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.
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.
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.
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.
With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings.
2019-20 Los Angeles Kings
Record: 29-35-6 (64 points in 70 games), seventh in the Pacific Division, second-worst in West Leading Scorer:Anze Kopitar – 62 points (21 goals and 41 assists)
Received conditional fourth-rounder in 2021 from Flames for Derek Forbort.
After exceeding expectations in 2017-18, the Kings crashed to earth in 2018-19. Jarringly so, to many of us.
If you look at the Kings’ place in the standings alone, you’d probably assume that 2019-20 represents the team settling into the new normal. To some extent, that’s true. In the grand scheme of things, every time the Kings make an overture toward rebuilding, they’re likely being smart.
But unlike a lot of other cellar dwellers, the Kings actually held their own by many measures. The Kings ranked somewhere between respectable to downright impressive in analytics terms. Take, for instance, how solid Los Angeles looks in Charting Hockey’s Shot Shares chart, which uses data from Evolving Hockey:
Not bad for a team that sits second-worst in the Western Conference, right?
Through their Stanley Cup-contending years, the Kings hogged the puck but sometimes struggled to finish. Such a formula worked well during their postseason runs.
This version of the Kings is a weakened form of that, but if you squint, you could see glimpses of those former glories. Not enough to win a meaningful number of games. And, no, certainly not to the point that you’d want to sabotage their rebuild.
Yet it’s amusing that the bounces finally started to go the Kings’ way as 2019-20 came to a halt.
Highlight of the Season
How could it be anything other than rattling off a baffling seven-game winning streak to “end” their season?
Indeed, as 2019-20 ended, the Kings’ winning streak was far and away the longest active streak in the NHL.
The Kings authored a decent larger stretch, too, going 10-2-1 in 13 games from Feb. 12 – March 11.
That home-heavy stretch cemented that, if nothing else, they were pesky at home. The Kings ended up 19-13-2 in Los Angeles this season, versus 10-22-4 on the road.
It sounds like Peter DeBoer isn’t fond of some outside-the-box hockey ideas for whenever play might resume. Specifically, DeBoer objected to a) a playoff format that would involve bye week(s) and b) a tournament to determine which team gets the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
DeBoer: not in favor of a bye week/more than 16 NHL playoff teams
DeBoer told ESPN on Ice that he wants the Stanley Cup to be awarded in a way that the winning team wouldn’t need an “asterisk.”
Even so, he’d ask the NHL’s planners to thread the needle. DeBoer doesn’t want more than 16 teams in a playoff format, but also wants things to be fair. Around the 28-minute mark of the podcast, DeBoer indicated that he’d prefer sacrificing some rest if it meant that the Golden Knights would be less rusty in a postseason situation.
” … There’s a huge advantage to having played games,” DeBoer said.
Of course, DeBoer calls for a typical format with his Golden Knights ranked first in the Pacific Division. Would he feel the same way if Vegas was ranked outside of the wild card, but with games in hand, or some other fuzzy situation?
Even DeBoer hinted at seeing things differently if his team wasn’t in such a comfortable spot.
“I’m more in favour of the traditional format,” DeBoer said to LeBrun. “Although I understand that we’re not a bubble team and I’m sure for my good friend Paul Maurice (in Winnipeg) it’s different when you’re either just in or just out depending on whether they (use) points percentage or not. But yeah I prefer the traditional route.”
DeBoer shoots down tournament for the top pick
DeBoer made some great points to Kaplan and Wyshynski about the potential downsides of a hypothetical tournament to determine the top pick.
As a coach who’s been behind the bench for some lottery teams, DeBoer addressed the elephant in the room. When you’re suffering through a lousy season, you just want it to end as soon as possible.
Now, some would debate DeBoer’s assertion that fans might not have an “appetite” for a No. 1 pick tournament. Maybe that would be true for fans during a typical season, but under these circumstances, I’d imagine there would be a lot of interest to see a lottery tournament of sorts.
From fans, at least. It would be strange not just for the coaches, but also the players involved. After all, how much should a current player care about their team landing that draft’s top pick? Maybe a “core” player would see the value, but plenty of others 1) wonder if they’ll even play for that team much longer and 2) would view a better pick as a bigger threat to their spot.
There’d be serious cognitive dissonance to playing high-stakes games to possibly hurt your career. After all, a higher draft pick is that much more likely to push players down the depth chart, or off of it altogether. So DeBoer definitely makes some good points.
DeBoer backed up earlier comments made by Los Angeles Kings coach Todd McLellan.
McLellan on if there should be a tournament for the lottery teams. "I'm not a fan of it. Not one bit.'
Load management: DeBoer was asked the question if things get congested between a modified end to 2019-20 while getting in a full 82 games. His general takeaway is that, while not often using healthy scratches, teams already practice subtle load management.
(Personally, I still think NHL teams could do more, and smart ones might benefit in the long run.)
It’s one thing for Brad Marchand to land on such a list. But Cousins is funnier because … well, he might not always walk the walk. At least at the NHL level.
Among other things, DeBoer also spoke about the strange transition of becoming Golden Knights head coach after being fired by the hated Sharks. He seems to indicate that it wasn’t as awkward as one might think.
DeBoer gives us a lot to ponder thanks to those two interviews. Do you agree with DeBoer on avoiding a bye week and not having a No. 1 pick tournament?
The NHL and its teams have been making players, coaches and general managers available to the media during the league pause. The availabilities continued on Monday and we learned a few things along the way.
Quarantine stinks: Rask’s gas would keep Chara away
One of the more unexpected things learned Monday was that Tuukka Rask possesses some powerful flatulence. When asked which teammate he’d least like to be quarantined with, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara picked his goaltender.
“The way he farts, the smell is awful,” Chara said. “He like his chicken wings. I sit behind him on the bus and I’ve got tell you, I’ve got control myself sometimes.”
During an Instagram Q&A session Monday, David Pastrnak said that due to Rask’s love of chicken wings and the fact that he owns a sauna at home, he would choose the netminder to be his quarantine buddy.
Pasta did confirm the strength of Rask’s gas.
“His farts are pretty bad, but I think I could overcome it,” Pastrnak said. “I would definitely not skate through his crease anymore than once at practice.”
“I think in my case, it might be the other way around,” Rask said.
We need Tuukka mic’d up from now on for when action shifts to in front of him.
McLellan no fan of No. 1 draft pick tournament
A tournament with all of the non-playoff teams vying to win the 2020 No. 1 draft choice? Please, no, says Kings head coach Todd McLellan.
“I’m not a fan of it, one bit,” he said. “I don’t think the draft and the draft lottery was put in to reward the winner of a tournament. When you take teams that don’t make the playoffs … so team No. 17, if that’s the number, might miss the playoffs by one point. You compare them to teams at No 31 … there’s a big discrepancy between Nos. 17 and 31. No. 17 is going to have a greater chance of winning, and they’re less likely to need the first pick overall. So to me, it’s counterintuitive to do it that way. It makes no sense. But I’m only one voter.”
And he’s right. You think potential UFA Taylor Hall would want to play extra games to help the Coyotes, a team he may not even play for next season, win the first overall pick? We want to put meaningless mileage on Joe Thornton’s soon-to-be 41-year-old body? The NHLPA would shoot that idea down quickly.
Senators with coronavirus “doing well”
Of the four NHL players who tested positive for COVID-19, two are on the Senators. Brady Tkachuk was asked for an update on them and he said they are feeling good.
“We’re a tight group so we’re always in contact with one another,” he said, “but I think all of us are just concerned about them and everybody impacted by it.”
The players, whose identities were not revealed by the team, tested positive on March 17 and March 21, respectively. The Avalanche have also had two players test positive since the league pause.
Flyers’ Fletcher on keeping touch with his staff
It’s not just NHL players maintaining a group text while we maintain social distancing. Team executives keep them as well, according to Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. He’s been in touch with his assistant GMs Brent Flahr and Barry Hanrahan about contracts and the draft, which was postponed last week.
“They’re working hard on getting their lists for the draft, watching video, doing reports, having discussions on players and doing things that they would typically do at this time of the year with the obvious exception that we were are not able to watch games live right now,” Fletcher said. “Barry is working on contracts and cap related issues going forward. Obviously, we’ve been able to sign a couple of our unsigned draft choices, Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison recently. Barry’s been on the forefront of those conversations. We stay in touch every day and try to coordinate things that we do.
“Personally, I am trying to reach out to a lot of our support staff and scouts as well as people like Bob Clarke, Paul Holmgren, Bill Barber and Dave Scott to keep the lines of communication going. To speak to people on a regular basis and just to do what we can to stay busy.”
Fletcher is also staying in touch with his head coach, Alain Vigneault. There’s a lot that can’tbe done until the NHL resumes, but there’s still plenty of planning that is taking place for down the road.
“He had been working on his golf swing for a while, but right now he’s like the rest of us, he’s going through notes and trying to stay safe,” said Fletcher. “I speak to AV every week, just once a week. I’ve reached out to quite a few of the coaching staff, scouting staff and supporting staff and try to stay in regular contact with them, whether it’s by a phone call, text or email. We’re all trying to stay in touch and do what we can.
“Again, for obvious reasons, a lot of our business has been shut down right now. Most of the things we can focus on are matters going forward, whether that’s the draft or signing some of our players. Maybe planning some things for the future.”
Several years ago video was unearthed of a teenaged Dylan Larkin and his buddy shooting pucks in his basement, a.k.a. “the dungeon,” for a little “snip show,” as he described it. In it, we learned the Red Wings star had given himself the nickname “D-Boss.”
Asked if a prolonged NHL pause could give the world some followup D-Boss videos, Larkin kept the door open.
“It might come, I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve got a little shooting area in the garage — The Dungeon 2.0. I’ll have to get out there and make a video. Fans might like it. We’ll see.”
Capitals GM on finishing the season
Brian MacLellan, whose Capitals are currently atop the Metropolitan Division, was asked about how the NHL should finish its season. There have been many ideas on the subject from playing out all 82 games to going right to the playoffs. He would like to see some number of games before the playoffs begin.
“Fair to me would be all teams play the same number of games both home and away,” MacLellan said. “Depending on the time you have, when or if we come back, you could set the schedule at 72, 74 games as close to possible home and away, if you could even those out, and go from there.”
As far as what a playoff format would look like, it would all depend on the timeframe to award the Stanley Cup.
“There’s no set answer to it because I don’t know how much time we’ll have,” he said. “If we have eight weeks, 10 weeks, do we have more than 10 weeks? Depending on that time frame and if that’s even legitimate at the time, you would have to set your schedule there. So could you shorten the series? Could you shorten the schedule? I think all those options are on the table. I think it’s just how the virus plays out and how we handle and how much time we’d have to get a season in – if we can get a season in at the end.”
Buffalo’s Ralph Krueger, Anaheim’s Dallas Eakins and Los Angeles’ Todd McLellan had no illusions about quick fixes in their first seasons. But in a league that has seen plenty of coaching changes the past couple seasons, all three have remained consistent in their message since training camp in September.
“We have not discussed in our room anything beyond what we can take care of today. We’ve done this since September and we’re going to continue to do it, so, really, those are big-picture discussions,” Krueger said.
When it comes to this season, the Sabres, Ducks and Kings will not make the playoffs. Los Angeles and Anaheim once again are in a battle for the bottom of the Western Conference, but have shown strides in implementing more up-tempo styles of play.
Of the three teams, the Sabres have shown signs of the most improvement, despite losing their last four. After winning 10 straight to match a franchise record in Nov. 2018, Buffalo proceeded to win just 16 of its remaining 57 games (16-33-8), leading to Phil Housley being fired.
General manager Jason Botterill then went outside the box in hiring Krueger. The 60-year-old had extensive coaching experience in North American and abroad but had been out of hockey for five years, serving as a director and president of Southampton of the English Premier League.
Krueger has brought in a philosophy of wanting his team to “play connected,” meaning all five skaters working as one. It’s an attacking approach that emphasizes always moving the puck toward the opponent.
“It’s not like last year,” forward Jack Eichel said. “We’ve been through these times where we take a couple of hits at this time of year … and then all of a sudden the wheels fall off. That’s not happening here.”
Eakins was promoted to Anaheim’s top bench spot after four seasons with its San Diego AHL affiliate. He has characterized the organization’s philosophy as transitioning instead of rebuilding, equating it to the process Boston went through a couple years ago.
While Eakins has been pleased with his team’s effort and being more aggressive on the forecheck, the main thing he has been stressing the past couple weeks is trying to rush the net and getting more goals that might now show up in highlights.
“It doesn’t have to be a clean shot on the net. If you watch the highlights every night, there are a whole lot of dirty goals being scored everywhere,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to have to keep committing to getting pucks into the zone in front of the net. The biggest thing is to not be frustrated by it, dig in and stay after it.”
McLellan has always had the toughest rebuilding job of all. The Kings are hampered by veterans with large contracts while trying to slowly work in younger players. McLellan has liked that the veterans have bought in to a quicker pace of play, especially on the power play, but has stressed that the last quarter of the season will be an evaluation period for everyone.
“This is the group that is going to move the needle, as we talked about. Individually and collectively. It’s time to dig in,” he said. “The people that are in that locker room right now, the older players and veterans, we’ve addressed all of them and are aware what their roles could be and how hard they have to play in practice so everybody else can keep their eyes on them. Then there are the followers. The leaders and the followers have to do it all together.”
SIX DEGREES FROM EDMONTON?
McLellan, Kreuger and Eakins share one thing in common – they all coached Edmonton. Of the five teams with first-year coaches, the Oilers are the only one that may make the playoffs, as Dave Tippett has them second in the Pacific Division.
Joel Quenneville has had Florida in postseason contention for most of the season, but the Panthers are five points out of a wild-card spot.