Anze Kopitar

NHL on NBCSN: Kings offense looks to keep rolling against Canucks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Last season, only the Anaheim Ducks (199) scored fewer goals than the Los Angeles Kings (202). The Kings had one player hit the 60-point mark (Anze Kopitar) and their leading goal scorers were Kopitar and Dustin Brown, who both finished with 22 tallies in 2018-19. Those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page.

Los Angeles didn’t really make any big changes to their roster over the summer, so expectations were fairly low coming into this campaign. How could the offense get better if they didn’t add a scoring forward? How could the team go from the lottery to the playoffs in just one offseason? It’s still early, but head coach Todd McLellan has found a way to extract from offense from this group.

They have a 1-1-0 record through two games, but they’ve managed to find the back of the net nine times so far. Can they keep up that?

“Well, the start was growth. We were able to put a team on its heels,” McLellan said after last night’s overtime win over the Calgary Flames, per LA Kings Insider. “Being resilient later on in the game was important. Scoring on the power play, we count on the power play to get us something and we executed something we’ve worked on very well. There are other areas – there’s individual growth, better board work, better around our net, so there were a lot of areas that we improved on (Tuesday).”

The Kings have scored power play goals in each of their games and they both came off the stick of Drew Doughty. McLellan is correct when he says he needs to be able to rely on his power play more because they were ranked 27th in that category last year.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Is this sustainable? It’s way too early to tell. But they’re definitely off to an encouraging start.

One way they could continue to fill the net, is if they get a boost in production from Ilya Kovalchuk. The veteran winger has a goal and four points through two games and his line was even double-shifted at times during last night’s game. The 36-year-old had a tough year last year, as he managed to score just 16 goals and 34 points in 64 games. Nobody expects him to be a point-per-game player at this stage of his career, but him contributing with more regularity would be a welcome bonus for a squad that doesn’t typically score much.

“The three of them were challenged – (Kovalchuk), (Jeff Carter) and (Adrian) Kempe after the Edmonton game,” McLellan said. “I don’t think they were particularly pleased with their group’s play or maybe individual play, and we challenged ‘em, we gave ‘em another opportunity and they took advantage of it. So, we quickly recognized they were in the game and got them a lot of ice time. They earned it.”

We’ll find out if the trio can keep that going against an 0-2-0 Canucks squad.

Alex Faust and Ray Ferraro will have the call of Kings-Canucks from Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Previewing the 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: A lot of things went wrong for the Kings a year ago, and it wasn’t just a lack of talent around the top players. The top players also had their own issues. Drew Doughty was awful. Jonathan Quick was one of the worst goalies in the league. Even the always dependable Anze Kopitar had one of his worst seasons in the league. Put it all together and it was a miserable season for the Kings. Bounce-backs from that trio alone should be worth a few extra wins, especially when it comes to Quick. Will that be enough to make a dent in the playoff race? Probably not, but they should be a little better just because it may not be possible to be any worse.

Strengths: If the big three of Kopitar, Doughty, and Quick can rebound the Kings still have two top-tier players (Kopitar and Doughty) and a pretty good goalie. They may not be what they were during their peak in the Stanley Cup years, but they can still make an impact. While the Kings’ front office has not really taken drastic steps to accelerate the rebuild by trading many veterans, they still have still managed to put together an impressive farm system that was only strengthened this offseason with the additions of Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev.

Weaknesses: While they have a promising farm system, a lot of the prospects are still a year or two away from making a noticeable impact in the NHL. So for the short-term the team is simply lacking talent at the NHL level, while the players they will be counting on the most are closer to the end of their careers than their peak. Kopitar, Quick, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, and Ilya Kovalchuk are all over the age of 32; Doughty turns 30 this season. Offensively, the Kings have been a stale, dull team that has significantly fallen behind the rest of the league for a few years now. Even in their most recent playoff appearance they seemed to be playing a different sport than the Vegas team that shut them down. The young players coming through the pipeline might help change that in future, but it will not be this season.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | X-factor Under Pressure | Three Questions]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Todd McLellan takes over behind the bench, and while it would not be unheard of for a coach to get fired after just one year, it would take a pretty spectacular failure this season for him to not get at least a couple of years. So we will put his rating at a 2 out of 10.

Three most fascinating players: Kovalchuk, Quick, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan.

Kovalchuk is worth watching just to see if he still has anything left at the NHL level. His return to the league after a five-year run in the KHL was a disappointment, and he never seemed to fit in with the Kings’ previous coaching staff. Will a fresh start under McLellan help? Can he still be a 25-30 goal threat? The Kings need anything they can get offensively.

Quick has always been fascinating because his reputation across the league has always exceeded his actual performance. That reputation comes from his postseason play between 2012 and 2014 when the Kings were always playing for the Stanley Cup. To be fair, he was legitimately great in those postseasons. But if you look at his career as a whole his yearly performance hasn’t always matched that. He’s been a consistently good, but not always great starter. And that’s fine. You can win with that. You can not win with what the Kings received from Quick a year ago, which was one of the worst performances in the league.

Anderson-Dolan might be one of the young players in the organization that gets a chance to make an impact this season. The 2017 second-round pick had a five-game cup of coffee at the start of the 2018-19 season before being sent back to his junior team (where he excelled). His goal is to play the entire season in the NHL, and he just might get a chance to do that on a team that really needs some playmaking and talent down the middle.

Playoffs or lottery: The Kings might be a little better, but unless Quick and Jack Campbell play out of their mind in goal for 82 games the playoffs seem to be a real long shot for this team. That means it is back to the lottery.

MORE:
Kopitar on Kings’ season to forget, playing for McLellan
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Anze Kopitar on Kings’ season to forget, playing for Todd McLellan

It was a forgettable season for the Los Angeles Kings. They finished last in the Western Conference, saw a third playoff-less season in five years, posted their lowest point total over an 82-game season since 2007-08, and had a coaching change that failed to lead to improvement.

General manager Rob Blake began the slow process of turning around the franchise’s fortunes in the summer by drafting Alex Turcotte fifth overall, buying out Dion Phaneuf’s contract, and hiring Todd McLellan as head coach.

Anze Kopitar was one of a number of Kings who experienced a down year offensively. Coming off a 2017-18 season where he won the Selke Trophy and was a Hart Trophy finalist, the captain saw his goal total drop from 35 to 22 and points from 92 to 60. The sooner the season could end so they could turn the page and move forward, the better.

We spoke with Kopitar at the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago last week about the Kings’ down year, working with McLellan and more.

Enjoy.

Q. Why did last season go so poorly for the team?

KOPITAR: “Everything went wrong, pretty much. We were battling some injuries early on — not that that’s an excuse but it certainly doesn’t help. Then we just had a poor start and we couldn’t pick ourselves up, really. The coaching change… the change didn’t do what we kind of needed and wanted. It was a rough season, for sure. I think in the end everybody was glad that it was over so we could step away a little bit and recharge and get ready for this year.”

Q. It was a down year for you offensively. What can you attribute that to?

KOPITAR: “Just a combination of everything. There’s no secret that I have to be and can be a lot better than I was last year. I will be better this year, for sure. Wearing the ‘C’ and being the captain of the team, a lot of it falls on me and I’ll take the responsibility, too. My game was not where it needed to be, but this is in the past now, we’re looking ahead and looking to see what we can do better.”

Q. This will be your 14th season. What do you see when you look back at where the league is right now compared to when you came in?

KOPITAR: “It’s been a little bit since my first game. The league has changed a little bit, definitely has gotten smaller and faster. I’m just trying to keep up as an older player now. The league is still very fun and being out in LA we still think we have the pieces to get back to where we want to be.”

Q. What do you know about Todd McLellan that excites you for the future?

KOPITAR: “Todd’s a very upbeat guy from what I’ve experience so far with him. We were on the phone quite a bit and met a couple of times. He’s got this energy about him that he brings in the room and makes his presence felt, which is what we need. That can translates onto the ice for us.”

Q. When you meet with a new head coach before the season what kind of messages do you want to convey to him about what the team is all about?

KOPITAR: “I think first and foremost it’s building the relationship. Me being one of the leaders, he’s probably going to talk to me quite a bit and I’ll try to talk to him as much as I can, too. It’s just building the relationship and pointing out the stuff that was done good and pointing out the stuff that needed to be a lot better. It’s a two-way street in the dialogue. At the end of the day we’re all just trying to get better and that’s where we’re pointing everything towards.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kings’ rebuild: Where there’s hope, where they’re stuck

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Los Angeles Kings. 

One doesn’t have to strain to think of some rather dire scenarios for the Los Angeles Kings, especially when you look at a salary cap that’s just bursting with ugly contracts.

This post aims for something different by asking: where can the Kings turn things around, and where are they stuck?

Let’s break the situation down by categories.

[MORE: Three Questions | X-factor | Under Pressure]

Prospects waiting in the wings

Players like Alex Turcotte will be pushing for roster spots … eventually. In some cases (if Gabriel Vilardi gets unexpected health luck, maybe?), possibly soon. But for this exercise, let’s move along to the guys the Kings should phase out to open up space — roster and cap — for prospects.

The Pillars

If the Kings were ever going to move on from Anze Kopitar or Drew Doughty — dubious at best, anyway — it was going to be before they signed either player to their current deals. Kopitar, soon to be 32, carries a $10M cap hit through 2023-24. Doughty, 29, has an $11M AAV through 2026-27.

That’s scary, but there’s a chance that 2018-19 was an anomaly, and both may age more gracefully going forward.

Probably not moving away from Quick quickly

Kopitar and Doughty share something in common with Jonathan Quick beyond being faces of the franchise: all three players see big salaries in 2019-20, while their salaries at least drop off – sometimes steeply – in future seasons.

That thought leads me to believe that Quick’s most realistic window to be traded would be after this season.

As much as I’d advise the Kings to trade the 33-year-old as soon as possible, another team would find him far more palatable in 2020-21 and beyond. Consider that 2019-20 is the final season where Quick costs more in actual salary ($7M) than his $5.8M cap hit. From 2020-21, his actual salary sinks to $3.5M, then $3M in 2021-22, and finally $2.5M in 2022-23.

A two-time champion goalie whose salary is lower than his cap hit? Now that’s a decent elevator pitch for a trade.

Trade bait

Speaking of players who were once important, the Kings might be wise to move on from contracts with limited term, much like they did with Jake Muzzin.

Tyler Toffoli is entering a contract year, and considering how ice-cold he was in 2018-19, he’d likely fetch the best return during the trade deadline after his production ideally stabilizes. Alec Martinez could be quite enticing as a defenseman who costs an affordable $4M in cap space for the next two seasons. Toffoli is 27 and Martinez is 32, so if the Kings are honest with themselves, they’ll likely both be a little long in the tooth by the time Los Angeles truly sorts things out.

There are players the Kings would more readily trade, but the difference is that other teams would actually want Toffoli and Martinez.

Unlikely to move

Jeff Carter‘s plummet in skill would already make it tough to trade him at his $5M+ cap hit (which runs through 2021-22, yikes). He’s also discussed possibly retiring if he were traded, making a trade even dicier.

Ilya Kovalchuk is equally difficult to trade for anything but a bad contract for bad contract swap, and that’s making the shaky assumption that he’d even waive a no-trade clause.

The bright side with Carter (expiring after 2021-22), Kovalchuk (2020-21), and Dustin Brown (2021-22) is that their contracts are expiring … reasonably soon. Ish.

And, really, with their salaries diving below their cap hits soon, they might actually be good filler if the Kings semi-tank.

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The Kings have a lot of bad money on the books, so here’s hoping the Dion Phaneuf buyout lingers as a reminder of how costly it can be to go with a quick-fix approach. This team needs a rebuild, and while it doesn’t have the same ammo that the Rangers did with theirs, if you squint, you can see signs of hope.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Kings’ big money men are under pressure

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Los Angeles Kings.

The 2019-20 season was already slated to shine a harsh spotlight on the most expensive Los Angeles Kings players, particularly if they fail to rebound from a brutal 2018-19.

Already-high cap hits don’t tell the story, as the actual salaries could make management queasy. Between Drew Doughty ($12M), Anze Kopitar ($11M), and Jonathan Quick ($7M), the Kings are spending $30M on three players who are coming off of seasons that were absolutely disastrous.

Take a look at the rest of the Kings’ roster, and you’ll realize that, if this team hopes to be competitive next season, they’re counting on those three – particularly Doughty and Kopitar – to return to elite status, or something close to that. The Kings wisely stayed on the sidelines instead of spending big in free agency, yet this means that the Kings are crossing their fingers on improvement from within.

[MORE: 2018-19 review | Three Questions | Kings’ rebuild  | X-factor]

Now, the lack of free agent moves would make you believe that the Kings are acknowledging reality and settling for a wonky rebuild where they might not really be able to blow things up, but might at least be able to absorb some tough years to improve draft lottery odds.

Yet … the thing is, if you’re gearing up for a rebuild, are you really giving Todd McLellan this kind of money, or even hiring McLellan in the first place?

That hefty salary indicates that the Kings are banking on McLellan succeeding with Los Angeles in a way he rarely did with the Oilers: steering a flawed, top-heavy roster to contention. Considering the stuttered development of players like Jesse Puljujarvi, it’s tough to spin the McLellan hire as anything beyond a “win-now’ move.

With that in mind, the Kings still seem like they want to be competitive, and basically all of that rides on a $35M quartet of Doughty, Kopitar, Quick, and head coach McLellan.

None of them have an easy job ahead.

As tough as 2018-19 was for Kopitar, it’s not an accident that Dustin Brown had a career renaissance while playing almost 1,000 even-strength minutes and less than 100 minutes without Kopitar last season. Chances are, Kopitar will be asked to lug one or even two questionable wingers with him, and it’s up to McLellan to determine what is the most optimal combination. Should Kopitar stick with Brown and Alex Iafallo as the team did last season, or might it be helpful to mix in a little more talent? Could Kopitar + Ilya Kovalchuk work out better with another try? Would Kopitar rejuvenate Jeff Carter? In virtually every scenario, Kopitar will be asked to carry others. Not the easiest assignment for a guy who’s turning 32 soon.

Doughty may be asked to boost defensemen in a similar way, and McLellan must weigh the temptation to play Doughty a ton as one of their only needle-movers (especially if they eventually trade Alec Martinez) versus trying to keep Doughty fresh to avoid injuries and poor play from overuse.

Jack Campbell and Calvin Petersen were sharp where Quick was dull in 2018-19, but a lot still seems to ride on a 33-year-old “athletic goalie,” especially if McLellan’s system can’t hide the Kings’ poor defensive personnel beyond Doughty.

It’s not just the big-money players who need a rebound after having terrible seasons, as McLellan carries the ignominious mark of being fired mid-season, and also being a coach who couldn’t make things work despite having Connor McDavid on his team. As much as the Oilers’ struggles came down to terrible asset management by former GM Peter Chiarelli, McLellan has a lot to prove in his third head coaching gig — and a big salary to justify.

The scary thing is that the Kings probably need these four to do more than merely rebound to a place of “respectability.” They probably need Doughty, Kopitar, Quick, and McLellan to be worth pretty close to this $35M-ish collective investment, and that means that they’re all going to be under a lot of pressure. Probably too much, to be honest.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.