LOS ANGELES KINGS
2008-09: 34-37-11 (14th in the West – Out of Playoffs)
Pre-season TSN.ca Power Ranking: 23
General Manager: Dean Lombardi (4th Season)
Head Coach: Terry Murray (2nd Season)
What They Did In The Off-season:
All's quiet on the Western front as the Kings remained pretty silent all summer. They rewarded Rob Scuderi for a career performance in the playoffs with the Penguins by signing the veteran defender to a lucrative, multi-year contract. They also added some grit and leadership by acquiring Ryan Smyth from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for blueliners Tom Preissing and Kyle Quincey. But the Kings' most important move of the summer may have been locking up future defensive stud Jack Johnson to a two-year deal.
While there were rumours that the Kings had interest in Dany Heatley, they were exactly that at the end of the day…rumours.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
The Kings have been in the discussion of 'teams on the verge of big things' for a few years now. The franchise features a good young base of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Johnson and standout rookie Drew Doughty. They have prospects who are expected to make 'the jump' this season in Teddy Purcell, Oscar Moller and Jonathan Bernier and a solid group of veterans and role players in Smyth, Alexander Frolov, Michal Handzus and Sean O'Donnell. What they lack is a true go-to superstar to act as the face in the franchise and help the team make the move towards respectability and beyond.
The Kings are a team in desperate need of an identity - they have some skilled players but they are not a finesse team. They also have some bangers and grinders, but are far from a shutdown defensive team. Basically, they are an honest hockey team fighting six other teams for the final playoff spot in the West.
Los Angeles might not have an outright love for hockey, but they do love their stars in the City of Angels. If the Kings could find a way to acquire a top-line talent whom they could declare the face of the franchise, they could potentially separate themselves from the also-rans in the Western conference. The fans would then hopefully respond by turning Kings' games into must-see events, much like they do when they have someone to cheer for as with their Staples Center co-tenant Lakers and Kobe Bryant. If the team wants to take that next step towards relevance in their own market, they must give their supporters something or someone to be enthusiastic about. With a potentially good young team on the ice and ample cap space available, look for the Kings to make a big move for a proven player at some point, if only to take the attention away from the Lakers for a moment.
Player to watch:
After a very promising rookie season, it will be intriguing to see what Drew Doughty does for an encore. The burly blueliner has all the tools to be a force at both ends of the ice for the Kings, but he now must avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx.
The off-season acquisition of Scuderi would appear to be a somewhat expensive, yet savvy move in an effort to make Doughty's transition to superstar much smoother. During the Penguins' Cup run, Scuderi showed how much of a force he can be at his own end. If some of this intelligence can rub off on the young Doughty, it would make things all the better.
Scuderi, along with O'Donnell, give Doughty more leeway with his ventures into the offensive zone – he'll know that he will have that veteran cover behind him that the Kings have lacked in the past.
All the pieces appear to be there for the London, Ontario native to thrive. Doughty showed enough on the ice during his inaugural season in the NHL to be discussed as a future Norris Trophy winner. But he must now build upon those achievements to make those projections a reality.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
The Los Angeles Kings have been building around a strong young nucleus and, by augmenting with more established veterans, may be ready to challenge for a playoff spot, which certainly won't hurt production throughout the lineup.
22-year-old Anze Kopitar is the most promising scorer on the roster, tallying 204 points in his first three seasons, but he's also compiled a minus-44 rating over that time period, so he's not without his shortcomings. Kopitar has point-per-game potential and this could be the season that he begins to put up those consistent numbers.