There is no denying the L.A. Kings have assembled one of the deepest groups of young talent in the NHL. There is also plenty of potential star power in guys like Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson. But some suspect free agent additions last summer didn’t help speed up the rebuilding process, and it was another long season.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
2007-08: 32-43-7, 71 points (fifth in Pacific)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Dustin Brown morphed into one of the top power forwards in the league with 33 goals and an NHL-best 311 hits. Management also locked him into a cap-friendly six-year extension. Patrick O’Sullivan had a fine second season with 22 goals and 53 points and could be a top-six keeper. Anze Kopitar averaged nearly a point per game.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Where to begin? Former building block Michael Cammalleri had a disappointing year and was traded at the draft (the Kings made approximately 234 trades in Ottawa, but only Cammalleri exiting and Brad Richardson coming from Colorado involved current NHL players). The “big four” free agent acquisitions – Michal Handzus, Ladislav Nagy, Kyle Calder and Tom Preissing – combined to net 31 goals for $13 million and change, providing little of the offensive help to the kids that was expected. Defenseman Jack Johnson was OK in his rookie season, but expectations are much higher for Sidney Crosby’s buddy. The goaltending was still a mess after phenom Jonathan Bernier began the season with the big club but was sent back to juniors. Bernier also lost his starting job for Team Canada at the WJC, which may give others pause about putting the word phenom in front of his name.
ARRIVALS: D Matt Greene, C Jarrett Stoll, C Brad Richardson, D Dennis Gauthier
DEPARTURES: D Lubomir Visnovsky, D Rob Blake, LW Ladislav Nagy, LW Shawn Thornton, RW Brian Willsie, G Dan Cloutier, G Jean-Sebastien Aubin
IMPACT PROSPECTS: D Drew Doughty, D Thomas Hickey, G Jonathan Bernier, C Brian Boyle, RW Teddy Purcell, RW Oscar Moller
Can the goaltending quandary be solved?
Is Bernier ready this year? If so, maybe all of the problems are gone. If not, then either Jason Labarbera has to be a little better or Erik Ersberg needs to prove last year’s small sample size wasn’t a fluke. The real question might be, can any of these guys be expected to put up good numbers, because …
… are there six NHL defensemen around?
Preissing, Johnson and Greene will be half of the defense corps (and Johnson will be expected to make a big step forward and log a ton of minutes). Beyond them, it gets interesting. Hickey and Doughty, the No. 4 and No. 2 pick in the past two drafts, are going to be on the team if the Kings think they can handle it. Gauthier spent all of last season in AHL purgatory, but he could be the sixth guy. One of the other kids, like Peter Harrold (25 games last season) or Joe Piskula could also be in the mix.
PROGNOSIS: Technically, the Kings are in Year Three of the rebuild. Pittsburgh made the Cup finals in Year Three, and this season the Caps and Blackhawks look to be dark horse contenders in the third season after blowing it up. Clearly, it is going to be more like a five-year plan in Hollywood. The Kings have collected an abundance of young talent, and could pull a Tampa Bay Rays-like turnaround (went with them instead of the aforementioned NHL teams because it was more surprising) – just probably not until 2009-10. This year the goaltending is still young and the defense could be even younger. It should be another losing year in L.A., but next offseason might be the time for the Kings to add some vets and make a run.
|Raitis Ivanans/Matt Moulson
||Teddy Purcell/Matt Ellis
|Erik Ersberg/Jonathan Bernier
*NOTE: This is not necessarily an attempt to guess line combinations