LAKings.com sat down with Kings radio analyst Daryl Evans and asked five questions facing the Kings heading into Training Camp which started Monday. Evans played for the Kings from 1981-85, and has been the Kings radio commentator since the 1998-99 season.
Who will be the No. 1 Goaltender in 2007-08?
Much has been made of the Kings goaltending situation from the past season. In 2006-07, free agent signee Dan Cloutier struggled to the tune of a 6-14-2 record with a .860 SV% and a 3.98 GAA before missing the remainder of the season due to injury. Mathieu Garon also battled injury, but posted a 13-10-6 mark with two shut outs with a .907 SV% and a 2.66 GAA.
While both Garon and Cloutier were down with injuries, the Kings used two goaltenders from their AHL and ECHL minor league affiliates, calling up Barry Brust (2-4-1, 3.70 GAA and .878 SV%) and Yutaka Fukufuji, who made history becoming the first Japanese-born man to play in the NHL, but struggled on the ice with a 4.38 GAA, .837 SV% and going winless 0-3-0 in four games.
As a result, late in the season, the Kings signed veteran Sean Burke, who righted the ship and kept the Kings in games, going 6-10-5 with a .901 SV%, a 3.11 GAA and one shut out.
Gone are Burke, Brust, Fukufuji and Garon. Cloutier is healthy, while the Kings have added Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who has posted a 75-77-15 record with a 2.91 GAA and .901 SV% in 199 career NHL games. Los Angeles also resigned Jason Labarbera, who was the AHL Goaltender of the Year a season ago.
“When you look at the goaltending situation, an area for the Kings which was an area of concern last year, I think that really opens the door this year heading into training camp. You have your leading candidates being Cloutier, LaBarbera and Aubin.
"Of the three individuals, the job is up for grabs, just because of the way things went last year. Coaching staff and management can’t be as patient as they were last year, if there is one guy that in their minds has the edge. The guy that comes to camp and shows they are ready to go and gets the job done in the preseason games, I think that is going to be the guy that gets the leading run at it early in the year.”
How will the free agents mesh with the returning core of young players?
As Kings fans are aware, the Kings during free agency committed $39,650,000 to the following five players: Tom Preissing, Brad Stuart, Kyle Calder, Michal Handzus and Ladislav Nagy, including $16,500,000 for the upcoming 2007-08 season. The $39,650,000 marked the fourth most amount of money spent by an NHL team during free agency.
“Any time you bring that many new faces into a locker room you have to work on your chemistry. From what we have been able to see from the individuals brought in and in talking to people from the organizations that they have worked for in the past, they are character players. Each one of them has something that will help the organization, or otherwise [the Kings] wouldn't’t have gone down that path.
"I think up front with Calder, Handzus and Nagy, they have the ability to be a more balanced team with more depth, and a little more grit with Calder up there. I think what it will do is increase their time of possession and the opposition will look differently at the Kings defensively. We expect the offensive output to increase by their presence.
“On the blueline, you have two guys who both have the ability to move the puck. Stuart had some great years early in his career with San Jose and Preissing last year with Ottawa gained a wealth of experience going so deep in the playoffs. He played for a very offensive oriented team and he was a real puck-moving defenseman that will help add some depth back on the blue line.
“The bodies that they added as a whole will make them a deeper hockey team and once they gel, will help the young players develop in a great environment.”
Who is going to secure a spot in the Kings top-six defensive corps.?
Adding Preissing and Stuart to a mix that already included legendary Kings defenseman Rob Blake, the recently resigned Lubomir Visnovsky and up and coming rookie Jack Johnson, there will be a lot of competition in camp this season to make the roster opening night.
“I think the depth there is pretty good. With Blake and now Visnovsky locked up in a long term deal, I think that was a very important move for the Kings to make to get him taken care of. He answers a lot of questions, not only this year, but in the years to come. Then with Stuart and Preissing, how will they fit in? There is a little bit of a question mark in Stuart as he might not have been at the top of his game last year, or at least what people expected of him. If he regains his form, the Kings will have hit a home run there.
“Then you have the young Jack Johnson, whom Kings fans got just a glimpse of there last
year, I think it creates a good environment for him. Then you have Kevin Dallman, who saw some time last year, Peter Harrold, a good prospect out of Manchester last year who also saw some time and will likely see some games at some point this year. Whether or not he starts the season in Manchester will work itself out at training camp.
“Then you have Jaroslav Modry and Jon Klemm, they are depth players. The Kings may decide to go again with eight defensemen as they did last year. If that is the case, I think the eight that they have will be a pretty solid core with Klemm and Modry, they are two guys that will not cause a lot of disruption and they bring a calming effect for the young guys and they are good team guys and that is an environment that you want to bring your young guys along in.
"And I have not even mentioned Joe Piskula, who looked really good in rookie camp and saw some time with the team last year. I think it is a nice healthy competitive balance we got going in camp.”
Will the Kings young players continue to take steps forward?
was in Rookie of the Year talk for much of the season. Alexander Frolov, Michael Cammalleri and Dustin Brown
, all set career highs offensively. How much this team improves in 2007-08 will coincide with the continued improvement of their young players.
“When you really look at it, it is a lot different from last season where the expectations will be a lot higher. But at the same time, now they have a cast around them with Nagy, Handzus and Calder, which will take some of the pressure off these young guys, but they still have to bring that pressure from within themselves.
“Kopitar we only saw him one year, he had an outstanding year and he is eager to get going again and perform at that level. He will have some support up the middle now with Handzus and that should draw a lot more attention and the other teams top checking line.
"Cammy has been consistent putting the puck in the net over the last few years,and he was rewarded with a two-year contract before the start of the season and you need him to continue to finish. He wants to be an elite player in the league, then he has to keep doing that and work on the other little areas of his game.
"Frolov’s game has progressed. He has started putting the puck in the net more and he has
some steps to go. I don’t know if you can say that the sky is the limit with his offensive production, but his puck protecting ability will make the players on the ice with him have more opportunity and be better.
"Dustin Brown has come to camp in great shape, I look for his numbers to increase. Last year he got a sniff and was good in spurts, especially when Kopitar was out there. He took it upon himself and carried the puck and seamed a lot more confident in doing that.
"You surround the kids with experienced vets like Derek Armstrong, Scott Thornton and Brian Willsie and there is some good balance there. They don’t have to depend on one or two guys. Do they have clearly have a 50-goal scorer? No, but you look at this team and you can say that on any given night they could get something out of these guys whether it is offensively, support, or some physical play.”
What is the status of some of the players that suffered injuries last season?
Though the Kings did not get decimated by injury, they did suffer injuries to key people. The Kings had just 181 man games lost, but some of the significant injuries were to Cloutier, who missed 46 games, Blake who missed 10 including the last five and Visnovsky, who missed the last 13 games. After Visnovsky and Blake were out, the Kings had some trouble moving the puck from their blueline. Visnovsky and Blake are both back and healthy, as is Cloutier.
And of course, Handzus, while with Chicago, missed all but eight games of the season with a knee injury. All of them are back and healthy.
“In the case with all three of them – Blake, Cloutier, Handzus – each had some type of surgery last year, but because of the length of time off for the Kings last year, you have a large time period to get healthy. We talked to the players about the injuries and they feel strong. There is nothing like playing games and so now there is that bridge that you have to build to get into shape. At least when you come to training camp, everybody is kind of on the same page again. When you come back in mid season, everyone else is at the top of their game and you really never make that back, no matter how great of an athlete you are.
“Blake is feeling really good, Cloutier, is too and not only from a physical stand point, but I think even mentally, he is confident that physically he can do the things that he needs to do. And with Handzus, he is the type of player that takes good care of himself and keeps himself in good shape. He can play with some pain or some adversity and play through those type of tings. Once he gets some games under his belt, his confidence will improve and so will his game.”