The Los Angeles Kings are at a crossroads, and not just because Anze Kopitar has taken over the "C" from longtime captain Dustin Brown. Every team’s championship window has to close eventually, and with an unceremonious first-round exit, the departure of Milan Lucic, the lack of a big splash at free agency, and the continued aging of a core that’s been intact since the Kings won their first Cup, the question is being asked: How much does this team have left?

As it turns out: quite a bit. Even if they don’t play together as much as they used to, Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin remain, arguably, the best 1-2 defensive punch in the NHL. Even if Kopitar still hasn’t exceeded a point per game over a full season, he’s a top-five center in the NHL and either the best or the second-best two-way forward in the universe. And even if Jonathan Quick has yet to return to the heights he reached in 2011-12, he remains the league’s biggest workhorse, and even the modest .918 save percentage he’s posted in consecutive seasons would be more than enough to get LA into the playoffs. The supporting cast is weaker than in past seasons, but led by Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli, the Kings should be fine, at least for one more year.

-- Eric K.

THREE QUESTIONS

  1. Who the heck is going to fill out the fourth line and the third defensive pair?

  2. With Milan Lucic out and Marian Gaborik injured, which wingers will pick up the slack?

  3. Will Vezina finalist Jonathan Quick avoid a letdown after a shaky postseason and World Cup?


BEST CASE SCENARIO

LA’s three most-heralded players earned a Vezina nomination, a Norris Trophy, and a Selke/Lady Byng double last year, but all three players can improve their play, and they do. Thirty-Goal Tyler Toffoli starts the year on a tear and becomes Forty-Goal Tyler Toffoli, then re-signs at a reasonable price. Brayden McNabb earns his stripes in his second year as LA’s No. 4 defenseman, and when rookies Kevin Gravel and Derek Forbort get chances on the blue line, they thrive. Teddy Purcell, liberated by no longer playing in Edmonton, makes up for most of Lucic’s lost production. Most importantly, Quick actually earns the Vezina nom in leading the Kings to a division title, and they cruise past the Carlyle-infected Ducks, the hungover Sharks, the fading Blackhawks and the heavily favored Penguins to earn their third Stanley Cup.

WORST CASE SCENARIO

After a missed playoffs and a first-round exit, we realize this is the new normal for LA. Marian Gaborik’s hopes for a bounce back break down along with his foot and he’s ineffective all season. Kopitar is worn out from leading Slovenia and Team Europe, and he goes cold in the second half. Thirty-Goal Tyler Toffoli becomes Twenty-Goal Tyler Toffoli, and Carter can’t pick up the slack. Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene play over younger, more deserving defensemen, and the Kings trade Tom Gilbert and a second for Roman Polak at the deadline. Quick struggles, the defense falters when Doughty isn’t out there, LA clings on to a wild card spot, and this time, the Sharks do sweep LA. Chaos reigns over the summer, Sutter retires, Toffoli leaves, Las Vegas takes McNabb instead of Brown, and we cry a lot.