In the end the Los Angeles Kings did not have enough to stop Connor McDavid in their First Round series against the Edmonton Oilers.
Even though the Game 7 loss on Saturday night may have been a disappointing end to their season, the fact the Kings were even in that spot has to be seen as a massive step forward. And there might be a valuable lesson some other teams around the league in a similar position can take from them in the future. Sometimes it pays to actually try to win and speed up your timeline a little bit.
The Kings entered this past offseason clearly in the middle of a rebuild while expectations from the outside were practically non-existent. They were not seen as a potential playoff team, and while their farm system is widely considered to be one of the best in the league, their timeline did not have them as contenders right now. Or even a playoff team.
Even so, they made a pretty significant effort to make their team better this past offseason and added talent when the opportunity presented itself.
They traded two draft picks to Nashville for Viktor Arvidsson to bring some much-needed scoring punch to their top-six.
Danault and Arvidsson were the foundation of a dominant second line to complement the Anze Kopitar line, while Edler found the fountain of youth and had a strong year to help lead a young, and often times undermanned defense. Combined with some strong performances by returning veterans (Kopitar, Adrian Kempe, Alex Iafallo, Trevor Moore, as well as a bounce back year from Drew Doughty), and some young players taking big steps forward (Sean Durzi, Arthur Kaliyev) and they found themselves as a surprise playoff team and a game away from advancing in a series where they did not have Doughty or Arvidsson due to injury (not to mention Sean Walker who played in just six games this season).
The most encouraging thing about this season was the fact there was not much there to suggest it was a fluke or a mirage. During 5-on-5 play they were one of the best teams in the league in terms of controlling shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals, while also having fantastic defensive metrics across the board. They were a legitimately good team and an excellent defensive team.
They do have some players to replace on defense as Edler, Olli Maatta, and Troy Stecher are all set to be unrestricted free agents. But the emergence of players like Matt Roy and Durzi in recent years, as well as Doughty bouncing back, leaves them with a good foundation in place on defense.
The big question for the Kings is whether or not some of their top prospects and young players can take their own big step forward next season. Quinton Byfield, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, is going to be one of the biggest X-factors. If he breaks through that would give the Kings a trio of Kopitar-Danault-Byfield down the middle that has the potential (depending on Byfield’s development) to be sensational.
Kaliyev is also an important player after a promising rookie year that saw him score 14 goals (with excellent underlying numbers) in 80 games as a 20-year-old.
If those two become impact players to complement the core that is already in place the Kings are very quickly going to become a problem in the Western Conference.