Tag: Jeff Carter

2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five

Risk Factors: Los Angeles Kings edition


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.”

Risk Factors: Chicago Blackhawks edition

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Chicago Blackhawks

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.

Chicago Blackhawks

1. Did they really solve the 2C problem? Much was made of Chicago’s lack of depth at center last year, especially in the Western Conference Final when Michal Handzus — who gamely tried to fill the second-line center spot — was overwhelmed in the playoffs.

Zeus is gone now, though, and in his place steps Brad Richards, the New York Rangers castoff that inked a modest one-year, $2 million deal to join the ‘Hawks in July. On paper, Richards is a nice fit; a veteran presence with good playmaking ability that’s been to two Stanley Cup Finals, winning once.

But that’s on paper.

There’s no denying that Richards, 34, is in the twilight of his career. The Rangers opted to buy out the remainder of his nine-year, $60 million deal this summer following a tough postseason in which he scored two points over his final 10 games and was dumped to the fourth line during the Cup Final.

Chicago will rejuvenate Richards to a certain degree. He’s going to be surrounded by talent on a (projected) line with Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, and will run the point on the second powerplay unit. But in terms of strictly upgrading the 2C position, other contenders in the West did more.

The Anaheim Ducks acquired Ryan Kesler from Vancouver to slot in behind Ryan Getzlaf. The Dallas Stars traded for Jason Spezza to play behind Tyler Seguin. The Blues, who often used David Backes as their No. 1 center last year, added Paul Stastny to the mix. And lest we forget the quality tandems already in place in Colorado (Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene) and Los Angeles (Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter).

The Western Conference has become an arms race down the middle and if you can’t keep up, you could be out — just ask Stars GM Jim Nill.

“If you want to be one of the elite teams, you have to have it,” Nill told the Globe and Mail earlier this summer. “You look at the other teams that are winning on our side now, you need to have two elite centermen.”

2. The cap crunch. Per CapGeek:


“[The salary cap’s] gotten a lot of attention, and rightfully so,” Hawks GM Bowman explained, per CSN Chicago. “But what I’ve tried to say all along is that we’re going to get it worked out and we’re going to be compliant come [the start of the season].

“It’s one of those topics where we’ve had a lot of discussions internally, we know how we’re going to make it work.”

Bowman wouldn’t reveal how Chicago will get cap compliant, though many have speculated one two defensemen — Johnny Oduya or Nick Leddy — will be traded. If that happens, it’s going to chip away at one of the club’s strengths; the next men up on defense are David Rundblad, Kyle Cumiskey, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Adam Clendening, and one of them might get called into action earlier than expected now that Michal Rozsival’s sidelined with an upper-body injury.

There’s another wrinkle to this cap situation. Compliance is one thing, but what about wiggle room?

Teams like to operate with some breathing space beneath the ceiling in the event something unforeseen happens. Injuries, slumps, ineffectiveness can often cause for a roster shakeup… and then there’s the trade deadline.

The ‘Hawks were hamstrung last year, resulting in Rundblad and Peter Regin being the lone acquisitions of significance — nice pickups, but ones that were relatively minor compared to what Los Angeles (Marian Gaborik), St. Louis (Ryan Miller, Steve Ott), Anaheim (Stephane Robidas) and Minnesota (Matt Moulson) did. Granted, not all of those deals worked out and the Kings were the only Western team to best Chicago, but the value of having trade deadline flexibility can’t be understated; during Chicago’s Cup championship in 2013, the Handzus pickup proved invaluable.

3. Age and health. Rozsival (36), Marian Hossa (35), Richards (34), Oduya (33), Patrick Sharp (33 in December) and Duncan Keith (31) have played an awful lot of hockey over the last two years, be it regular season — especially during the condensed ’13 campaign — playoffs, and international (everybody but Richards played in the Sochi Winter Olympics.)

At some point, it’s going to have an effect.

As mentioned above, Rozsival is currently sidelined with an upper-body injury. Hossa’s been dealing with a lower-body issue throughout camp and has a lengthy history of ailments while Sharp looked lethargic at times during last year’s run to the Western Conference Final, scoring just two goals in his first 14 games.

Health-wise, one of the more underrated stories over the last two seasons was the durability of Chicago’s regulars. Patrick Kane missed 12 games last year to a lower-body ailment, which was a rarity; he’s played 80 games or more four times in his career (and played 47 of 48 during the lockout-shortened ’13 season). Bryan Bickell missed 23 games with a variety of bumps and bruises, yet rebounded to show up when he often does — in the playoffs — scoring seven goals in 19 games.

But in the NHL, injuries are unavoidable. The grind and physical toll often wears down even the fittest of players and we’re talking about a collection of Blackhawks players that are getting older and have played a remarkable amount of games over the last 24 months.

Can the Kings keep scoring like they did in the playoffs?

Los Angeles Kings v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Seven

Remember when the Los Angeles Kings didn’t seem capable of regularly scoring more than two goals per game? Probably, because it wasn’t that long ago.

The Kings scored at least three goals in just six of their previous 26 contests when they acquired Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The 32-year-old forward was coming off a rough and injury-riddled stint with Columbus, but he quickly developed on-ice chemistry with Anze Kopitar, which gave the Kings the flexibility to move Jeff Carter to the second line. That proved to be a great shakeup as the Kopitar and Carter lines provided the Kings with an effective one-two punch throughout the playoffs.

Los Angeles averaged 2.32 goals per game prior to the trade, but that jumped to 2.74 for the remainder of the season and 3.38 during the playoffs (up from 2.85 goals per game during the 2012 Cup-winning playoff run). The Kings inked Gaborik to a seven-year extension, but will that be enough to keep their offense dominant or did they simply get hot at the right time?

One thing to keep in mind is that even if you accept the premise that Gaborik was the missing piece of the puzzle the Kings needed to make everything click, then that still wouldn’t make them a safe bet to be prolific scorers going forward. If their offense is really that dependent on Gaborik then they are only as reliable as he is and his long injury history makes it hard to know what to expect from him going into any given year.

That being said, their spark wasn’t just about Gaborik. Rookies Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson also stepped up in the playoffs to give the Kings some much needed scoring depth. Then there was Justin Williams, who always seems to excel when the stakes are high, but was superb even by his high postseason standards as he earned the Conn Smythe Trophy after recording 25 points in 26 playoff games.

There’s also the question of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, who had 50 and 41 points in the regular season respectively. As mentioned above, Carter stepped up in the playoffs while Richards did not, but both of them have previously been far more productive than they were in the 2013-14 regular season and remain significant threats going forward.

So the Kings are a team with the tools to be very effective offensively, but one of the things that they have going for them is that they don’t necessarily have to be. This is also a squad that’s capable of winning low-scoring games as it was their defense and goaltending that highlighted their 2012 Stanley Cup championship. If the go cold offensively after their strong showing in the playoffs then that will be a problem, but it won’t necessarily be a crippling one.

More Kings day coverage:

It’s Los Angeles Kings day on PHT

Under Pressure: Mike Richards

It’s Los Angeles Kings day on PHT

Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty

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

After decades of NHL existence without managing to win it all, the Los Angeles Kings managed that feat in two of the last three seasons. At this moment, it seems like hockey fans are witnessing a battle for supremacy between the Kings and their conference rivals the Chicago Blackhawks (both locked up with two recent titles).

In stark contrast to the 2012 Stanley Cup run in which they lost four playoff games and never faced elimination, the Kings found themselves fighting for their postseason lives with great frequency. To put it in the simplest terms, Los Angeles went from an 0-3 deficit against the San Jose Sharks to winning the Stanley Cup with a dramatic Alec Martinez overtime goal against the New York Rangers … and it rarely looked easy.

Much like in 2011-12, the Kings didn’t win their division, although qualifying for the postseason was much more comfortable this time around.

Once again, the Kings were a dominant puck possession team that opted to add a significant (if often-criticized) sniper during the trade deadline to put them over the top. Much like Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik really helped to push the Kings over the top, especially when it came to the postseason.

Still, the core players are still what drive this Kings team. Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty both made strong cases for Conn Smythe victories and other individual awards. Justin Williams finally received some mainstream attention by winning that playoff MVP. Dustin Brown was his typically cantankerous self. Jonathan Quick’s 2014 postseason was as polarizing as his 2012 work was exalted, yet the bottom line is that the American goalie is already a two-time champion.


The scary thing for opponents is that the Kings’ best players remain in their prime years and the team didn’t deal with much in the way of turnover this offseason. In a way, the potential improvement of Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson might seem like an “upgrade” in itself.

(Re-signing Gaborik certainly doesn’t hurt matters, aside from the worries about his fragility.)

The biggest move might have been one that wasn’t made, actually, as GM Dean Lombardi opted against buying out Mike Richards. It will be interesting to see if people look back at that move as one that hinders future Carter/Gaborik-type tweaks or if it was a wise retention of a center who was once deemed elite.

While winning another Stanley Cup deprived them of a high first-rounder, the Kings stockpiled 10 selections in the 2014 NHL Draft, so it was a pretty promising summer overall for L.A.

Report: O’Reilly wants $6.7M deal, Avs counter at $5.5M

Colorado Avalanche v Minnesota Wild - Game Three

It seemed inevitable that Colorado and Ryan O’Reilly would get to their salary arbitration hearing and, based on a report that surfaced Monday, it now feels like a virtual lock.

O’Reilly is reportedly seeking a $6.75 million deal for next season, per The Hockey News. It’s a big ask from the 23-year-old, as the figure would make O’Reilly the 24th-highest salaried forward in the NHL — on par with the likes of Jeff Carter and Joe Thornton — and give him a bigger cap hit than Colorado’s current highest-paid player, Matt Duchene ($6M per).

The Avs, meanwhile, are countering with a decidedly less expensive number, relatively speaking: $5.525M, which is technically a salary reduction. Per the conditions of Colorado matching Calgary’s offer sheet for O’Reilly two seasons ago, he made $6.5 million in salary last year after netting $3.5 the first (with a $2.5M signing bonus).

So yeah, Colorado’s playing a little hardball.

How this all shakes out remains to be seen. For all the drama surrounding his contractual status over the last two years, O’Reilly is still a quality two-way forward that continues to produce despite the white noise, notching career highs in goals (28) and points (64) last year for the Central Division-winning Avs.

As for those Avs… Colorado will catch some heat for its brazen approach, but remember — the club has been very consistent with the way it’s handled O’Reilly since his entry-level deal expired. The Avs believe they know what O’Reilly’s market value is, and they’re sticking to it.