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:

Looking to make the leap: Jordan Weal

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Fighting to eventually win two Stanley Cups is worth the cost of taking risks, but the Los Angeles Kings’ farm system has seen consequences from regular trade deadline moves.

Jewels From the Crown took a look at how much shallower the Kings’ prospect pool has become, something that seems clearer after the very clear graduations of scorers Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.

That said, there are still a couple prime-age players looking to make a dent on the NHL roster, including forward Jordan Weal.

It’s about that time for Weal. The 23-year-old was a third-rounder (70th overall) back in 2010, and he’s shown a solid knack for putting up points at the AHL level.

After scoring 70 points for the Manchester Monarchs in 2013-14, he nearly matched that output last season with 69 points. He really took off during the 2015 Calder Cup playoffs, scoring 22 points in 19 postseason games.

Weal thinks he has what it takes to take the next step, as NHL.com noted during his strong AHL playoff run.

“They have a great team up there and it’s really a great organization,” Weal said. “I can’t ask for more. They’ve given me lots of opportunity to play pro and get drafted and I think I’m ready to take the next step and play with them. But you never know. It’s tough to crack a team like that.”

Unlike Nick Shore and Andy Andreoff, Weal has yet to get his first taste of NHL action. The 2015-16 season represents his best chance to change that, especially after a strong finish with the Monarchs.

Kings’ biggest question: What about Voynov?

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For the Los Angeles Kings, the optics would be doubly terrible if Slava Voynov were ever to play for them again.

Not only would they be allowing a player who spent time in jail for domestic violence to wear their sweater, they’d be allowing it to happen after terminating the contract of Mike Richards, who while reportedly part of a police investigation has still not been charged with anything.

The difference between Voynov and Richards is that the former is an on-ice asset, with a reasonable contract, while the latter became a liability, with a big cap hit and term to go.

There’s already local media pressure on the Kings to cut ties with the 25-year-old Voynov.

“That he’s a top-four defenseman isn’t reason enough to keep him,” wrote Helene Elliott in the Los Angeles Times. “It’s irrelevant. He doesn’t deserve to wear their uniform and they shouldn’t grant him that privilege.”

If the Kings agree with that sentiment — and assuming Voynov isn’t deported or banned by the NHL — they would seem to have two options. One, they could terminate his contract, a la Richards. Two, they could try and trade him. (“Try” being the operative word there, as any team that would pay a price to get Voynov would also have a significant PR challenge with which to deal.)

All that said, it seems the Kings may opt to keep Voynov. According to LA Kings Insider, “the expectation, based on multiple conversations with those in hockey operations, is that he’ll be a part of the blue line when he recovers from a ruptured Achilles.”

If that’s the case, it’ll be because Voynov is a valuable hockey player and the Kings — despite professing things like, “It’s a privilege to be an NHL player, not a right” — can’t afford to miss the playoffs again, bad PR or not.

Last season, L.A.’s blue line was so thin that Drew Doughty often played more than 30 minutes a night. Since then, the Kings haven’t added anyone; they’ve only lost Andrej Sekera (free agency) and Robyn Regehr (retirement).

Related: Dean Lombardi is under pressure

Under Pressure: Dean Lombardi

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After hoisting their second Stanley Cup in three years, the Los Angeles Kings had their annus horribilis in 2014-15.

First came the arrest of Slava Voynov, who would eventually go to jail for domestic violence and whose future with the team remains unclear. A few months later, Jarret Stoll was arrested in Las Vegas for drug possession. And not long after that, Mike Richards’ contract was terminated, with word that he was part of a police investigation involving oxycodone.

On top of all that, the Kings missed the playoffs by four points.

Upon reflection, GM Dean Lombardi conceded that “clearly we could do more” when it came to educating players about the consequences of their actions.

“The Voynov thing, I walked down to Jeff Solomon’s office and said, ‘This is my fault,'” Lombardi said, per the L.A. Times. “We neglected to educate our players. We missed a big step here in trying to make sure they understand right and wrong and that this has to be reinforced, not only as a human being, as somebody who is representative of the community.”

That message was echoed recently by Kings executive Michael Futa, in an interview with Yahoo Sports.

“I think it’s just re-educating and reminding them how important it is that when you leave the rink that same professionalism you bring to the ice has to stay in tact, no matter what you make or who you are or some of the special treatments you might get,” Futa said. “It’s a privilege to be an NHL player, not a right. And you can’t abuse that privilege.”

But that’s just the off-ice stuff. For Lombardi, the pressure is two-fold. Not only do his players have to stay out of trouble, they have to get back into the playoffs.

“Well, this time there’s no excuse,” Lombardi told 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 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.”

Related: Lombardi admits players locked Sutter out, disputes specifics