may not be inclined to make dramatic changes but, as a team that just barely eked into the postseason, there figures to be an appetite to keep improving. With interest rekindled in Kings hockey, it won't be surprising if GM Dean Lombardi is active in attempts to upgrade the L.A. roster.
When Lombardi hired Sutter, he effectively changed the fortunes of the franchise and that was a last gasp kind of move. Now, the Kings are dealing from a position of strength; they have assets, financial flexibility and, as defending champs, are an even more desirable location than in previous seasons.
Sure, the Kings will have targets on their backs next season, as they try to defend the Cup, but they should have the horses to meet that challenge head-on.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus and the biggest stars will be over 80. Evgeni Malkin finished at the top of the regular season ratings with a 93.12.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Dean Lombardi/Darryl Sutter
Anze Kopitar has been a top player from the moment he arrived in league, scoring more than 60 points and playing more than 20 minutes per game in each of his six seasons. His 230 points over the last three seasons ranks ninth in the league and his plus-43 rating is tied for 14th over that span. What these numbers indicate is that Kopitar is consistently productive and, prior to the Kings' Cup run, he was probably underappreciated for how consistently he's played at a high level.
Team captain Dustin Brown has scored more than 20 goals and 50 points in each of the last five seasons -- one of 18 players in the league to cross those thresholds -- and he's finished among the top three in hits for each of the last six seasons. His energy was crucial to the Kings' playoff success and, after a bunch of minuses early in his career, he's been a plus-35 over the last two seasons.
After a bad run of injuries, Justin Williams played all 82 games last season for the third time in his career and, while he tends to play an understated game, Williams is a skilled winger who is a fourt-time 20-goal scorer and two-time Stanley Cup winner.
Jeff Carter started last season in Columbus, much to his chagrin, and between injuries and indifference, he wasn't productive. Los Angeles acquired Carter before the trade deadline and his arrival coincided with the Kings' offensive resurgence in the final quarter of the season. In the last five seasons, Carter has scored 165 goals, which ranks 10th in the league over that time so, with a fresh start in L.A., he should be an even more significant offensive asset going forward.
There was a time, not so long ago, that Mike Richards was a scoring threat in addition to a reliable defensive forward. In fact, he had scored at least 60 points in four straight seasons prior to 2011-2012 and was off to a good start with the Kings (22 points in 27 games) before suffering a concussion. Even after he returned, however, Richards' production went through a serious dry spell, as he scored one goal during a 35-game span. Presuming that he'll be healthy next season, Richards might be a fair bet to bounce back offensively.
Simon Gagne has surpassed 20 goals seven times in his career, but only once in the last five seasons as injuries, including concussions, have been all-too-common. Gagne's last regular season game was December 26, but he returned to action for the last four games of the Cup Final. If he's healthy, the 32-year-old could be a complementary scorer, but it's difficult to count on a player that has missed 91 games over the last three seasons.
With only seven goals and 23 points in 155 career games, Trevor Lewis has been a checker with modest impact on the game, but he was really effective on the Kings' third line in the playoffs, contributing nine points in 20 games while playing a physical checking style. Ideally, that is what the 25-year-old could contribute regularly from now on.
A seventh-round pick in 2009, Jordan Nolan was one of two call-up forwards to play a significant role for the Kings down the stretch and into the playoffs. Though he played fewer than 10 minutes per game, Nolan established himself as a useful banger on the fourth line.
It was a rather unlucky season for Brad Richardson, who mustered all of eight points in 59 games, his career-low in per-game production, but the advanced stats measured more in his favour, as he played against a decent level of competition and his Corsi (www.behindthenet.ca) was second-best among Kings forwards.
There wasn't a great deal of progress for bruising winger Kyle Clifford from his first to his second NHL season, but he's a 21-year-old who can bang bodies and drop the gloves when needed. Clifford isn't going to put up big numbers, but any team has room for a player that can take a regular shift and provide a physical element.
In a different realm, enforcer Kevin Westgarth has one goal, five points and 19 fights (www.hockeyfights.com in 90 career games. As the number of heavyweights in the league dwindles, Westgarth's skills aren't required.
When it comes to filling out their forward group, the Kings could go bold and pitch for Zach Parise (why not?), but it's not a necessaity either. Los Angeles needs to replace or re-sign Jarret Stoll and Dustin Penner, among others, but a healthy Gagne and perhaps promotion of a prospect like Andrei Loktionov would help.
A protracted contract negotiation put Drew Doughty behind at the start of last season and his regular season was good, not great. Doughty raised his game in the postseason, playing big minutes against other teams' top players and producing (he has 27 points in 32 career playoff games). When Doughty plays at that level, for all to see, the question becomes, why he doesn't play like an elite defenceman more often? He's been a stride or two below the elite level since he was named a Norris Trophy finalist in 2009-2010.
When the Kings moved Jack Johnson to Columbus to acquire Jeff Carter, opportunity opened up for Viatcheslav Voynov to play a bigger role and the 22-year-old thrived, scoring eight points in 18 games down the stretch while playing more than 19 minutes per game. Voynov was protected in his usage as a rookie, but he'll be able to handle more challenging situations as he matures.
35-year-old Willie Mitchell played some of his best hockey last season, tying a career high with 23 points and finishing with a plus-20 rating, the second-best of his career. Mitchell played so well, and stayed healthy enough, to earn him a new two-year deal.
Matt Greene scored a career-high 15 points last season, which indicates that offence isn't really his thing, but he's a big guy who isn't afraid to use his body. His 241 hits ranked third among defencemen and he was one of six to have at least 200 hits and 100 blocked shots. Considering he plays 16 minutes per game, Greene gets involved when he's on the ice.
Davis Drewiske played only two games after December 19, and played a limited amount when he was in the lineup, but he's been an adequate extra on the blueline for the last few seasons.
24-year-old Alec Martinez has been eased into action, playing 15 relatively easy minutes per game in two-plus NHL campaigns. He's a capable puck-mover who has some offensive upside, but doesn't see enough minutes to put up big point totals.
Veteran Rob Scuderi gets the tough assignments and hasn't missed a game in the last two seasons, so his stability and reliability are assets to the Kings and Scuderi's stay-at-home game allows Doughty to jump into the rush.
For all the fine things that the Kings did throughout the rest of their lineup, it wouldn't have mattered if not for the exceptional goaltending of Jonathan Quick, whose excellence allowed the Kings to stay in playoff contention even when they weren't scoring and then his Conn-Smythe-winning effort in the playoffs was the exclamation point on a season that may have been the birth of a star.
Quick is heading into the last year of his contract and while there is risk that Quick isn't going to be able to duplicate such a terrific season, there is little reason to expect that he won't get a new long-term deal.
Jonathan Bernier was going to be the Kings' goaltender of the future before Quick beat him to the spot and now 23-year-old Bernier is an under-utilized backup that has played a total of 41 games over the last two seasons. As a result, Bernier is a popular name in trade rumours because he could be the answer for a team in need of a starting goalie.
||52-48-100, +31, 65 GP
||5-15-20, +4, 32 GP
||18-17-2, 2.60 GAA, .919 SV%, 41 GP
||North Dakota (WCHA)
||2-11-13, +2, 35 GP
||7-24-31, -3, 71 GP
||3-23-26, +16, 76 GP
||19-24-43, +5, 74 GP
||41-75-116, +31, 70 GP
||13-28-41, -2, 43 GP
||14-16-30, -5, 37 GP
There remain questions about the skating of winger Tyler Toffoli, but with 109 goals and 208 points over the last two OHL seasons, it's time to see what he can do as a pro.
Skilled forward Andrei Loktionov has split the last couple of seasons between the AHL and NHL, scoring 14 points in 59 career NHL games to this point. If he could get physically stronger, there would be a better chance of securing a full-time spot in the Kings' lineup.
Signed as a free agent when he was an 18-year-old training camp invitee, Martin Jones has a .921 save percentage in 80 AHL games over first two pro seasons. 25-year-old Jeff Zatkoff has been good too, but Jones, at 22, has more upside.
The 15th overall pick in 2010, 6-foot-5 defender Derek Forbort has not developed an offensive game, but his size combined with skating ability gives the 20-year-old upside for what he could develop into with time.
Originally drafted by Pittsburgh in 2007, Jake Muzzin was eventually signed as a free agent during his overage junior season in 2009-2010 and he's made a smooth transition to the pro game. He's ready for another look in L.A. whenever the opportunity presents itself.
It doesn't appear that undersized blueliner Thomas Hickey is going to live up to his draft slot (fourth overall in 2007), but he's steadily improved and the 23-year-old could be ready for a look in the NHL, whether with the Kings or in another organization.
The Kings have several smallish forwards for consideration. Linden Vey had a solid AHL rookie season and if he can build on that respectable production, he could eventually earn his shot.
A third-round pick in 2010, Jordan Weal isn't big either, but he's productive, having put up 384 points in 279 games over four WHL seasons. Now it's time to see what he does at the next level.
A third-round pick last summer, Nick Shore had a strong sophomore campaign at Denver University, scoring nearly a point-per-game in the WCHA.
Taken in the fourth-round in the 2011 draft, Michael Mersch has good size and an emerging offensive game too. A few more years of high-level collegiate play won't hinder the 19-year-old's development.
Other small forwards like Brandon Kozun, Justin Azevedo and Brian O'Neill are skilled enough that one of them could pay off and earn an NHL job at some point.
30th - Phillip Di Giuseppe, Tanner Pearson, Martin Frk.
According to www.capgeek.com, the Kings have approximately $54.2M committed to the 2012-2013 salary cap for 20 players. Check out my potential 2012-2013 Kings roster on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Two top nine forwards.
What I said the Kings needed last year: One top six forward.
They added: Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Ethan Moreau, Trent Hunter.
TRADE MARKET Brad Richardson, Davis Drewiske, Jonathan Bernier, prospects.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.