Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the Los Angeles Kings. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your! Call feature to give us your take!
After a second straight first-round playoff exit for the Kings, general manager Dean Lombardi shook up the very foundation of his team. The acquisitions of Mike Richards and Simon Gagne are expected to provide the kind of spark that should allow this team to climb to the next level.
The Kings were in the midst of a solid 2010-11 campaign when the injury bug derailed their season. In the span of one short week they lost forward Justin Williams to a separated shoulder and leading scorer Anze Kopitar to a broken ankle.
A deadline deal for Dustin Penner provided little to no help for the team offensively and despite Williams' return, they were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs by the San Jose Sharks in six games.
Following the season, forward Ryan Smyth was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers at his own request in a deal that has left some bad blood between the teams due to the health of Colin Fraser - the player the Kings received in return.
As it stands, defenceman Drew Doughty is still a restricted free agent and remains the top priority for the Kings to get signed and back into the lineup. If this situation turns into a contract dispute or another team is able to sign Doughty to an offer sheet, the Kings could be in danger of watching their season go off the rails before it ever had the chance to begin.
Here's a look at what's in store for this season.
Prospect Report: Centre Andrei Loktionov played well during the 2010-11 season in his first real taste of NHL action. He made a one-game cameo for the Kings in the previous season but last season spent 19 games with the big club and produced seven points - including three goals. While playing for the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL, the Moscow native had 31 points in 33 games to make a case about his readiness for the next level. If Loktionov can make the squad, he's a player that could be useful at both ends of the ice.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier, a gold medalist at the 2008 World Junior Championship and a first-round draft choice (11th overall), continues to bide his time waiting for a chance to prove himself at the NHL level. Firmly entrenched as the Kings' backup, Bernier had a solid season in 2010-11, appearing in 25 games and posting an 11-8-3 record. His 2.48 goals against average and solid .918 save percentage show that he's ready to step in between the pipes at any point this season if needed.
Breakout Player To Watch: Jack Johnson. The third overall pick of the 2005 draft is finally poised to fulfill the level of expectation that was held for him when he was selected. The 24-year-old rearguard posted career highs with 37 assists and 42 points last season. He will be counted on that much more if the Kings can't come to terms with Doughty any time soon.
Marquee Matchup: Oct. 15 at Philadelphia and Nov. 3 vs. Edmonton: From a players' perspective there's nothing like sticking it to your former team. And from a fan's perspective, nothing like booing a former member out of the building. With that in mind, Kings fans will have all of their revenge needs taken care of in these two contests.
In the first, Mike Richards returns to Philadelphia to play the team that drafted him in the first round, made him captain and then traded him out of town amidst rumours that he and now-former teammate Jeff Carter were more interested in partying than in playing hockey.
In the second, Ryan Smyth, who demanded his way out of town, will make his return to L.A. once again as a member of the Edmonton Oilers and it will be interesting to see the reception he is given by his one-time hometown fan base.
Other Dates To Watch: Friday, Oct. 7 and Saturday, Oct. 8: The Kings will open the season in Europe playing the New York Rangers in Stockholm, Sweden and the Buffalo Sabres in Berlin, Germany.
Reason To Get Excited: The Kings are going to be an exciting team to watch with the kind of fire power that can light up the scoreboard on any given night. With the likes of Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Justin Williams, Dustin Penner and Drew Doughty (likely) in the lineup, the goal judges out west will be busy all season. On nights when the offence isn't firing on all cylinders, goaltender Jonathan Quick has shown an ability to shut the door or even steal a game when needed. It should all add up to make the Kings a force every time they take the ice.
Home Hardware: Drew Doughty. Being an Olympic gold medalist and Norris Trophy finalist is impressive for any defencemen in the NHL but when you are 21 years old it is a sign of much bigger things in the future. Despite having what - for him - can be considered a down year in 2010-11, Doughty will enter this season as one of the favourites to take home the award for best defenceman. Doughty slumped to 40 points last year, but was his team's leader among defencemen in plus/minus with a plus-13 rating.
Newly-acquired Mike Richards is considered to be one of the top two-way forwards in the game. He was a finalist for the Selke at the 2009 NHL Awards where he lost to Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk. In 2010-11 with the Flyers, Richards had 66 points and was a plus-11 and will look to continue his strong play in all aspects of the game on the West Coast.
On The Hot Seat: Dustin Penner. When the Kings made their deadline deal with the Edmonton Oilers for Dustin Penner last season (giving up first round pick Colten Teubert as well as a first round pick), they hoped to be gaining an experienced player who would slot in offensively and help them make a deep run into the playoffs. What they ended up getting instead was two goals and six points in 19 regular season games and just one goal in six playoff games before their first-round exit. Penner is a player that is running out of chances in the NHL to achieve a consistent level of play that he has shown flashes of during his career. Penner, with his $4.25 million ticket, is one of the highest-paid players on the Kings and is a free agent at the end of the season. He needs a big year if he's going to be paid anywhere near that well next year and beyond.
In 2009-10, the Kings broke a lengthy playoff drought by qualifying for the postseason but in the process began another streak of futility. They have been bounced in the opening round of the playoffs two years in a row heading into this year. Despite 101 and 98-point seasons the last two years, the Kings have not been able to capture a playoff round since eliminating the Detroit Red Wings in 2000-01.
With the addition of two proven scorers to a lineup that already boasted a quality lamp lighter in Anze Kopitar as well as the experience gained by Doughty, Johnson, and Quick, is this finally the season the Kings are able to turn that corner?
With all of the changes made in L.A., is this the year the Kings go deep into the playoffs?