Defending Big D continues to look towards the 2011-2012 season and the Dallas Stars' Pacific Division competition. Today, we'll take a look at the Los Angeles Kings, arguably the most dangerous team in the Pacific Division this season (on paper, anyway.)
The biggest departure here for the Kings may not necessarily be one that is felt immediately. The Kings traded away a large piece of their future when they sent top prospect Brayden Schenn east for Mike Richards. You may recall the rumors that GM Joe Nieuwendyk would only consider trading Brad Richards to the Kings at the trade deadline last season if the Stars received Schenn in a package coming back. Kings' GM Mike Lombardi was stubbornly holding onto Schenn. I think a lot of people were completely surprised that he was included in the Mike Richards trade deal, considering he was touted as the future of the Kings franchise not that long ago. But in this day and age, you have to give to get, especially for one of the top centers in the league. Speaking of...
Without question the biggest acquisition for the Kings, and the one that should frighten Stars fans the most, is that of Mike Richards. Traded from the Philadelphia Flyers, Mike Richards comes to the Kings with arguably one of the biggest chips on his shoulder this season (much like we expect Stars' defenseman Sheldon Souray to play this season) after being traded from Philly amongst rumors of locker room issues and a supposed "party" lifestyle. With Richards and Anze Kopitar, they have one of the best 1-2 punches at center in the league. Watch for them to have numerous quality scoring chances per game this season.
Big Question Mark:
How long will it be before Drew Doughty is signed to a new contract? With camp just over a month away, will he be signed before camp or will we be seeing some semblance of a hold out from one of the Kings' best defensemen? All of the recent news of the Doughty contract situation seems to point to both sides having laid out their desires and that they haven't made any headway on getting the two sides to a compromise.
After the jump, we'll get Jewels from the Crown's take on their offseason as well as the outlook for the Kings' season.
Quisp from Jewels from the Crown:
The outlook for the 2011-12 Kings depends a bit on whether I'm worrying about nothing re the Doughty negotiations. The consensus is more or less that there's nothing to worry about and he will sign and everything will be hunky-dory. What's funny about this is, if he were to hold-out, I'm actually less gloom-and-doom about how bad that would be for the Kings. Everyone else seems to think that he won't hold out but if he does it's a huge problem. I think he might well hold out and if he does it will make things interesting.
The reason it makes things interesting is the Kings have several (more or less) NHL-ready d prospects fighting for a more-or-less non-existent roster spot. Camp would get veeeeeery interesting for Alec Martinez, Thomas Hickey (former 4th overall pick), Viatcheslav Voynov, Jake Muzzin and (my favorite dark-horse candidate) Nicolas Deslauriers if Doughty isn't there. Every one of those kids is likely to have a fruitful NHL career, but no more than two of them will make it with the Kings. There just isn't room.
As for the rest of the team, out are Michal Handzus, Ryan Smyth, Alexei Ponikarovsky (the three slowest forwards on the team), Oscar Moller (gone to Sweden), Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. Smyth is replaced by UFA-signing Simon Gagne (upgrade), Ponikarovsky replaced by Penner (yeah, Penner was there at the end of the season but he'll be a different Penner in the fall: lean and mean), Handzus replaced by Mike Richards (um, upgrade?), and Moller (my favorite prospect) barely played.
That leaves Simmonds and Schenn. Schenn is a blue-chip prospect, but he didn't make a dent last season (not his fault, he's a kid), so his loss is probably mostly a loss for a Kings team four or five years down the road. Wayne Simmonds was a huge part of the team, no matter what anyone says about his slightly disappointing season. He played big defensive minutes and stood up for people. I'm pretty sure the defensive minutes part of his job will be covered by Trevor Lewis (1st round pick, 2006), who emerged at the end of last year. The glove-dropping slack will be picked up by Kyle Clifford, who is better suited to it anyway; and Mike Richards is pretty good at standing up for people, too. Simmonds will be missed, but hopefully that's mostly a character thing. He was (and is) very popular.
I have very high hopes for the top-six lines of Penner - Kopitar - Williams and Gagne - Richards - Brown. Jarret Stoll drops down into the third line center role which he was born to play. All-in-all, the forward corps is faster and more potent than last season's, or, really, any season's since Palffy, Deadmarsh, and Allison.
The defense is all but locked down, with everyone returning from last season. If Doughty is signed in time, I expect the same look as last year: Doughty and Jack Johnson each paired with a responsible grown-up, Rob Scuderi or Willie Mitchell. Matt Greene playing third pairing minutes with either Alec Martinez (who won the job last year from Davis Drewiske), or Drewiske, or the aforementioned Muzzin, Hickey, Voynov or Deslauriers (in descending order of likelihood).
As you know, the West is absurdly tight. I see no reason why this season will be different than the last few, with the #3-#12 spots being within an arm's reach of each other for most of the season. People are going to go nuts with expectations for the Kings this year, but the truth is that most of the teams in the west have a shot at 100 points. The Kings ought to land about where they landed last year, somewhere around 100. My personal wish for them is that they are more consistent over the course of the season, with less of the pattern of record-setting hot streaks followed by record-setting cold streaks that has defined the last two years.
The Kings have improved their depth, and their defense has another year of cohesiveness under their belts. I expect the Kings to battle the San Jose Sharks for first in the division this season. I also do expect Doughty to sign by the time camp starts. And I do expect him to have more of the same kinds of run-ins with Jamie Benn as this awesomeness: