LOS ANGELES -- For the past few seasons, the Los Angeles Kings were the self-described cockroaches of the NHL, seemingly impossible to eliminate no matter how dire the circumstances. It was a remarkable trait in the NHL salary-cap era, and it made their demise all the more profound.
Facing must-win games, the Kings lost 4-2 to the Edmonton Oilers on April 7 and were eliminated from contention for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 3-1 loss to the Calgary Flames two days later. It was the first time a defending Cup champion failed to make the postseason since the Carolina Hurricanes in 2007.
Injuries and off-ice issues on defense combined with overuse of goalie Jonathan Quick and defenseman Drew Doughty ultimately cost the Kings.
"This season we were all struggling to find that certain 'it' or whatever you want to call it all year," Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said. "And when it was over, after Edmonton and Calgary, I think the reality is we got what we deserved, and we have nobody to feel sorry for … every time we thought we were going to get out of it because we knew how to win or we had been in big games before, well, that didn't happen. But now we can learn from this."
The Kings should be humbled and re-energized after they played 64 playoff games the previous three seasons. They added power forward Milan Lucic in the offseason, but they lost significant pieces from their two Cup-winning teams and their depth will be challenged.
Right wing Justin Williams signed with the Washington Capitals, and center Jarret Stoll signed with the New York Rangers as free agents. The Kings terminated the hefty contract of center Mike Richards.
Last season's uphill path started with the defensemen. Slava Voynov was suspended in October and Alec Martinez and Robyn Regehr missed significant time with injuries, as did midseason acquisition Andrej Sekera. That forced Doughty to lead the NHL in total ice time, and coach Darryl Sutter consistently said it was too much for the Norris Trophy finalist.
Regehr retired and Sekera signed with Edmonton, which left Los Angeles with little depth after the core of Doughty, Martinez, Jake Muzzin and Matt Greene. Voynov's situation remained unresolved as of mid-August.
The push for the playoffs ultimately forced Sutter to play Quick 72 games, tying his NHL career high; his total ice time was the second-most among goalies behind Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals.
Offensively, the Kings remain a top-heavy team, but the addition of Lucic, acquired from the Boston Bruins for goalie Martin Jones, defenseman prospect Colin Miller and the 13th pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, gives them two lines as good as any in the Western Conference.
A crucial part will be getting young wings Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson to be more consistent, and to find an effective bottom six. Los Angeles is depending on Andy Andreoff and Nick Shore to center its third and fourth lines. The two have 52 games of NHL experience combined.
The Kings' American Hockey League affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, won the Calder Cup and moved to Southern California, so there will be opportunity to give their prospects a closer look. They may have to make an NHL move to improve their depth, and Richards' contract coming off the books gives them more flexibility.
Lombardi stressed the remaining core group is in its prime, and he expects them to be motivated. He could have been speaking specifically about center Anze Kopitar, who had a down season although he was a Selke Trophy finalist. Kopitar perhaps best represents the Kings in all facets the past three seasons, and a long offseason might be what he and Los Angeles needed.
"Well, this time there's no excuse," Lombardi said. "It's a marvelous opportunity for our top players to take over that room, and they start by doing that, becoming the best they can be, and I think they will. There's no doubt in my mind what guys like Kopitar and Quick and Doughty stand for, and hopefully this is an awakening. It's no fun watching the playoffs. In the long run, we could benefit from this."
Author: Curtis Zupke | NHL.com Correspondent