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Off-Season Game Plan: Los Angeles Kings

Scott Cullen
6/20/2014 11:29:40 AM
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The Los Angeles Kings won their second Stanley Cup in three years and have a core in place to contend for the forseeable future.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Kings roster that might have some tweaking around the edges, but won't have to make dramatic changes in order to be a Cup contender again next season.

Since winning their first Stanley Cup, in 2012, the Kings have been the league's best puck possession team, carrying the play at even strength to the tune of nearly 57% possession in the past two seasons. That's dominant stuff.

Possession alone doesn't assure success because, as the Kings have found at times, actual goals are required to wins games and sometimes those don't come so easily. But, the Kings have enough guys with scoring pedigree, so even if Dustin Brown and Justin Williams aren't scoring at usual rates, maybe it's Tyler Toffoli or Tanner Pearson or Marian Gaborik that fills the offensive void. In the case of the playoffs, they all contributed and that was enough for the Kings to get crowned.

That's not to suggest it was easy. Winning three seven-game series and three overtime games in the Final requires a certain amount of good fortune to be smiling down on the team, but that was also a Murderer's Row for the Kings to face in the Western Conference playoffs. The Boston Bruins were the only team in the league with fewer regulation losses than the Sharks, Ducks and Blackhawks, so any team going through that opposition needs a favourable bounce or two.

But there's a reason that the Kings are in position to take advantage of those bounces and that goes back to their dominant puck possession and a team that has skill, size and skating throughout the lineup.

Maybe the Kings will make a move or two in the offseason. Bringing back Gaborik would seem to be a priority, and there are a couple of free agent defencemen whose status needs to be addressed, but this is a team built to win now and, with a solid group of young players, they're built to keep winning in the future.

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) -- Corsi, adjusted for zone starts, quality of competition and quality of teammates, hits, blocked shots, penalty differential and faceoffs. Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be around 70, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013-2014 regular season ratings at 87.12.

Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.

CF% = Corsi percentage (ie. percentage of 5-on-5 shot attempts), via www.extraskater.com.

GM/COACH
Dean Lombardi/Darryl Sutter

Returning Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Cap Hit
Anze Kopitar 78.37 82 29 41 70 61.0% $7.8M
Jeff Carter 76.33 72 27 23 50 56.8% $5.272M
Justin Williams 73.87 82 19 24 43 60.6% $3.65M
Tyler Toffoli 68.42 62 12 17 29 60.4% $717K
Dustin Brown 67.34 79 15 12 27 57.9% $5.875M
Tanner Pearson 65.52 25 3 4 7 55.0% $735K
Mike Richards 65.49 82 11 30 41 54.6% $5.75M
Jaret Stoll 63.74 78 8 19 27 55.9% $3.25M
Trevor Lewis 58.73 73 6 5 11 53.4% $1.525M
Jordan Nolan 57.66 64 6 4 10 53.1% $700K
Kyle Clifford 57.55 71 3 5 8 53.9% $1.075M

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Class '13-'14 Cap Hit
Marian Gaborik 72.91 41 11 19 30 54.2% UFA $7.5M
Dwight King 65.94 77 15 15 30 58.5% RFA $750K

One of the game's premier two-way players, Anze Kopitar is a rare player who takes on the toughest matchups, yet dominates anyway. Since 2009-2010, he ranks 11th in the league with 342 points, to go with elite puck possession numbers. The 26-year-old has won two Stanley Cups, leading the playoffs in scoring in both of those seasons, and is likely among the top handful of all-around players in the sport. He's also missed eight games, total, in the past seven seasons.

Since 2008-2009, Jeff Carter ranks sixth in the NHL with 189 goals, and his arrival in Los Angeles elevated the Kings into the championship tier. On the way to this latest Cup win, Carter frequently skated between rookies Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, and the line was so effective that there are high hopes for what they might be able to do over a full season.

Conn Smythe Trophy winner Justin Williams had an outstanding playoff run, but he's been an exceptional puck possession player since arriving in Los Angeles and his playoff production offset what was really an underwhelming regular season; his 0.52 points per game was the second-lowest since his rookie year.

Even after a good showing in the 2013 playoffs, Tyler Toffoli started last season in the AHL, scoring 15 goals and 23 points in 18 games before getting recalled. He's fit right in to the Kings' puck possession game and, with improved skating and a quick release on his shot, Toffoli has the offensive skills to be a big contributor.

It was a tough season for team captain Dustin Brown, whose 27 points were his fewest in a season since his 31-game rookie year in 2003-2004. His hit totals were down and his 15:50 average time on ice per game was his lowest since 2005-2006. And yet, by the end of the playoffs, he was back on Kopitar's wing and scored eight points in the last eight playoff games. Brown's new contract, which runs for eight years, kicks in next season and the Kings had better hope that Brown can get back to being a productive scorer for at least a portion of those years.

The 30th pick in the 2012 Draft, Tanner Pearson had 79 points in 105 AHL games then worked his way up the Kings' depth chart, playing fourth-line minutes before he ended up with Carter and Toffoli, using his speed to create opportunities. Getting notable contributions from Pearson and Toffoli, on inexpensive rookie deals, allows the Kings more flexibility when it comes to signing others.

Declining productitivity resulted in Mike Richards getting demoted to the Kings' fourth line at times during the playoffs, which sends him into the offseason with questions about his status because his contract has six years left and, unless there is a sudden reversal, the next six years for Richards could be trouble. In some circumstances, Richards might be a buyout candidate, but he likely has enough of a reputation that he could be traded if the Kings are looking to create room under the cap.

A reliable two-way player who has missed eight games in the past four seasons, Jarret Stoll is a consistent physical presence who has won nearly 56% of his faceoffs over the past five seasons, yet his time on ice (15:52) was his lowest since his rookie season, 2003-2004.

There aren't many forwards that play as much as Trevor Lewis, yet score so rarely, but he consistently generates positive possession stats, making him a useful checker in the Kings' bottom six.

Jordan Nolan provides a physical presence on the fourth line, though he was bumped out of the lineup for all but three games in the postseason. Nolan has 20 points in 134 career games, which is easily replaceable, yet he's also an inexpensive depth option for the Kings.

In four NHL seasons, Kyle Clifford has fought 42 times and scored 48 points (22 G, 26 A) with positive possession stats in 276 games. He was a regular in the lineup during the run to the Stanley Cup and was terrific in the final series, scoring four points in five games and Clifford was a standout in the deciding game. Can the 23-year-old produce enough to take on a bigger role?

Dwight King had something of a breakthrough season, scoring a career-high 30 points, spending significant time on the first line, which led to his stellar possession stats. He's not a first-line type of player, but as a physical third-line winger who can chip in offensively, King fits the bill.

Marian Gaborik's impressive production -- 19 goals, 38 points in 45 (regular season plus playoff) games -- after he was acquired at the trade deadline should earn him a good contract as a free agent and the Kings are likely interested in retaining his services, but if they can't keep Gaborik, the Kings could also dip in for other marquee free agents, whether that's Paul Stastny, Matt Moulson, Mike Cammalleri, Ales Hemsky or others.

Returning Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Cap Hit
Drew Doughty 73.83 78 10 27 37 58.5% $7.0M
Jake Muzzin 71.10 76 5 19 24 61.1% $1.0M
Alec Martinez 69.19 61 11 11 22 56.3% $1.1M
Slava Voynov 67.95 82 4 30 34 55.0% $4.167M
Robyn Regehr 62.03 79 3 11 14 53.4% $3.0M

Free Agent Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Class '13-'14 Cap Hit
Matt Greene 64.07 38 2 4 6 58.4% UFA $2.95M
Willie Mitchell 63.69 76 1 11 12 55.5% UFA $3.5M

While his regular-season point production doesn't always live up to expectations, Drew Doughty has been a standout in puck possession terms; best in the league among defencemen to play at least 4000 5-on-5 minutes over the past four seasons. In the Kings' two Stanley Cup runs, Doughty has put his full game on display, playing big minutes against tough opponents and simultaneously producing offensively. He can skate, hit and has seemingly boundless confidence in his ability, which serves him well most of the time.

Jake Muzzin has been positively remarkable in terms of puck possession over the past couple seasons and while he started on the Kings' third pairing, he finished the year alongside Doughty, and acquitted himself well. So, just like that, 25-year-old Muzzin is a top pair defenceman, with good size and a good shot from the point. Not bad for an undrafted free agent out of junior hockey.

Even before he scored the Stanley-Cup-winning goal, Alec Martinez had something of a breakout campaign, scoring 11 goals during the regular season -- an amazing rate for a guy getting less than 16 minutes of ice time per game. While he tends to play easier minutes, Martinez has consistently put up good possession numbers.

Playing more than 22 minutes per game for the past couple seasons, Slava Voynov has solid possession numbers and his 59 points over those two seasons puts him in a six-way tie for 28th among defencemen, with a group that includes Doughty, Zdeno Chara and Dion Phaneuf. That's good, and the 24-year-old probably has more to give as he matures.

Robyn Regehr has clearly lost a step, which isn't unusual fora 34-year-old that has spent many years matched up against the opposition's best forwards, but he had his role cut back and was injured in the playoffs, playing only eight of the Kings' 26 games. With Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene headed for unrestricted free agency, Regehr does offer some insurance as a physical, stay-at-home defenceman.

If both Greene and Mitchell head elsewhere, that would open up some holes on the blueline, but Brayden McNabb, a prospect acquired from Buffalo, should have a shot to earn one spot on the blueline and there shouldn't be great difficulty finding a veteran defenceman that would be interested in playing with this group.

Returning Goaltenders

Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Cap Hit
Jonathan Quick 68.84 49 27 17 4 2.07 .915 $5.8M
Martin Jones 77.59 19 12 6 0 1.81 .934 $550K

Jonathan Quick has been an above-average starting goaltender over the last four seasons, though his perceived value may be inflated somewhat since he is a two-time Stanley Cup winner. Since having back surgery following the Kings' 2012 Cup, Quick has a .910 save percentage during the regular season, ranking 26th out of 33 goaltenders to play in at least 50 games over that span. With Quick signed through 2023, the Kings could really use him getting back to his previous form, but they're such a dominant possession team that they don't need Quick to be great in order to win..

When the Kings dealt Ben Scrivens to Edmonton, that opened up a spot for Martin Jones, who excelled when Quick was hurt in December. The 24-year-old, who was undrafted out of junior, has great size and should be able to handle a decent workload as Quick's backup.

Top Prospects

Player Pos. Team/League Stats
Brayden McNabb D Manchester (AHL) 10-26-36, +14, 52 GP
Valentin Zykov RW Baie-Comeau (QMJHL) 23-40-63, +32, 53 GP
Linden Vey C Manchester (AHL) 14-34-48, +8, 43 GP
Derek Forbort D Manchester (AHL) 1-16-17, +19, 74 GP
Nick Shore RW Manchester (AHL) 14-24-38, +18, 68 GP
Michael Mersch RW Wisconsin (Big 10) 22-13-35, +7, 37 GP
Nic Dowd C St. Cloud St. (NCHC) 22-18-40, +17, 38 GP
Jordan Weal C Manchester (AHL) 23-47-70, +28, 76 GP
Kevin Gravel D St. Cloud St. (NCHC) 10-13-23, +9, 38 GP
Nikolai Prokhorkin LW CSKA Moscow (KHL) 19-18-37, +12, 52 GP
Jonny Brodzinski RW St. Cloud St. (NCHC) 21-20-41, +15, 38 GP
Patrik Bartosak G Red Deer (WHL) 2.80 GAA, .924 SV%, 65 GP

A big, physical defenceman who can handle the puck, Brayden McNabb was acquired from Buffalo last season and, with three AHL seasons under his belt, the 23-year-old ought to be ready for an NHL job.

Drafted in the second round last summer, Valentin Zykov is a big winger who can score, but needs time to improve his skating before he challenges for a spot with the Kings. Given the development of Pearson and Toffoli in that regard, it seems reasonable to have hopes Zykov can achieve similar improvement.

A fourth-round pick in 2009, Linden Vey has produced in the AHL, scoring 115 points in 117 games over the past two seasons, and did get into 18 games with the Kings last season. He needs to get stronger, but could have a chance to challenge for a job if the Kings have any turnover up front.

Taken with the 15th pick in 2010, Derek Forbort has been slow developing, but the 6-foot-4 defensive defenceman moves well and could put himself in consideration for promotion with improved passing and puck skills.

Picked in the third round in 2011, Nick Shore had a sold, if unspectacular, first pro season after three years at Denver University. If he continues to progress next season, he'll be closing in on a shot at the NHL.

A big forward who gets to the net to score goals, Michael Mersch was a fourth-round pick in 2011 and scored 45 goals in 79 games over his last two seasons at Wisconsin. He had four points in 11 (regular season plus playoff) games with Manchester of the AHL after his collegiate season finished.

Alabama native is a big centre, drafted in the seventh round in 2009, Nic Dowd wrapped up a productive career at St. Cloud State, scoing 79 points (36 G, 43 A) in 80 games over his junior and senior seasons, before adding four points in 11 (regular season plus playoff) games with Manchester.

While the Kings load up on big forwards, Jordan Weal is on the small side, but there is no ignoring his production -- 198 points in his last two years of junior or 70 points in 76 AHL games last season -- so the 22-year-old has to be on the Kings' radar.

A defensive defenceman with good size, Kevin Gravel played four years at St. Cloud State after he was a fifth-round pick of the Kings in 2010.

Selected in the fourth round of the 2012 Draft, Nikolai Prokhorkin is plying his trade in Russia, but after a very productive year, leading his team in scoring, he's one to watch with significant upside should he decide to come to North America.

Picked in the fifth round last summer, Jonny Brodzinski is something of a late bloomer who has scored 43 goals and 74 points in 80 games for St. Cloud State.

A fifth-round selection last summer, Patrik Bartosak put up great numbers -- including a .929 save percentage in 120 games played -- over the past couple seasons in the WHL, and played well in four late-season AHL games. Let's see what he does with a couple of years of pro development.

Kings advanced stats and player usage chart from Extra Skater

DRAFT
29th - Nikolay Goldobin, Nikita Scherbak, Brayden Point.

FREE AGENCY
According to www.capgeek.com, the Kings have approximately $54.0M committed to the 2014-2015 salary cap for 13 players.

Check out my possible Kings lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.

Needs: One top six winger, one top four defenceman, another defenceman.

What I said the Kings needed last year: One top four defenceman.

They added: Matt Frattin, Dan Carcillo, Ben Scrivens.

TRADE MARKET
Mike Richards, Robyn Regehr.

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.



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