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.
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.)