2011-2012 season preview: Los Angeles Kings

2010-2011 record: 46-30-6, 98 points; 4th in Pacific, 7th in West.

Playoffs: Lost to San Jose 4-2 in Western quarterfinals

If you believe fans and the actions of management, the time is now for the Kings. After building expectations last season, the team acquired former Flyers captain Mike Richards (for a package that included prized prospect Brayden Schenn) in an offseason trade and signed Simon Gagne as an unrestricted free agent. After signing 21-year-old restricted free agent Drew Doughty to an 8-year deal worth $56 million in the final days of training camp, management signaled that the Kings are clearly in ‘win now’ mode.

Offense

Over the past few seasons, the main question marks around the Kings forwards have been their left wings and second-line center position. Despite expectations at the beginning of last season, the voids at both positions made some insiders wonder if they’d have what it took to make the next step. They didn’t. But management has done their best to address the void in full: Richards steps in as the undisputed No. 2 center behind Anze Kopitar, while Gagne and deadline acquisition Dustin Penner  fill the top two spots on the left wing. Combined with the likes of Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, the Kings have a legitimate top-six that can compete with just about any team in the league.

Defense

There were clouds of uncertainty as the Kings prepared to head to Europe for their first two games without Doughty. Just about all of the clouds disappeared when Doughty and the Kings reached a last-minute agreement. He’ll join defensive stalwarts Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi on the blue line as the Kings are built on strong defensive play. For the Kings to take the next step though, they’ll need Jack Johnson to step up and play like the player everyone thought he’d be when he was drafted No. 3 overall by Carolina in 2005. He was undoubtedly the weak link on a strong blue line last season — if he can take the next step mentally, the Kings could have the strongest defense in the Western Conference.

Goalies

There aren’t many young goalie tandems like Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. Quick was given the reins to start last season and never did anything to allow the coaching staff to pull him from the crease. His 2.24 goals against average was among the league’s best and his .918 save percentage was a career best. He’ll need to continue the stellar play because Bernier is breathing down his neck. After a slow start to begin last season, Bernier pulled his game together and was a rock down the stretch. For people that say that healthy competition is a good thing — the Kings are in a good spot.

Coaching

Terry Murray has helped the young players within the organization mature from a collection of NHL hopefuls to a team coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in a decade. The next step for Murray will be to teach the players within the locker room to be able to play with expectations. Murray has proved that he knows how to lead teams to the playoffs at every spot throughout his long coaching career — now he’ll need to help them grow into a dangerous playoff team.

Breakout candidate

Penner was an absolute disaster after he was acquired by the Kings in a deadline deal from Edmonton. Most people forget that he scored in six of his first seven games with the Kings because he went the final 12 games of the season without a point. Between learning a new system, losing his playmaking center, and horrific conditioning, Penner fell apart and eventually found himself in a fourth-line role in the playoffs. This season, he’s in the best shape of his career (as he enters a contract year), he’ll have Kopitar feeding him the puck and he has a better idea of what the organization expects of him on the defensive side of the puck. Look for a career year for the reenergized and motivated Penner.

Best-case scenario

For the first time in their 44-year history, the Kings don’t have any glaring weaknesses. If newcomers like Richards and Gagne can smoothly make the transition to the Western Conference, Kopitar can continue his assent to elite center status, and Doughty can rediscover his Norris Trophy finalist form of 2009-10, the Kings will have all the pieces to make a deep run in the playoffs. If everything falls into place, this team could have fans in Los Angeles having flashbacks to the memorable run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1993.

Reality

The reality is that the Kings have never had these kinds of expectations. They’ve had times when they were expected to be one of the better teams in the Western Conference, but this season the Kings are looked at as possible Stanley Cup contenders. It’s a different animal for a team to play with expectations. Assuming all of the new players can seamlessly fit into their new roles and the team can avoid the ill-timed injures of a season ago, the Kings have the type of team that can win the Pacific and finish second in the conference.

For fourth time in five years Sergei Mozyakin is the KHL’s MVP

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The KHL handed out its awards for the 2016-17 season on Wednesday and it was Magnitogorsk Metallurg forward Sergei Mozyakin taking home the Golden Stick Trophy as the league MVP.

Given the season he had, and the career he has had in the KHL, this should not really be much of a surprise.

Mozyakin turned in one of the greatest performances in the history of the league this season by scoring 48 goals and recording 85 total points (both league records) in only 60 games.

Since the KHL formed in 2008-09 only three different players have won the Golden Stick award. Danis Zaripov won it during the inaugural season, while Alexander Radulov won it four times (three years in a row between 2009-10 and 2011-12, then again in 2014-15).

Mozyakin won it in 2012-13 and 2014-15, then in each of the past two seasons.

The 36-year-old forward was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the ninth-round (No. 262 overall) of the 2002 draft by never played a game in the NHL. He has spent his entire professional career playing in Russia where he has consistently been one of the best, most productive players in the league.

Among the KHL’s other award winners, Vasily Koshechkin was named the league’s top goalie, Oleg Znarok was the coach of the year, while Vladimir Tkachyov is the rookie of the year.

Mike Fisher could return for Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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One of the more impressive things about the Nashville Predators’ ability to eliminate the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals was the way they won the last two games of the series without the services of their top two centers, Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher.

They will still be without Johansen in the Stanley Cup Final as his postseason has come to an end, but they could get Fisher back when the series begins on Monday night.

General manager David Poile said on Wednesday that he is hopeful Fisher can participate in practice on Thursday and that there is “a real good chance” he will be ready to play in Game 1 of the series. The Predators will play the winner of Thursday’s Game 7 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators. The Predators will open the series on the road no matter who they play.

Fisher suffered an apparent head injury in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final but was able to be on the ice to take part in the trophy celebration following Game 6.

The Predators’ captain has yet to record a point in 14 games this postseason, but did score 18 goals and add 24 assists in 72 games during the regular season.

In other injury news, Craig Smith, who also missed Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, has seen his health improve and could also be getting closer to a return. Smith has only played in four games for the Predators this postseason and has not played since Game 6 in the second-round against the St. Louis Blues.

Craig Cunningham joins Coyotes front office as pro scout

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The Arizona Coyotes announced on Wednesday afternoon that former player Craig Cunningham has joined the team’s front office as a pro scout.

Cunningham’s playing career came to an end earlier this season when he suffered a medical emergency and collapsed on the ice before a game in the American Hockey League. He had CPR and other medical techniques administered on the ice and on the way to the hospital to help save his life. He has made a remarkable recovery since then.

“We’re thrilled to have Craig join our hockey operations department as a pro scout,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said in a statement released by the team. “Craig was a smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game. We’re confident that he will bring those same qualities to the Coyotes in his new role and that he will be an invaluable asset to our organization. We look forward to Craig helping us in several areas and are excited that he is staying with the club.”

A fourth-round draft pick by the Boston Bruins in 2010, the 26-year-old Cunningham spent parts of three seasons in the NHL with the Bruins and Coyotes, scoring three goals to go with five assists in 63 career games. He did not play for the big club in Arizona this season. He scored four goals and recorded nine assists in 11 games with the Tucson Roadrunners this season before having his career come to a premature end.

Report: Stars make more changes in goal, hire ex-Detroit coach Bedard

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Suspect netminding has plagued Dallas for two straight years, and GM Jim Nill is switching things up accordingly.

On the heels of acquiring Ben Bishop and signing him to a long-term contract, Nill has reportedly hired veteran goalie coach Jim Bedard, per In Goal Magazine.

Bedard will replace longtime Dallas employee Mike Valley, who has been with the club since 2009 in a goalie coach/director of goaltending development role. In Goal reports that Valley told the club he wouldn’t be returning.

Bedard, 60, was with Detroit from the mid-90s to last summer, when he was relived of his duties. His unemployment didn’t last long. Within weeks of being dismissed, Bedard caught on as the goalie coach for OHL Windsor,

The connection to Dallas is quite obvious. Nill and Bedard worked together for years in Detroit, and won three Stanley Cups together.

Related: Bishop has ‘good relationship’ with Hitch, and that’s important