Los Angeles Kings fans were expected a loud offseason from their team. While they had Ilya Kovalchuk dreams highlighted with perhaps some serviceable defenseman sprinkles, they woke up to Alexei Ponikarovsky... and nobody else.
So the offseason didn't go exactly as many Kings fans wanted it to go, but that doesn't mean they don't enter the new season just as dangerous as they were a year ago. Sure, they wound up bowing out in the first round of the playoffs last year, but now a year older, the Kings will hope to improve upon their 101 finish from a year ago.
To prepare for the upcoming season, we look at Five Burning Questions surrounding the 2010-11 LA Kings, with help from Quisp at Jewels From The Crown.
1. Bernier or Quick?
Quisp: A question so burning, it doesn't need a verb. Last year, the Kings needed a better back-up, yet Jonathan Bernier stayed in the AHL, en route to becoming the AHL Goalie of the Year. Bernier also played three critical stretch-drive games for the Kings, winning all three. Jonathan Quick, having a career year, set a franchise record for games played in one season (72), became a new dad, burned out a bit, and in the playoffs played alternately great, fine and not well. Is Bernier the #2 to start this season? He had better be. Will he be the #1 by springtime? Only if Quick lets him. For the first time since -- well -- ever, the Kings have two excellent #1 goalies instead of the usual zero. Hardly seems possible.
2. Doughty, still improving?
Quisp: The most exciting thing about being a Kings fan is that about half the team (and half the team in Manchester, too) is still young and improving, still growing, still gaining experience and confidence. I singled out Doughty, but could have easily said Kopitar, Johnson, Quick, Brown or Simmonds (not to mention Moller, Loktionov, Voynov, Hickey, Muzzin, Kozun, Teubert, Schenn, Clifford, Nolan or Lewis). Doughty, though, is in a class by himself. A Norris finalist in his second season, a surprise inclusion on Yzerman's 2010 Canadian Olympic team, it's easy to take Doughty for granted; it seems like he's always been here. And it's hard to imagine him getting better, without that being very, very good news for the Kings. How high is the ceiling? I am afraid to think about it too much, it seems like bad luck to do so. Which is probably the answer to the question, now that I think about it.
3. Will the Kings regret not signing Kovalchuk?
Quisp: Years down the road, when New Jersey is still paying a 25 goal-scorer $10MM, the answer will be no. This year? My bet is...still no. It's always nice to have a 40-50 goal scorer, and if the Kings stumble on offense, it will be easy to second guess what the Kings were willing to offer for Kovalchuk. But defense is important, too, and Kovalchuk has always been a bit, um, whimsical with regard to defensive coverage. And then there's the small matter of new contracts for Doughty, Johnson, Simmonds, Bernier and Moller, all of whom are RFA in 2011. Kovalchuk with a cap hit of $7MM would have meant losing one of those first three guys. And that would be a tough pill to swallow.
4. More or less than 101 points?
Last season, the Kings finished with the third highest point total in franchise history. But the Kings are still improving. Does that mean 101 points is the floor, not the ceiling? I think many fans will be disappointed if the Kings finish with anything less.
However, here's a look at the Kings 90+ point finishes, and what they did the next year:
- 1975, 105 pts; 1976, 85 pts (-20)
- 1981, 99 pts; 1982, 63 pts (-36)
- 1989, 91 pts; 1990, 75 pts (-16)
- 1991, 102 pts; 1992, 84 pts (-18)
- 2000, 94 pts; 2001, 92 pts (-2)
- 2001, 92 pts; 2002, 95 pts (+3)
- 2002, 95 pts; 2003, 78 pts (-17)
- 2010, 101 pts; 2011, ??
That little string of Andy Murray teams (2000-2002) is the only time the Kings didn't plummet the year after a 90+ point season.
I think it's reasonable to expect the Kings to defy the trend and finish at least in the mid-to-high 90s. Still, it's more important to for the season to have a smoother arc, fewer peaks and valleys, and to have the proper surge of momentum leading into the playoffs. I would rather the Kings finish with 96 and be firing on all cylinders in April than to finish with 101 but burn out down the stretch, as they did last year.
5. How will Dave Taylor do this year?
Every fall, I hear this is a make-or-break year for GM Dean Lombardi. "Either the Kings break through, this year, or he's gone!" That kind of thing. But before Lombardi, there was Dave Taylor, GM from 1997 to 2006. Taylor drafted Olli Jokinen, Mike Cammalleri, Eric Belanger, Cristobal Huet, Alexander Frolov, Lubomir Visnovsky and Joe Corvo (as well as several first round busts, which is mostly why he's remembered less fondly as a GM than he probably should be). And with the departure of Frolov this summer, there are only four Dave Taylor picks left in the system, and they're all on the big club: Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Scott Parse and Jonathan Quick. Lombardi, by comparison, has two picks on the team (Drew Doughty and Wayne Simmonds) and nine who may be ready to make the jump (Moller, Schenn, Clifford, Hickey, Bernier, Martinez, Loktionov, Voynov and Lewis). When that happens, the shift to a Lombardi home-grown team will be complete. This year, it's not a stretch to say that, as go the four remaining Taylor picks, so goes the season.