Jonathan Quick

What is the Kings’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Los Angeles Kings.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Los Angeles Kings currently revolve around two cornerstone pieces, captain Anze Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty.

They were central figures during two Stanley Cup seasons in 2012 and 2014 and remain vital to the organization. The Ilya Kovalchuk experiment ended when they placed the veteran winger on unconditional waivers for the purposes of terminating his contract in mid-December.

But now the focus has shifted, and general manager Rob Blake is tasked with finding new pieces to help usher in a different era of Kings hockey.
Blake and his staff aim to build through the draft and own 11 picks in the upcoming draft, including three in the second round, two in the third round and two in the fourth round. The Kings currently sit in the bottom five of the NHL standings and will have a premium first-round pick depending on the results of the lottery at the conclusion of the NHL season.

The Kings also made two selections in the first round of the 2019 draft and have a top-five NHL farm system, according to The Athletic’s prospect rankings this past summer.

Los Angeles won’t return to glory overnight, but they have the ammunition to rebuild their foundation and become a contender in the Western Conference once again.

Long-Term Needs

The Kings need to hit on their upcoming draft picks, simply put. The decisions made by the front office in the upcoming offseason could define the success of the franchise. It will be the difference between a three-year rebuilding process or 10-year absence from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Los Angeles also has to manage the salary cap over the next few seasons. Its patience will be tested, but the organization needs to wait until Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter’s lucrative contracts expire after the 2021-22 season. Goaltender Jonathan Quick’s deal expires the year after.

With new talent on the horizon, the Kings are in a position to clear out bad contracts but should avoid long-term commitments until a new core is established at the NHL level.

Long-Term Strengths

The good news is Kopitar and Doughty are still performing at a high level. The captain led the team in scoring with 62 points, surpassing his total from last season in 11 fewer games. Doughty leads the team in ice time, averaging a shade under 26 minutes per game and was close to eclipsing the 40-point mark for the sixth straight season.

In addition, Sean Walker secured a spot on the blueline with strong play in the first 70 games of his career. The undrafted defenseman also showed ability on the offensive side of the ice with 24 points, most of which came at even strength.

Most importantly, Todd McLellan looked to be making strides in his first year as head coach. The Kings finished (maybe) the season with an impressive seven-game winning streak and went 10-2-1 in the final 13 games.

The team has a lot of flexibility going forward and now it’s up to Blake to make the correct decisions, and McLellan to execute that plan on the ice.

MORE ON THE KINGS:


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Los Angeles Kings: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Los Angeles Kings.

Even-strength improvement, winning streak rank as biggest surprises for Kings

For a significant chunk of the season, the Kings lingered as sneaky-competent based on their respectable-to-strong underlying stats.

Making that argument in April ended up being a lot easier than advancing it in, say, February. The Kings ended the season/entered the halt on a seven-game winning streak, the longest remaining active one in the NHL.

No doubt, the Kings dug themselves far too big of a hole to make that streak anything more than a curiosity. Still, seeing that snakebitten team rattle off that run ranked as one of their biggest surprises. Well, among the pleasant ones at least.

(Kings fans likely found it a pleasant surprise to see the Sharks and Ducks also far out of the playoff picture this season, by the way.)

Not much help for Kopitar

Credit Anze Kopitar with scoring more points (62) during this paused season than he did in leading the Kings last year (60). It becomes more impressive when you realize that Kopitar scored 19 more points than the team’s second-leading scorer (Alex Iafallo, 43), and that IaFallo was the only other King to reach 40+ points.

(Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty tied for third with 35 points, while Tyler Toffoli had 34 before being traded to Vancouver.)

Any hope that Ilya Kovalchuk might enjoy a clean slate in 2019-20 quickly evaporated. Seeing Kovalchuk seem semi-revitalized in other locales pointed to a possible scoring malaise for Los Angeles, if the stats didn’t already make that obvious.

The Kings needed to work harder than other teams to score. One could often see that effort in those formidable fancy stats, but the standings argued that this rebuild remains justified.

For Kopitar’s sake, here’s hoping he still has some gas left in the tank for whenever that rebuild accelerates.

Quick failing to rebound among biggest disappointments for Kings

Jonathan Quick suffered through a disastrous 2018-19 season. That said, so did almost all of his Kings teammates.

In 2019-20, Quick couldn’t blame his fellow Kings so easily. After suffering through a horrendous .888 save percentage in 2018-19, Quick lifted his numbers … to basically the level of a backup. His stats don’t look much better when you try to correct for context, such as Evolving Hockey’s Goals Saved Above Expectation, as visualized by Charting Hockey:

You can wedge a pleasant surprise under the subheading of Kings goaltending, though.

Jack Campbell didn’t enjoy much better luck than Quick this season. Despite that, the Kings managed to extract a decent trade package from the Maple Leafs for Campbell (and Kyle Clifford).

I’m not sure you’d consider the Kings committing reasonably well to a rebuild a surprise. If so, consider that one of their biggest positive surprises of 2019-20, though. There’s some hope for what the Kings are (re)building.

Getting a strong trade return for Quick seems less and less likely to be a part of said rebuilding efforts, though.

MORE ON THE KINGS:

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.

The Buzzer: McDavid and MacKinnon miss time; Kings’ royally surprising streak

McDavid MacKinnon illness injury PHT Buzzer
Getty Images

Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon miss time; unclear if they will be out longer

As of this moment, it’s unclear if anything serious happened to McDavid or MacKinnon. Yet, consider the star power of both centers, the situations are both worth monitoring.

In McDavid’s case, he missed Monday’s significant game against the Golden Knights because of an “illness.” Despite waves of coronavirus jokes splashing around, the specifics remain unclear.

Speaking of unclear, it’s not immediately obvious how badly Nathan MacKinnon is hurt. He left the Avalanche’s loss to the Kings with a lower-body injury and did not return. Injuries are really piling up for Colorado, so the Avs have to hope this is only a minor setback.

“He leaves the game, I’m concerned right away. I have no idea (of the severity),” Jared Bednar said in his postgame press conference, via the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers. “Honestly, I just went (into the coach’s room) and came out here. I know he wasn’t good enough to come back in the game tonight. So, yeah, there’s some concern.”

Here’s hoping that neither this illness for McDavid nor this injury for MacKinnon costs either star much time.

Coronavirus causes disruptions for Sharks, media

Monday’s most noteworthy bits of information often didn’t revolve around Monday’s games.

Santa Clara County called for a ban on meetings involving 1,000 people or more, which puts the Sharks in a pickle. The Sharks provided a statement on the matter, with the basic takeaway being “TBD.”

On a related note, the NHL joined other sports leagues in prohibiting media and other “nonessential” people from locker rooms in hopes of limiting the chances of the virus spreading.

Three Stars

1. Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets

Ehlers spearheaded a spirited comeback after the Jets fell behind 2-0 to the Coyotes. Ehlers generated one goal and two assists to help Winnipeg earn a crucial win against Arizona, and in regulation to boot.

After failing to score a point in three straight games, Ehlers now has one goal in each of his last two contests, and five points during that two-game span. With 25 goals and 57 points, Ehlers could match or exceed career-highs (29G, 64P).

Cody Eakin (GWG, 1A) and Tucker Poolman (1G, 1A) were also instrumental in the win, while Nick Schmaltz scored two goals in a losing cause for Arizona.

2. Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers must have groaned heading into Monday’s game. They didn’t have McDavid in the lineup with a Pacific Division lead on the line against the Golden Knights.

Vegas did indeed dominate Monday’s game, and they ultimately won after Shea Theodore scored the overtime game-winner. Even so, Koskinen made 45 saves to secure a useful standings point for Edmonton. Considering McDavid’s absence and the Golden Knights’ 48-24 shots on goal edge, the Oilers should be thankful.

3. Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres

Dahlin generated two assists despite pretty brief-for-overtime usage (17:16 TOI) and then generated a shootout goal as the Sabres beat the Capitals. You could definitely give some of the credit to Linus Ullmark, too, as he made 33 saves.

Alex Ovechkin was productive in defeat, scoring his 48th goal and adding his (heh) 19th assist to improve to 67 points in 68 games. Ovechkin is right in the thick of the Maurice Richard Race, but it wasn’t enough to get the Capitals a win or Ovechkin a third star nod.

Highlight of the Night

The Kings beat the Avalanche on Monday, giving Los Angeles a most-unexpected six-game winning streak. They aren’t just knocking over (other?) tomato cans, either. The Kings defeats the Avs, Penguins, Wild, Maple Leafs and Golden Knights for five of those wins. Yes, the Devils do account for one of those wins, but even New Jersey’s been scrappier lately.

Jonathan Quick didn’t need to be all that busy as the Avs were shorthanded with MacKinnon out on Monday, but this was quite the sequence:

NHL Standings update

East (after significant win for Panthers)

West (after Jets beat Coyotes in regulation, etc.)

Scores

BUF 3 – WSH 2 (SO)
WPG 4 – ARI 2
FLA 2 – STL 1
VGK 3 – EDM 2 (OT)
LAK 3 – COL 1

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.

The Buzzer: Saturday of surprises, including a Martin Jones shutout

Martin Jones shutout The Buzzer 3 stars highlights
Getty Images

Three Stars

1. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

Saturday ended up being an oasis in the desert for struggling California goalies. Both Jones and Jonathan Quick earned their first wins of 2020.

Jones managed his win most impressively, pitching a 39-save shutout, his first goose egg of the season. Minnesota fired quantity over quality at Jones, but it was quite the volume nonetheless. This marks quite the turnaround, as Jones allowed 13 goals over his last three appearances.

Despite this performance, Martin Jones sits under 90 percent on the season with an .894 save percentage. Yes, the Sharks defense can be porous, but Jones’ freefall remains a huge disappointment for a franchise that carried lofty aspirations.

2. Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings

Consider this a dual prize for Toffoli and Quick, who helped the Kings steal the Stadium Series skirmish from Colorado.

Toffoli scored all three of the Kings’ goals, including the late game-winner and an empty-netter. The latter tally pushed Toffoli to the first hat trick in an outdoor game. Toffoli already ranked as one of the bigger trade target fish in a shallow pond, but a hot streak could puff him up, and he now has four goals in his last two contests.

Quick faced the busier evening overall, though, and was almost perfect. He made 32 out of 33 saves, only allowing a goal when he made the wrong choice to grab his stick during a scrambly sequence for L.A.

3. Kyle Turris, Nashville Predators

If people can resist thinking of Turris as a $6M player — or at least maybe contain it to the occasional reference — they might be heartened by his OK play. It’s easier after outputs like Saturday when Turris scored a goal and two assists as Nashville gutted out a win against St. Louis. Turris has more goals (8 to 7) and points (27 to 23) than last season. It’s easy to forget that he was limited to 55 games played in 2018-19, but either way, it’s reasonable to see that he exceeded those totals in 50 games this season.

Still, there’s novelty to choosing Turris over, say, Patrick Kane (who also scored a goal and two assists). Other honorable mentions include Semyon Varlamov (42 saves, but in a 1-0 loss) and Antti Raanta (36 of 37 saves, kept Alex Ovechkin snakebitten).

Speaking of Ovechkin, his next shot at 700 goals comes on Monday. NBCSN will carry that game against the Golden Knights, with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET.

Highlights of the Night

Tyler Seguin won it for Dallas in overtime with a mind-melter:

Brad Marchand just going to keep doing this, isn’t he?

Factoids

  • The Flames are becoming masters of bad starts. They’ve allowed a goal on the first shot they faced nine times this season, the most of any team in the NHL. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Fear the Fin’s Sheng Peng points out that Martin Jones has been a menace to Minnesota. Jones generated three of his four shutouts from the past to seasons against the Wild.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury became the 18th goalie to reach 60 career shutouts. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Auston Matthews reached 42 goals and 71 points on Saturday. Matthews became the first Leaf to score 70+ points by 59 games played since Mats Sundin, who got there in 57 back in 1996-97. (NHL PR)
  • The Lightning set a new franchise record with their longest home winning streak at 11 games and counting. (NHL PR)

Scores

BOS 4 – DET 1
NSH 4 – STL 3
TBL 5 – PHI 3
EDM 4 – FLA 1
SJS 2 – MIN 0
DAL 4 – MTL 3 (OT)
TOR 4 – OTT 2
LAK 3 – COL 1
CHI 8 – CGY 4
ARI 3 – WSH 1
VGK 1 – NYI 0

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.

Toffoli, Quick lead Kings to upset vs. Avs, who lost Grubauer to injury

Much was made of the teams not being used to the altitude at the 2020 Stadium Series. The 2019-20 Kings haven’t exactly been used to winning, and certainly not building winning streaks, yet that’s what they did on Saturday. Not only did the Avs lose, they also lost Philipp Grubauer to injury.

Tyler Toffoli scored all three of the Kings’ goals to complete the first hat trick during an outdoor game. Jonathan Quick might have been the bigger star, though, as helped the Kings beat the Avalanche 3-1 by making 33 saves.

Here are all three goals:

The Avs weren’t guilty of a poor effort in this one, really, but it was pretty much a disaster. Here’s why.

Avs lose game and Grubauer

Ian Cole bumped his own goalie Philipp Grubauer during an unfortunate sequence for the Avs. At first, it was tough to tell if Grubauer was hurt on the play, or just making a save. While he did get the stop, things clearly weren’t right for Grubauer:

If Grubauer misses time, that’s a substantial issue for the Avs. Much like last season, Grubauer had been heating up lately. The German-born goalie carried a .939 February save percentage (4-2-0 in six games) into Saturday, and his save percentage hadn’t dipped below .910 in any month since December.

On the bright side, Pavel Francouz gets another chance to prove himself.

Francouz quietly put together a strong 13-4-2 record and .925 save percentage in 21 games this season, just 23 contests into his NHL career. While that serves as a small sample size, Francouz put up great numbers at other levels. For all the Avs know, he might represent an almost-as-good (maybe better?) option than Grubauer.

(Goalies: they’re unpredictable.)

The Avalanche lost a chance to move into a lead in the Central, and thus the Western Conference. Instead, they fell in regulation, and slipped to third in a tightly packed top of division:

1. Blues: 74 points in 58 games played (32-16-10)
2. Stars: 73 in 58 GP (34-19-5)
3. Avs: 72 in 57 GP (33-18-6).

Ouch. If Avalanche (or Stars … or Blues) fans want an opportunity to grumble about the playoff setup now, that seems fair. (As of this writing, no Pacific Division team is in 70-point range.)

Either way, the Avalanche will be leaving Falcon Stadium grumbling on Saturday.

Kings, Quick showing potential as spoilers

For much of this season, the Kings have been better than their record indicated. That doesn’t mean they’re a juggernaut in waiting, but it attaches a flashing sign to their potential as spoilers.

Los Angeles made that potential more obvious during the past two games. First, they dealt a painful blow to the Flames, beating them 5-3. Now they’ve managed a rare winning streak by following that up with Saturday’s win. Beating two playoff-positioned teams, including a potential contender in Colorado, makes it that much more impressive.

This had to be an especially big relief for Quick. The two-time Stanley Cup winner got his first win since Dec. 31. It’s been a disastrous couple of seasons for the veteran, but a turnaround could improve the timeline of the Kings’ rebuild.

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.