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LA Kings Hope Change in Philosophy Restores Success

New coach Stevens expected to boost offense, help restore perennial Cup contender status

by Dan Greenspan / Correspondent

The LA Kings enter this season with a new-look coaching staff and new general manager, but also a core of players who helped win the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014.

The Kings hired John Stevens as coach to replace Darryl Sutter, who was fired on April 10. Rob Blake was brought in as GM to replace Dean Lombardi, and Pierre Turgeon was added as an assistant to run the offense. Each will have to be clever to maximize every available piece, with veteran forwards Anze Kopitar  and Dustin Brown  having to find ways to recapture their previous form.


Last season, the Kings lost goalie Jonathan Quick  to injury in the opener and never recovered, finishing with 86 points (39-35-8), which left them eight behind the eventual Western Conference champion Nashville Predators for the second wild card into the playoffs.

Limited financial flexibility left the Kings with few options to address holes on the roster, notably a lack of scoring, and a win-now focus in recent years means there aren't many internal options to fix those issues.

Here is a look at the five keys for the Kings, the inside scoop on their roster questions and projected lines for the 2017-18 season. 

Five Keys:

1. Find spinoffs to 'That 70s Line'

Jeff Carter Tanner Pearson , and Tyler Toffoli  scored 72 of the Kings' 199 goals last season. Pearson and Toffoli, each 25 years old, have room for further growth, and the remarkably consistent Carter should score at least 25 goals again. But the Kings need more offense from the rest of the roster. A bounce-back season from Kopitar, who had 52 points (12 goals, 40 assists) and a minus-10 rating, would be a great start.

Video: LAK@FLA: Carter nets his second goal of the game

2. Unleash Drew Doughty on Offense

Doughty is one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He has had more than 50 points once in the past seven seasons (51 in 2015-16) because of Sutter's rigid insistence on a defense-first approach. Stevens must allow Doughty the freedom to be more involved in the offense, even if it leads to the occasional breakdown. As seen on the power play and in overtime, Doughty can be a force with the puck and has the capability of matching the scoring of top defensemen like Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators.

3. Stay Special

Sutter had his faults, but the Kings' commitment to special teams was not among them. They were fifth in the League on the penalty kill (84.5 percent) and 15th on the power play (19.1). If the Kings can create more power plays and convert at a solid percentage, it could do wonders to offset their limited bottom-six forward options.

Their special teams delivered in the first of the NHL China Games, scoring on the power play and penalty kill.

"I thought our penalty kill battled extremely hard for the amount of minutes they had to kill, and we had some key saves in key times, and I thought our power play early was very effective and moved the puck well in time in the zone," Stevens said.

4. Be Open to Quick Change

Quick remains one of the best goalies in the League, but asking him to be in net each game at age 31 might be a mistake. A groin injury on opening night sidelined Quick for 59 games, and wear and tear can add up entering his 10th season as the top goalie. 

Darcy Kuemper  is a capable backup with 89 starts (102 games) the past four seasons for the Minnesota Wild. The Kings shouldn't be afraid to turn to Kuemper and lighten Quick's workload.

Video: LAK@VAN: Kuemper turns away Eriksson to preserve lead

5. Perfom in Pacific Division

The Kings did what they had to do against the Central, Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions, earning 56 percent of possible points last season. It was against the most familiar and regular opposition that Los Angeles struggled by going 12-14-3, including 4-4-1 against the Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks. If the Kings can't take care of business against the Coyotes, Canucks and expansion Vegas Golden Knights, they won't make the playoffs.

Roster Rundown

Biggest Lock

Carter has scored at least 24 goals in each of his five full seasons with the Kings, averaging 60 points over the past four. His line with Pearson and Toffoli has been especially productive and will again need to be the centerpiece of a questionable offense. As long as Carter, who turns 33 on Jan. 1, avoids any lengthy absences because of injury, that consistent top-level production will continue.

Video: Jeff Carter is named No. 18 on the list

Biggest Battle

Sutter was too reliant on the Kings' top four defensemen in his final few seasons, but LA has some intriguing options to bolster its depth. Christian Folin  proved to be a useful role player last season for Minnesota with eight points (two goals, six assists) and a plus-10 rating. Paul LaDue  had his moments in 22 games with the Kings.

But the real find might be Oscar Fantenberg . The 25-year-old native of Ljunby, Sweden performed well for Sochi HC of the Kontinental Hockey League last season with 23 points (three goals, 20 assists) in 44 games and could be a steal if he can quickly acclimate to the North American game.

Most Intriguing Addition

Forward Michael Cammalleri , 35, agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract on July 1 and was the Kings' top free-agent acquisition in the offseason, an indication of their salary-cap situation. His 10 goals in 61 games for the New Jersey Devils last season would have tied for eighth on Los Angeles, two behind Kopitar, Doughty and forward Trevor Lewis . The veteran wing has played on a line with Kopitar and right wing Dustin Brown , which should benefit all three.

"You see there's a little bit of offensive chemistry where they know where each other are," Stevens said in training camp of the line.

Video: Michael Cammalleri on joining the Los Angeles Kings

Biggest Potential Surprise

Forward Adrian Kempe , the No. 29 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, is going to get every opportunity to justify that selection in his first full season with the Kings. Kempe will be given a low-pressure, high-upside role, including seeing time on the second power-play unit. Refining his consistency and contributing about 20-25 points would be a great sign in his development.

Projected Lineup

Michael Cammalleri -- Anze Kopitar  -- Dustin Brown

Tanner Pearson -- Jeff Carter -- Tyler Toffoli

Andy Andreoff  -- Adrian Kempe -- Jonny Brodzinski

Kyle Clifford  -- Nic Dowd  -- Trevor Lewis

Drew Doughty -- Derek Forbort

Jake Muzzin  -- Alec Martinez

Kevin Gravel  -- Christian Folin

Jonathan Quick

Darcy Kuemper

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