Prior to the 2011-12 season, no eighth seed in a conference had ever captured the Stanley Cup - so the Kings' road to becoming the first team to accomplish that feat was as unbelievable as it was entertaining.
They disposed of the conference's top three seeds to advance to the Stanley Cup Final before a six-game triumph over the New Jersey Devils to cement their place in championship history.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for posting a 16-4 record and a sparkling 1.41 goals-against average.
Offensively, the champs were led by Anze Kopitar and captain Dustin Brown who both scored eight goals and added 12 assists.
Heading into a new season, the Kings will return basically the same roster as they attempt to be the first team to defend their crown since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.
Their biggest offseason move was locking up Quick - who was also a Vezina finalist for best goaltender - to a 10-year, $58 million contract that will afford the team stability at the league's most important position.
Forward Andrei Loktionov, a player the Kings selected 123rd overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, is still looking for his shot at the NHL roster. The Voskresensk, Russia native has 14 points in 59 NHL games and has been a solid presence at Manchester. Considering the team didn't make any real NHL roster changes, he could have the same trouble cracking the lineup this season that he had last season – with a team that is very deep up the middle.
During the lockout, the Kings 2012 first round pick, Tanner Pearson was able to get his first taste of pro hockey in Manchester after dominating at the OHL level with the Barrie Colts. The 6-foot, 205-pounder improved by 49 points with the Colts in 2011-12 and was good enough to land a spot on Canada's World Junior Championship team. Playing at the AHL-level as a 20-year-old, Pearson has the potential to become a top six forward in the near future.
Scarborough, Ontario native Tyler Toffoli left the Ontario Hockey League with a very impressive goal-scoring resume with the Ottawa 67's including back-to-back 50-goal, 100-point seasons. He's picked up as a rookie in the AHL, leading the Monarchs in goal-scoring so far in 2012-13 at the start of what could be a very prolific offensive career.
Dynasty in the Making?
The Kings will look to defend their Stanley Cup from last season with their roster intact.
Stability. Having made their big move at the trade deadline last year when they acquired centre Jeff Carter in a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for defenceman Jack Johnson, the Kings enter the season with their full playoff roster intact.
Up front that roster includes youngsters Jordan Nolan and Dwight King, who's addition to the lineup in the second half of the season -- combined with Carter -- got the Kings rolling to the tune of a 29-9-3 record (including post-season) to end the year.
The scoring depth they provided was crucial in taking the pressure off first line players Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown and as a result, the Kings became a more balanced team up front with four lines that could find the back of the net. They should be able to carry that over to next season, making LA one of the deepest teams in the NHL.
On defence, after the free-wheeling Johnson was dealt away and the defensive minded Sutter was brought aboard, the Kings were able to establish three consistent pairs of defencemen who only got better as the playoffs wore on. Each pair features a younger, more mobile rear-guard with a dependable veteran presence.The six mainstays played all 20 of LA's playoff games and it was no coincidence that as their familiarity with each other grew, the team's performance got better and better.
That chemistry and cohesion should carry over into 2012-13 and if all six can stay healthy and remain committed to Sutter's defense-first approach, the Kings will again be among the most difficult in the league to score against.
Okay, going into the next season wearing a championship ring is hardly considered a con. But as one of the last teams to qualify for the playoffs and the bottom seed in the Western Conference playoffs, the Kings were clearly underestimated by their opponents as they blazed through them to a Stanley Cup Championship. Now with a banner hanging in their arena, they are going to get everyone's best shot as teams attempt to dethrone the title-holders.
Coming off a Cup win, history is something that is working against LA. No team has repeated as champs since the Red Wings in 1998 and with the league's parity increasing by the year – as evidenced by the Kings run despite being a no. 8 seed – the road will only get more difficult.
The team will also have a tough time staying as healthy as they did during the season, especially during their post-season run, where they were forced to make only minor tweaks throughout what is typically a battle of attrition.
LA is hoping its increased depth up front will allow them to absorb any major issues that may come up, but they may be more vulnerable to issues among their top-four defenders, especially after the trade of Johnson, left them relatively thin.
One pressing issue relating to health involves their star goaltender, Quick. He had off-season back surgery in August and was facing a minimum of six weeks of rehab time, but thanks to the prolonged lockout, LA is hoping to have him in net once the puck drops on opening night.
A look at where Kings players went during the lockout:
Jonathan Bernier (Heilbronner Falken, German Elite), Dustin Brown (Zurich, Swiss Elite), Dwight King (Manchester, AHL), Anze Kopitar (Mora, Swedish Elite), Alec Martinez (Turku, Finnish Elite), Slava Voynov (Manchester, AHL)