Everybody knows that Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars have already won the 2014 offseason. But that doesn't mean that the rest of the Western Conference spent the summer sitting on their hands. Except Winnipeg, who did exactly that. Over the past month and a half we've looked at the true enemies of the Dallas Stars... the members of Conference III. However, in a spirit of paranoia, one must admit that the Stars' enemies are not just confined to the Central Division. No, they're everywhere. And so we shift our gaze westwards, to the revamped, downgraded, but now more appropriately named former home of the Stars: the Pacific Division. We began with Rebuild 3.0 over in Edmonton, then moved on to Alberta's other heroes, the Calgary Flames, and rounded out the Canadian contingent with a look at the Vancouver Canucks. Following that we moved across international borders, to where the Arizona Coyotes hover on the brink of relevance, and now we enter the great state of California, where all of the teams that matter in the Pacific Division reside. We start with regular season underachievers, postseason overachievers, the Los Angeles Kings...
All of us remember watching the Kings skate to an unsurprising victory over the New York Rangers and hoist the Cup last season. At least, I assume all of us did, unless you turned away from hockey after your beloved Blackhawks were eliminated in the
Stanley Cup Western Conference Finals, in which case, what are you doing reading this? Go troll your own SB Nation blog. Most of us anyway remember that Kings team. Well guess what? It's pretty much exactly the same team set to begin the upcoming season.
Which is why I was tempted to simply skip Los Angeles during the course of this series. I mean, we've all spent the summer mocking Winnipeg for sitting on their hands and not doing anything during this offseason. But in comparison to the moves of the Los Angeles Kings, the Jet's offseason was one of blockbuster deal after blockbuster deal.
Consider this excerpt from a preview over at CSN Washington:
Key additions: None
Key subtractions: RW Linden Vey
Ignoring for the moment the fact that the hockey writer for CSN Washington is a certified Stars-hater and general ignoramus when it comes to the Western Conference, and also overlooking that Vey, the ‘key subtraction,' scored all of 5 points in 18 games for the Kings last season, and assuming that the other non-returning player, Willie Mitchell, is indeed chopped liver and somehow less relevant than Linden Vey, this still screams out the fact that the Los Angeles Kings did bugger all this summer.
[Note to self: Never link to CSN Washington again]
Point is, there really are only two players not returning from last year's Stanley Cup winning squad. The afore-mentioned Vey, who appeared in all of zero playoff games (seriously? 'Key' subtraction?) and the other-afore-mentioned Willie Mitchell, who is going to be anchoring the blueline of the Florida Panthers during their surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals this season. Everyone else? Same old, same old.
Big moves off the ice though, as assistant coach John Stevens was promoted to... associate coach. Jeez. Vancouver and Pittsburgh could have really used a head coach at that time. Way to go LA! Good job blocking Stevens' career development.
In fact, the real 'biggest splash' of the offseason for Los Angeles was the re-signing of late-season acquisition Marian Gaborik. Now, the narrative on this deal was that the Kings signed Gaborik to a cap-friendly deal because a) Everybody's willing to take a pay cut to play for the Kings, and b) Because GM Dean Lombardi is a god. Now, we all know that if any NHL GM has god-like stature, it's Jim Nill, not Dean Lombardi. And as for the first point, sure it's a great contract from the Kings perspective now, but it's also a 7-year deal for a 32 year old. And fresh off the heels of a $35 million contract, do we really need to worry about the 'pay cut' of an additional, albeit slightly longer, $35 million deal? Whatever. Somebody else can deal with contracts and cap space and what have you. It's all just Monopoly money to me.
End of the story is that the Los Angeles Kings took a step back this summer, looked at their team, and decided to just roll with it. Fair enough, you might say. They did just win the Stanley Cup after all. Did they have something they should have addressed though? Well, the argument you could make would be depth. A few years at the top of the league have left the cupboards somewhat bare. So while the lines and pairings are set, what happens when injuries create holes in the lineup?
Yeah, I know. They probably accidentally discover the next Val Nichushkin. It's not a fair world.
* * *
Old friend and smug, self-congratulatory Kings fan John Carroll joins us to brag about how the Kings didn't need to do anything this offseason. Any vitriol resulting from reading the following should be directed towards his blog, Jewels from the Crown.
1. This is supposed to be an article about moves made during the offseason, but the Kings seemed content to merely tread water. Tell me, does this infuriate you as a fan?
Hi, let me properly introduce myself: I'm a fan of the Los Angeles Kings, the hockey team that's won 2 of the past 3 Stanley Cups. So no, no it does not infuriate me that my Stanley Cup Champion team treaded water. I'm not sure what the Kings could possibly do to infuriate me at this point, short of maybe coming to my house and burning it down, but treading water certainly wasn't it.
2. Willie Mitchell is gone. And, despite what that goon over at CSN Washington said, he's really the only player whose absence might even be noticed by the casual fan. Wait, scratch that. He had what, one goal last season? I'm sure casual fans haven't even heard of him. Whatever. What I'm eventually getting at, is who's coming up to take his minutes on the blueline? And yes, I'm really reaching for content here.
Willie Mitchell was a decent depth defenseman for the Kings last season. He spent more minutes with The Legend of Alec Martinez than any other defenseman; unfortunately for Willie, looking at his WOWY (with or without you) splits shows that Martinez did better in puck possession apart from Mitchell than he did with him (57.7% Corsi without Mitchell vs. 55.2% Corsi with him). On the other hand, Mitchell had a slight positive effect on the defenseman he spent the second-most time with, Slava Voynov (55.7% with Mitchell vs. 54.7% without him). Overall, Mitchell was a relatively steady hand on the blue line, and his departure will be missed- especially if it causes more minutes to fall into the lap of the putrid Robyn Regehr. I'm hoping to see Brayden McNabb, the young defenseman who was acquired in a deadline deal with the Buffalo Sabres, come up and take some of Mitchell's minutes. McNabb is a big kid (6'5, 200 lbs) who has produced a ton of points at the AHL level; in his past three seasons in Rochester & Manchester (hurray for chesters!), McNabb has scored 102 points in 159 games, good for an impressive points-per-game average of 0.64. McNabb will likely get a decent shot to make the team out of camp. Also, it'd be nice to see the underrated Matt Greene, who despite always looking like he's skating in quicksand actually puts up some surprisingly decent possession numbers (much better than Regehr's, for instance), get into the lineup more regularly than the 38 games he played last season.
3. On that subject, the forward corps seems pretty set. Let's talk though about what happens when Dustin Brown is almost hit by Sam Gagner this season, and in the aftermath of the near-miss flings himself into the ice with enough force to crack his own helmet (thanks Rec League Washout for that beautiful image). What prospects are secretly hoping for an injury in order to have a chance at making the NHL squad?
After last year's graduation of Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson to the big club and the offseason trade of Linden Vey to the Canucks, there's actually not a lot of high-end skill in the Kings' development system that would be ready for an immediate call-up this year. The Kings might have some players in Manchester who are ready for bottom-six roles, like Andy Andreoff (swear to god, that's his name), but hopefully the Kings do not suffer any major injuries in their top-six forward group, because there's no obvious candidates waiting to replace them.
4. Be honest now. I know the Kings are great and all, but was there any position you were really hoping might be upgraded? Fourth-line winger maybe? Seventh defenseman perhaps? AHL goalie?
Building off the previous answer, it would have been nice if the Kings hadn't traded Linden Vey. Vey showed some decent promise in a brief call-up with the Kings last season and might have been an option to slide into a top-nine forward role in the case of injuries. Other than that, I can't really think of much of anything. Their lineup is pretty stacked everywhere; hell, I even like our backup goalie a lot. Martin Jones is awesome.
5. And lastly, standings prediction time. Are the Kings going to challenge for top spot in the Pacific? Does anybody in LA even care? Or do you all just bide your time and tune into hockey when the Playoffs start?
Standings predictions for the Kings are tough, because they're kind of an infuriating [Ed. note: Ha! They are infuriating. I knew it!] regular season team. I can't speak for anyone else, but personally I watch every single game, usually screaming at my television because the #fancystats say the Kings are vastly outplaying their opposition but they're making the other team's backup goalie look like the secret love child of Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden and/or watching Jonathan Quick let in three goals on ten shots or something. The damn percentages have submarined the Kings' regular season numbers to some degree: in 2011-12 & 13-14, the Kings got an excellent team save percentage but had a shooting percentage around 2% lower than the league average. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, the Kings actually shot league average for once but watched Quick have an awful year (.902 sv%, though he was great again in the playoffs). So basically, if the Kings finally have a year where they get the goaltending and league-average shooting, they should win the division in a laugher. But nothing ever goes that well for the Kings in the regular season, so picking them 2nd in the division, behind either San Jose or Anaheim, seems like a far safer bet. Either way, I sure wouldn't want to play them in the playoffs....