It’s a question asked every year: What did we learn from the Stanley Cup champions?
In this case, what was it about the Los Angeles Kings that other NHL teams can copy from them in a copycat league? Three years ago the Pittsburgh Penguins won with a young star captain, two years ago the Chicago Blackhawks won with little money spent on goaltending and last year the Boston Bruins won relying on an all-world goaltending performance.
The short answer is, nothing.
“I don’t think we learned anything new,” Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee said. “It’s hard to believe that they won, that’s what makes it so great. … It was great to see them win a Cup. And they deserved to win it; they were the best team in the playoffs. It’s interesting how things come together.”
Interesting because Los Angeles became the first No. 8 seed to win the Cup, something that devalues much of the 82-game regular season. The Kings proved that a team, if it’s talented and versatile enough, can flip a switch and render October through February meaningless.
Los Angeles was 27-22-12, 66 points and 18 back of the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 22.
“A guy like [Drew] Doughty did not have a great year but was terrific in the playoffs. [Dustin] Penner didn’t play all that well but sort of turned it up just before the playoffs,” McPhee said. “They brought a couple of kids up from the minors who really played well and maybe overachieved. But everything comes together.”
It doesn’t hurt to have a goaltender who’s a star all year, like Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick (1.95 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in regular season, 1.41 and .946 in the playoffs).
McPhee made the argument that Washington is already succeeding in the same vein.
“I think our organizations are really similar in the way that both clubs have really drafted well, and their best players are homegrown players, whether it’s Dustin Brown or [Anze] Kopitar or Doughty or Quick,” he said. “They’re their own draft picks. And we’ve done the same sort of thing.”
Missing, of course, were key ingredients like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, whom GM Dean Lombardi went out and got by trading other young talent.
Of course it takes a lot to “come together,” including some bounces and luck. The Caps got to the second round and within a game of the conference final by making every game into a coin flip.
That was just one piece of a trend of regular-season parity continuing well into the postseason.
“Someone mentioned that the 8 seed’s been in the finals as much as the No. 1 seed’s been in the finals since the lockout. That’s pretty interesting,” McPhee said. “I know [coach] Darryl Sutter mentioned it postgame when they won it that if you get in, you can win.”
That’s ultimately the biggest lesson, something the Caps and other top teams learned in years past, that capturing the Presidents’ Trophy or a division title doesn’t automatically mean anything. But what’s the recipe the Kings used to turn it on at the right time? Elite goaltending, timely scoring and stingy defense.
Indeed, the same things that have always been pieces of winning a Stanley Cup.