From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.
Los Angeles Kings
1. They’ve played a ton of hockey recently. The Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, went to the Western Conference Final in ’13 and won it all again last year. That made for some long springs and short summers, which didn’t leave much for the requisite rest and recuperation needed to embark on yet another 82-game regular season.
It’s fair to say all that hockey took its toll. Jonathan Quick spent the offseason and a good chunk of the preseason rehabbing his surgically-repaired wrist, which came after a ’13-14 campaign in which he missed two months with a groin injury. (Quick also underwent back surgery following L.A.’s first Cup win.)
NHL on NBC analyst Pierre McGuire referenced Quick’s health during a preseason conference call:
“I think another compounding thing is you just don’t know the health of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (who had wrist surgery in June),” McGuire said. “I asked Jonathan if he felt a lot of young people would try and copy his goaltending style over time because he’s proven to be so successful.
“He said they may try and copy it but they’re going to end up in the emergency room.
“He plays just super aggressive and as [NBCSN executive producer] Sam Flood once said about Tim Thomas, he plays the [goalie] position like a linebacker in football. Quick does the same thing, and I worry a lot about whether he’ll have enough juice left in the tank.”
Kyle Clifford, meanwhile, was off ice this summer recovering from a broken wrist suffered during the Cup Final; Drew Doughty was absent from a large part of training camp dealing with an upper-body injury; Marian Gaborik missed four exhibition games with a groin ailment.
Part of this stems from playing so many games — lest we forget that six Kings (Quick, Doughty, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Slava Voynov) also played in Sochi — but part of this stems from the way L.A. plays. Darryl Sutter’s offense is predicated on getting pucks in deep, grinding to retrieve them, then grinding some more while keeping possession. The Kings are a big, heavy team that doesn’t shy away from taking the body, but even the strongest wear down after time.
2. They’re thinner than before. Los Angeles returns most of the team that hoisted Lord Stanley’s Mug in June, but a few key contributors are gone. Once GM Dean Lombardi made re-signing Gaborik a top priority, the resulting cap crunch meant there was no room for Willie Mitchell, a vital cog in both of Los Angeles’ championships.
Not to overstate Mitchell’s importance, but do consider this: the season he missed (2013) was the one in which L.A. failed to advance to the Final; last year, the 37-year-old blueliner averaged over 20 minutes during the regular season then expanded that role in the playoffs, bumping his TOI to 22:20 while scoring four points in 18 games.
“I miss Mitchie here on this team,” Doughty said recently, per LA Kings Insider.
The Kings’ cap crunch also cost them promising youngster Linden Vey, who was flipped to Vancouver at the draft. Though Vey only appeared in 18 games last year, he was one of three youngsters who starred in AHL Manchester and seemed destined to do good things with the parent club. The other two youngsters, of course, were Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson — both now firmly entrenched in Los Angeles on “That 70s Line.”
The Kings lost veteran depth as well. Colin Fraser left to sign in St. Louis, while free-agent acquisition Adam Cracknell was scooped off waivers by Columbus.
3. It’s really hard to repeat. As most know, there hasn’t been a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion since Detroit turned the trick in 1997 and ’98. Heck, it’s been five years since the defending champion even made it back to the Final — that was Detroit in ’09 — though L.A. and Chicago have come close in recent years.
“It’s probably the toughest trophy to win,” Sutter said at the start of camp, per LA Kings Insider. “To do it back-to-back, especially in the salary cap [era] in a parity league – I mean, if we’d have lost Game 7 to Chicago in the conference finals, then we wouldn’t be talking about it.
“It tells you how close it is.”
Part of that difficulty comes from having a big target on your back. This year, the Kings aren’t defending their title like they did in 2012 — now, they’re the two-time champions (and some people are already throwing around the dynasty label.)
This summer, it seems the rest of the Western Conference adjusted itself accordingly. After watching how much success L.A. had with its four centers — Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards — several teams set about adding depth down the middle: Anaheim acquired Ryan Kesler, Dallas traded for Jason Spezza, St. Louis inked Paul Stastny and Chicago signed Brad Richards.
It made for something of an arms race, but the Kings remain convinced their biggest challenge will come from within.
”Seems like the West is loading up, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s going to matter much what the other teams do,” Kopitar said, per AP. ”It’s going to matter what we do.”