What went wrong: 2020-21 Los Angeles Kings

Los Angeles Kings v Anaheim Ducks
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PHT’s “What Went Wrong” series aims to analyze why each team missed the playoffs. The “What Went Wrong” series continues with the 2020-21 Los Angeles Kings.

Unless you’re, say, Drew Doughty, you probably had close to zero expectations for the Los Angeles Kings’ 2020-21 season. At least as far as the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs were concerned.

If anything, squeezing into the final West Division spot might have been counterproductive. Merely getting there and getting smoked by the Avalanche could have created two negative outcomes: 1) possibly inspiring the Kings to strain to add too much at the wrong time and 2) slow down the rebuild.

In a year of more stable scouting situations, maybe it would’ve been a mild disappointment that the Kings didn’t totally stay in the cellar in 2020-21. They were reasonably competitive, which translated to tepid 2021 NHL Draft Lottery odds, and ultimately being slotted in as the eighth overall pick.

[MORE: Sabres win draft lottery; Kraken pick second, and other official results]

But in a season of this much uncertainty? There really might not be a better time to make baby steps from a rebuild to something more credible.

The Kings still face the biggest hurdles as they try to climb from bad-but-savvy to something approaching good. But so far, they’re doing quite nicely under Rob Blake.

What went wrong before the Kings’ 2020-21 season

Generally speaking, the Kings have been shrewd in acknowledging their situation.

They’ve assembled a top-flight prospect pool, in part because they were willing to embrace a rebuild.

About the only beef might just revolve around sticking with holdover previous core players, and even that is nitpicking. Were there ever opportunities to trade someone like Jonathan Quick? Was it really wise to extend Drew Doughty, and to a lesser extent, Anze Kopitar? Dustin Brown feels like the sort of player who would’ve been moved by a franchise that was aiming to do more aggressive house-cleaning.

But it’s unclear how often the Kings really had reasonable opportunities to move any of those players. And there’s no denying that there’s a PR challenge when it comes to moving on from people who helped you break your Stanley Cup curse.

So, for the most part, gripes regarding the Kings boil down to being greedy about wanting even more from a rebuild. Not a bad path, all things considered.

What went wrong during the Kings’ 2020-21 season

From a quality of life perspective, it’s nice to … not be terrible. Tanking takes its toll.

So, kudos to the Kings for being OK in 2020-21, but they weren’t great, either. This is a team that just doesn’t have enough talent yet, something evident in their continued struggles to score goals. Luckily, it at least looks like help is on the way.

Again, if the Kings want to improve upon 2020-21, it might mean cutting some of the ties of the past.

Nostalgia might prompt Jonathan Quick to get some starts, but it’s clear that the net at least should be Cal Petersen‘s to lose going forward.

Some of the most important developments revolve around players who only spent some (or no) time with the 2020-21 Kings. Following the World Juniors, some might have cooled a bit on Quinton Byfield, for example — but other appearances inspired more confidence.

Bringing prospects along is an inexact science, and right now, there’s just not enough data to know if the Kings’ farm system can live up to the (justifiable) hype.

What went right

As much as the Kings’ future is about young players coming along, Los Angeles also hopes that the window won’t totally close on Doughty, Kopitar, and others being able to pass the torch.

So, it’s promising that Doughty’s underlying numbers looked a lot better. Doughty was pretty sore about the critiques of his game in 2019-20, but his Evolving Hockey Player Card showed warning signs of real problems. Even if you don’t hear the same criticisms of Doughty as you do for another expensive defenseman like Erik Karlsson.

*readies horror movie scream*

Again, his numbers are easier to digest in 2020-21:

Now, considering Doughty’s reputation and $11M AAV, you’d forgive the Kings for wanting quite a bit more. But that at least inspires some hope that he can bring positive value to Los Angeles.

That’s important, too, because Doughty sure seems to be on board with the Kings swinging for the fences during the offseason.

Now, “we” should probably translate to the older part of the Kings’ core. Prospects like Alex Turcotte (20 years old) and Byfield (18) have all the time in the world — by hockey standards.

So credit the Kings for blocking out dangerous pushes to recklessly accelerate their growth. At least so far.

While the greedy side might have called for more selling — and maybe not handing out recent extensions to the likes of Alex Iafallo, if the team really isn’t ready yet? — one of the Kings’ greatest 2020-21 successes is resisting the urge to splurge on short-term improvements.

Oh, and you know what really went right? These:

What’s next?

Again, the Kings are set to pick eighth overall in the 2021 NHL Draft. Assuming, of course, that they don’t trade up, or even out, of the 2021 NHL Draft.

If Doughty’s comments capture the spirit of certain veterans in the locker room, then this could be an interesting offseason. Will the Kings go after, say, Jack EichelShould they, especially if it meant gambling that it would be worth giving up someone like Byfield or Turcotte?

Whether the Kings attempt a leap or focus on going step by step, the toughest challenges await after this fairly straightforward 2020-21 season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

    Kris Letang Penguins
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.


    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.

    Deal for Coyotes’ proposed arena approved by Tempe council

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
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    TEMPE, Ariz. — The Tempe City Council has unanimously approved a proposal for a new Arizona Coyotes arena and entertainment district, clearing the way for a public vote on the project next year.

    The City Council approved the proposal 7-0 after a lengthy meeting that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

    The $2.1 billion project would include a 16,000-seat arena, practice rink, 1,600 apartments, two hotels and a theater. Approval of the project was the final step before it goes to referendum on May 16.

    The team is currently playing at Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena, by far the NHL’s smallest arena.

    The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home since the city of Glendale pulled out of a multimillion-dollar lease at Gila River Arena. Arizona had been playing on an annual lease until Glendale said it would not be renewed for the 2022-23 season.