Welcome to our newest weekly feature on LAKings.com, 4 on 4. Four prominent hockey writers; John Hoven of The Mayor's Manor, Bryan Reynolds of Hockey Wilderness, Derek Tanabe of Fear the Fin, and Thomas Drance of Canucks Army will answer 4 questions pertaining to the sport we all love.
Feel free to give your own answers, and pose questions for future weeks in the comments.
1. What needs to happen for the LA Kings to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions?
John Hoven @mayorNHL - In one word, health. None of the Kings top six - or even top NINE forwards - missed a single game in the 2012 playoffs due to an injury. On the blueline, they became the first NHL champs since the 1980 New York Islanders to use the same six defensemen in every post-season contest. Many GMs say you build a Stanley Cup winner around five players: two centers, two defenseman and a goalie. The Kings are bringing all five of those 'key players' back (and have them locked up beyond next season). Thus, if healthy, LA has probably the best chance of any team in the last decade of repeating.
Bryan Reynolds @hockeywildernes - The Mayans to be right? I kid, I kid. Honestly, I don’t think it would take much for the Kings to repeat. The Kings are a really good hockey team. The regular season had some struggles for them with injuries and the like, but once everyone was healthy, and the addition of Jeff Carter, everything gelled rather quickly. For the Kings to repeat, they need to stay healthy, and get hot at the right time, just like every winner of every Stanley Cup ever. Anyone who thinks the Kings were fluke needs some remedial lessons in how to watch hockey.
Derek Tanabe @fearthefin - As long as Dean Lombardi doesn't re-acquire Jack Johnson, I think they're in great shape. What really needs to happen for the Kings to repeat is what happened throughout the second half of last season and into the playoffs. If Los Angeles can continue to be the dominant, aggressive puck possession team they were after hiring Darryl Sutter (and especially after dumping the aforementioned Johnson for Jeff Carter), I don't see many teams in the NHL being better. Jonathan Quick may not be able to repeat his all-world season but I also doubt the Kings' offense will be as snake-bit as it was for much of 2011-12. Despite the Kings' incredible road record in the playoffs, it certainly couldn't hurt for them to have home-ice advantage this time around but that shouldn't be much of a problem as the Sharks represent the only legitimate threat to Los Angeles claiming their first Pacific Division crown. Then again, I could see L.A. having issues in their season series against their Northern California rivals since a new league bylaw makes it perfectly legal for Ryane Clowe to play the puck from the bench at all times during those games.
Thomas Drance @CanucksArmy - Despite their lowly eighth place finish in the regular season, the underlying numbers indicate that the Los Angeles Kings were a juggernaut throughout last year. That said, repeating as Cup Champions is exceedingly rare, and it hasn't happened in nearly a generation. While the Kings remain one of the clear cut favorites, the biggest thing they'll need to have happen for them to repeat as Cup Champions is to be outrageously lucky.
In the playoffs, for example, the Kings rolled over everyone in part because of their suffocating defense and stellar goaltending, but mostly because none of their opponents could contain their top-line of Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown. That said, they managed to avoid every team with a truly elite top-pairing (Nashville last season, Chicago and Boston). Also, they only dressed six defenseman through their entire playoff run, something which hadn't occurred in over thirty years!
While the Kings were an unstoppable force in last seasons playoffs, and look to be just as good this upcoming season, they benefitted enormously from favorable matchups and both timely injuries to their opponents (to Alex Pietrangelo, Ilya Kovalchuk and Daniel Sedin, for example) as well as a remarkably clean bill of health on their end. You have to be good to be lucky, of course, but you have to be lucky to win a Stanley Cup!
2. Fact or Fiction? The big splash in free agency makes the Wild a playoff team?
John Hoven - Fiction. They're closer, no doubt. However, they finished 14 points behind the eight-seed last year and that's a lot to make up with just two players. Even with all of their off-season trades last summer, they actually finished with fewer points this year than each of the two previous campaigns (81 points compared to 86 and 84 respectively). Sure, you can talk about injuries last year to several players - including Niklas Backstrom, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi. However, that wouldn't have been enough. Kudos to Zach Parise for convincing to Ryan Suter to sign in Minnesota with him (and offering up some of his money to help seal the deal). To make the playoffs though, they'll probably need a Calder Trophy worthy performance from incoming rookie Charlie Coyle.
Bryan Reynolds - Fact. If they miss the playoffs, someone is going to burn down the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild were a good team last year that was ravaged by injuries and had absolutely zero depth to backfill with. When Warren Peters is your top line center, things have gone south (no offense to Warren). The Wild's ability to move the puck on defense was a weakness, and they added Tom Gilbert and Ryan Suter to address that weakness. Their scoring was a weakness, and they added Zach Parise to address that. These upgrades have to be seen as major upgrades. They also signed Torrey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka to shore up the bottom six, an area of the game far too many discount. If Mikko Koivu can stay healthy, and Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding can repeat their performance from last year, the Wild absolutely make the playoffs. Are they Cup contenders? Maybe not, but a playoff team, absolutely.
Derek Tanabe - Fiction. Unless by "big splash in free agency" you mean signing Torrey Mitchell, in which case it's definitely a fact. In all seriousness, while it wouldn't shock me if Minnesota snuck into the postseason, what needs to be kept in mind is that the Wild were truly abysmal last year. They were 29th in the league in goal differential, 30th in shot differential and enough virtual ink has been spilled about the mirage that was their successful first two-and-half months of the season that I feel I don't need to rehash that. It's difficult for a team to go from being the worst in the league to a playoff club, especially in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, just by adding two players--immensely talented as Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are. Even if we account for uber-prospect Mikael Granlund making the team, captain Mikko Koivu staying healthy for a greater share of the season and a full year of the criminally underrated Tom Gilbert on the blueline, it's unlikely that all adds up to the roughly 14 standings points they'll need to improve by in order to qualify. I think Minnesota will be a bubble team, which itself is a significant rise in status, and they'll probably have a shot at making the dance since I think Nashville drops out, but other teams like Colorado and Dallas have made gains this offseason as well and those teams were substantially better than the Wild to begin with.
Thomas Drance - Fiction. The signings the Wild made will improve their team enormously, but they still have a lot of ground to make up in the West. They missed the postseason by 14 points, and the advanced numbers (Vukota and GVT, for example) don't indicate that Suter and Parise along are worth 7 wins of improvement.
Furthermore, of the eight teams that made the postseason last year, it's not easy to pinpoint a club that the Wild will clearly be better than. At least the Kings, Sharks, Canucks, Blackhawks, Blues, and Red Wings remain in a class above. The Predators and Coyotes look to be somewhat weaker than they were last season, but they're both organizations with a habit of producing results well beyond their "on paper" talent level. I'd also see the Stars and the Avalanche as having improved themselves significantly this summer, not to mention the Oilers, who won't make the playoffs this season, but will give the Wild six tough divisional games.
Anything is possible, and with the specter of a lockout looming, perhaps the Wild could excel over a smaller sample of games (like they did in the 2011 portion of last season's schedule) and sneak into the dance. While I think they'll be on the outside looking in this upcoming season, their future is very bright.
3. Roberto Luongo ends up with ________.
John Hoven - Roberto Luongo appears headed to Florida, but not if Toronto headmaster Brian Burke has anything to say about it. He likely doesn't have the goods the Canucks are looking for. Thus, Lou will likely get his wish.
Bryan Reynolds - No one wants that contract, but the Panthers have the room and a strong need for goaltending. I like to poke fun at Luongo, but he really is a solid goalie, and having him out of the Northwest would be quite welcome. What I still haven’t figured out is why the Canucks, and some of their fans, want him gone so badly. I mean, Cory Schneider is a great way to get around Luongo not being able to crawl out from under his bed in St. Paul, but Lu’s blocker is a better goalie than Schneider could ever dream of being.
Derek Tanabe -Like Nash, Luongo has the final say on where he ends up and the star goalie orchestrating a move back to his former team in Miami seems to be the safe bet. Panthers GM Dale Tallon is reportedly motivated to make it happen, although I can't say I understand why. Luongo's a far better goalie than he's often made out to be (I can't think of any who have been better since the turn of the century) but the Panthers received some terrific goaltending from Jose Theodore last season, especially at even strength, for just $1.5 million and even if that was a fluke, the Cats have Jacob Markstrom in the pipeline, widely considered the best goalie prospect in the world. Luongo's contract just doesn't seem like a wise investment for a cap floor team but with both Lou and Tallon rumored to have interest, all it's going to take now is for Mike Gillis to ensure he won't get a better offer from any of the other teams Luongo will agree to be dealt to.
Thomas Drance - Luongo will end up in Toronto, I think. Florida is his preferred destination, but I don't understand why the Panthers would need a goaltender beyond the potential gate revenue that Roberto Luongo might be able to attract. Jose Theodore is a competent starter, and great value at 1.5 million per season. Scott Clemmensen is a very good backup, and Jakub Markstrom is probably the best goaltending prospect in the world. The Panthers issue last season wasn't goaltending - they had a .926% team save percentage at five-on-five - so what's their incentive to "pay up" for Luongo?
Toronto on the other hand, needs a proven veteran guy, and the only guy who matches that description, who might also be available this summer is Luongo. Leafs General Manager Brian Burke and Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis have a history of enmity, but I think they'll put their egos aside and work out a deal at some point in the next six weeks or so.
4. Fact or Fiction? The NHL season will start on time.
John Hoven - Sadly, fiction. If history has taught us nothing else, it's that sports leagues and labor disputes go together like peanut butter and jelly (or cheez whiz and white bread in Canada, according to Dustin Penner - but, that's a different story for a different day). Nearly all NHL business statistics have been on an upward trajectory since the Winter Olympics in 2010. It doesn't matter though, as the players are now represented by Donald Fehr and he's going to want to make a huge statement his first time at the table. That can't happen without some push-back from the owners. Expect this stoppage to be short, with the season starting about a month later than what the schedule currently shows.
Bryan Reynolds - I say fact. At least, it better. There is too much money at stake here, and the league is doing extremely well. To lose games while riding a wave of success would be really petty. Both sides need to accept they aren’t going to get everything they want and work out a deal. Heck, they need to accept that neither side is going to get anything they want and work out a deal. When things are going as good as they are for both sides, it would be a huge mistake for either side to dig in and cost themselves all of the success they have earned for the past seven years.
Derek Tanabe - Fiction. While I don't think the league's opening labor negotiations salvo is all that apocalyptic (it's standard procedure to ask for the moon in these scenarios) when someone as intelligent and as plugged-in as Bob McKenzie expresses pessimism about the puck being dropped in October, it's best to listen. I can't see the players viewing ownership's desire to cut them a substantially smaller piece of the pie, after routinely boasting about how much bigger the pie has become, being viewed as anything less than an insult and rightfully so. I doubt either side wants to deal with the fallout from another full season being wiped out so I'd guess that a new CBA will be in place in time for a shortened regular season schedule but, based on the information available and on the reactions to that information from people involved, it's probably a good idea to pick a KHL rooting interest to sate your hockey appetite for the first three months or so of the would-be season. Let's go HC Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg City!
Thomas Drance -I don't see it. I don't think we'll lose a full season, but I suspect we'll see the regular season shortened, and begin at some point in December. The NHLPA superficially "lost" the last round of labour negotiations when they tossed out Bob Goodenow (who had led them to big wins in two previous CBA negotiations). They seemed to be in disarray, but they won in the long-run.
As the cap kept rising, the "have" teams gained the upper-hand and the "have nots" have struggled. The cap-floor has simply risen too greatly, and too quickly for about 20% of the league. Yes, surprise teams like the Wild can win big in free-agency, but a quick glance at the Shea Weber situation tells you all you need to know about how well "parity" is working under the current CBA.
I think the owners will push for term limits and eventually get them (at something like 8 years), they'll push for the cap-floor to be lessened significantly, and I see no way the owners will continue to operate until revenue sharing is closer to 50-50. On the players side, they gave up an awful lot the last time around, and any concessions granted to the owners will be hard-won. That's as it should be, but I think it'll cost us a couple of months of the 2012-13 season.
John Hoven is the founder and editor of MayorsManor.com - a full multimedia site, including exclusive on-ice video interviews from the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. As a credentialed writer based in LA, his hockey insights and information have been featured on several well known websites, magazines and in print for the LA Newspaper Group. He can also be heard over the airwaves, as he's a regularly featured guest on sports radio stations across North America. Be sure to follow along at www.twitter.com/MayorNHL for his daily notes and inside scoop.
Bryan Reynolds is the editor of Hockey Wilderness, the SB Nation site covering the Minnesota Wild. He also covers the Minnesota Swarm of the NLL for SB Nation Minnesota and dreams of one day being the Senate confirmed Director of Vengeful Beatings - @hockeywildernes.
Derek Tanabe is currently the managing editor for Fear The Fin, a Sharks blog with up-to-date news and analysis concerning California's only team still chasing the Stanley Cup. You can follow him on twitter at @fearthefin.
Thomas Drance is a Vancouver native currently based in Toronto. He works at MThrty communications , is the managing editor of canucksarmy.com, and a contributing writer at Pass it to Bulis (the Vancouver Sun). He's an avid singer who swims everyday in the summer, and eats food that is too spicy for normal human persons. You can follow him on twitter at @CanucksArmy.