Anze Kopitar

Los Angeles Kings ’15-16 Outlook

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It’s probably safe to say this about the rest of the NHL’s perception of the Los Angeles Kings: they don’t know exactly what to expect, but they’re scared.

After all, this is a two-time Stanley Cup champion team that hasn’t won a division title; opponents know not to disregard them at this point. The Kings have made a strange (and unintentional) habit of following underwhelming regular seasons with blistering playoff runs.

Of course, in 2014-15, they didn’t do enough to even limp into the postseason.

The Kings finished the regular season with 95 standings points, four short of the Winnipeg Jets at the final wild card spot.

That’s not a huge margin, yet it was still a shocking plummet for the defending champs.

GM Dean Lomabrdi seemed to hint that the Kings failed to find that extra gear, but getting a longer-than-expected rest might just have its perks.

“Well, this time there’s no excuse,” Lombardi said to NHL.com. “It’s a marvelous opportunity for our top players to take over that room, and they start by doing that, becoming the best they can be, and I think they will. There’s no doubt in my mind what guys like [Anze] Kopitar and [Jonathan] Quick and [Drew] Doughty stand for, and hopefully this is an awakening. It’s no fun watching the playoffs. In the long run, we could benefit from this.”

Greed could be good

If extra rest isn’t enough, one other thing shouldn’t be overlooked: important players are fighting for more than just pride.

At least a part of Anze Kopitar must see dollar signs when he notes the sort of money Jonathan Toews will pull in starting next season with his own deal just a year from expiring. Kopitar’s $6.8 million cap hit may very well look like a bargain compared to what he’ll start to make in 2016-17.

Milan Lucic is also fighting for a new contract, but he also hopes to restore his reputation as a top power forward in the NHL.

He struggled to score with David Krejci injured, and even if there are plenty of factors at play, it’s difficult to ignore that the Bruins are retaining $2.75 million of his cap hit this season.

Lucic – Kopitar – Marian Gaborik is a frightening combination of size and skill in any scenario, yet it’s downright terrifying with two-thirds of that group in contract years.

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Few would be brave enough to dismiss the Kings chances of making the playoffs in 2015-16. Could the same be said about anyone doubting their championship hopes, too?

(You can further discuss their window of contention here.)

Poll: How long will the Kings remain Stanley Cup contenders?

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All of a sudden the Los Angeles Kings’ roster doesn’t look so young anymore.

Jeff Carter is 30.

Ditto for Dustin Brown.

Jonathan Quick will be 30 in January.

Marian Gaborik is 33.

While pending unrestricted free agents Anze Kopitar and Milan Lucic are still only 27, and Drew Doughty is even younger at 25, studies have shown that the typical NHL player peaks before the age of 30.

Combine the fact that so much of the Kings’ core is signed long term with a prospect group that doesn’t rank very highly and it’s more than fair to ask how long this group has as a Stanley Cup contender.

So, go vote:

It’s Los Angeles Kings day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Los Angeles Kings.

Two consistent contenders – the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings – missed the playoffs last season, and while both underwent changes, they practiced very different philosophies.

The Bruins blew much of what they built up while, to some extent, the Kings are going all-in. It seems fitting that the two franchises can also be linked in the trade that sent Milan Lucic to L.A.

In attempting to assess how rattled the Kings should be by missing the playoffs, it’s key to ask why they fell short.

Plenty of outlets pondered what went wrong, spotlighting Slava Voynov’s legal issues, misplaced money in fading figures such as Dustin Brown and some shaky luck. Let’s not forget that, as dominant as this franchise has been puck possession-wise, they haven’t won a Pacific Division title during this span and often struggled to make the postseason. Maybe they merely need to accept the fact that they’ll frequently deal with a small margin for error?

The West is as rugged as ever, so it won’t be easy, but many will likely peg the Kings as a team that should bounce back to the 2016 postseason.

Off-season recap

The Kings stuck with the architect in GM Dean Lombardi and the director in head coach Darryl Sutter. The cast of characters did change in some significant ways, however.

“Mr. Game 7” Justin Williams helped the Kings win the 2014 Stanley Cup, but now he’s a member of the Washington Capitals, and not at an exorbitant price either.

However the contract-termination grievance situation works out, Mike Richards is gone; Jarret Stoll left as a free agent, yet he’s out of Los Angeles amid controversy as well. Andrej Sekera’s short time with the Kings is already over after he signed with the Edmonton Oilers.

It’s not all about subtractions, though, as the Kings added Milan Lucic to the mix. Lucic and potential linemate Anze Kopitar both enter contract years, so it should be intriguing to see how that motivation propels a top line that may also include Marian Gaborik.

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The Kings are a fascinating team to forecast, so we’ll get down to business in that regard on Monday.

Rangers rewarded Stepan for playing ‘big in the big moments on the biggest stage’

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The New York Rangers made Derek Stepan their third highest-paid player on Monday and, to hear GM Jeff Gorton explain it, a major reason why was Stepan’s ability to perform under pressure.

“[You] want players who can play big in the big moments on the biggest stage — and there is no bigger stage than New York City,” Gorton said, per Blueshirts United. “Derek has proven he can do that.”

It’s a telling statement for a team in the midst of a Stanley Cup window.

Having been to the Final in 2014 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final last season, the Rangers are clearly in win-now mode; Stepan has been a major part of that, and will continue to be moving forward.

The only difference now?

He’s got a contract to live up to.

The 25-year-old more than doubled his annual average value — from $3.075M to $6.5M — and, as mentioned above, trails only Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist in terms of New York’s highest cap hits. Gorton said Stepan was rewarded for “success he’s had, the leadership qualities he has,” adding the Rangers identified him as “one of the guys we want to build around.”

With this new contract, Stepan will receive an increase not just in dollars, but also responsibilities and pressure. He’s now getting paid like a true No. 1 center.

And to be fair, Stepan earned his pay bump. His 55 points in 68 games last season resulted in a 0.81 PPG average, on par with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar. He also finished third on the team in scoring in each of the last two playoffs and, quite memorably, scored the OT winner in Game 7 of New York’s second-round victory over Washington in May:

The hope now, of course, is that the best of Stepan is yet to come. It’s easy to forget this is still a relatively young player; thanks to an early debut (at 20) and his durability (he’s played 362 of a possible 376 games), Stepan has a wealth of experience for someone that only turned 25 last month.

It’s something Gorton banked on by shelling out $39 million over the next six years.

“We’re really happy to get Derek locked up,” he explained. “It’s a really good thing for the Rangers and for Ranger fans.

“This is a 25-year-old player, who has played well for us already, and who now will play his prime years for us moving forward.”

Report: Kopitar contract extension now the Kings’ ‘highest, most forefront priority’

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L.A. Kings center Anze Kopitar will turn 28 years old toward the end of next month, so could he be celebrating his birthday with a contract extension?

According to LA Kings Insider, negotiations between the Kings and Kopitar on an extension have only just started but are expected to pick up as the summer continues. The report also mentions optimism that an extension could be finalized by the end of the summer.

From LA Kings Insider:

One of the reasons for the timing of the current contract push is that the Kings needed to finalize new contracts for a heavy crop of restricted free agents. That had been communicated to Kopitar and his representation, and because the final six RFAs signed contracts with the Kings over the previous two days, Kopitar’s extension now becomes the club’s highest and most forefront priority. Because he would be resigning with Los Angeles, he would be eligible to sign an eight-year contract extension.

Kopitar has spent his entire NHL career to date with the Kings, winning two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. In both runs to the championship, he had a point-per-game pace. He recorded 64 points last season, but finished ninth in the league with 48 assists.

He was also a dominant force as far as puck possession goes, with the second-best Corsi For rating on the Kings at 59.2 per cent at five-on-five, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com.

Kopitar is entering the final year of his current seven-year contract worth a total of $47.6 million. He would be eligible for unrestricted free agency at the end of the 2015-16 season.