For the past couple of years now, most of us in the hockey world have seen the Kings as that “on the cusp” team. That team with a strong young core that is just a few players or a couple of years away from being a serious Stanley Cup contender.
After disappointing finishes the last couple of years, it finally looks like the Kings are ready to turn the corner, mostly thanks to a stellar offseason to this point.
Obviously, the biggest reason for such optimism is the recent acquisition of Philadelphia Flyers star Mike Richards. With Philly needing cap space in order to sign new goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, the Kings were more than happy to send Wayne Simmonds and top prospect Brayden Schenn to acquire the former Philadelphia captain.
The alleged locker room issues aside, Los Angeles found their top flight center with Richards. A strong two-way player, Richards is solid in the faceoff circle and a wizard on the penalty kill. They might have missed out on Brad Richards, but combine Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar and the Kings have two of the NHL’s top centers patrolling their forward lines.
But the Kings’ connections with the City of Brotherly love don’t end there. After missing out on Brad Richards, LA sought a consolation of sorts in former Flyer Simon Gagne.
Gagne spent last season with the surprising Lightning squad in Tampa Bay, after spending the entirety of his career with the Flyers. He might be past his days of flirting with the 70-point mark, but he’s still a capable contributor and is going to be a strong veteran presence in young locker room.
Add Richards and Gagne to the forward core of Kopitar and Dustin Brown, up-and-comer Kyle Clifford, along with complimentary players like Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll, and you’ve got a team that is going to be able to put the puck in the net.
Back on the blue line, there is only one issue to be sorted out: the contract of Drew Doughty. A restricted free agent, the swing-and-miss the Kings endured with Brad Richards leaves plenty of cash open for them to sign their franchise defenseman to a very lucrative deal.
Once he does get signed, he’ll join a defensive group that includes Jack Johnson (42 points in 2010-11), veterans Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell, and youngster Alec Martinez.
But to win in this league, you need goaltending. That’s something the Kings certainly have, with one of the best young goaltenders in the league in Jonathan Quick. Early in the season, Quick looked like a sure Vezina Trophy contender. But like the rest of his team, Quick endured some midseason struggles before turning it back on at the end of the year.
If the team decides to hang onto youngster Jonathan Bernier, who could fetch a pretty sizable haul in the trade market, the 22-year-old could spell Quick more in the regular season, leaving him more fresh for the postseason, where we saw Quick dazzle at times, but also surrender 12 goals in two games against the Sharks last season.
Among the five teams in their division, it was the Kings that did the most improving. The Sharks made some major waves by acquiring Brent Burns and Martin Havlat, a pair of moves which the jury is still out on. The Coyotes seem to be sinking deeper into their ownership black hole, the Stars lost Brad Richards, and the Ducks are a wild card.
If the pieces come together, the Kings are going to be a serious contender in the Western Conference. They could very well contend for one of those top three seeds in the West, reserved for the division winners. You never know what is going to happen over the course of a regular season, but from where we’re sitting, the outlook is good for the LA Kings in 2011-2012.
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