This season marks the second year of the NHL's realignment that now features two divisions in each of the two Conferences. The Kings are one of seven teams that play in the Pacific division and as everyone gears up for another run the Kings appear to have a huge advantage over their division rivals in one regard...goaltending!
Jonathan Quick of the Kings has backstopped the team two a pair of championships over the past three seasons. He was the 2012 Playoff MVP (Conn Smythe Trophy) and after his stellar play in that post season he was signed to a 10-year contract extension. The 2014-15 season is year two of the deal. To say that Quick gives the Kings stability and strength in goal would be a huge understatement.
As for the other division opponents...they haven't or don't appear to be as fortunate at the position.
The Kings cross town rivals, Anaheim, parted ways in the off season with their number one goalie for the past six seasons Jonas Hiller. Frederik Andersen and John Gibson will handle the chores for the Ducks and the two have a grand total of only 31 NHL games of experience between them. Andersen showed great promise as a rookie last season playing in 28 games and posting a 2.29 goals against and .923 save percentage while compiling a 20-5-0 record. Andersen is 25. Gibson, who shutout the Kings in Game 4 of last year's second round series, 2-0, is only 21. The 2013-14 campaign was his first as a pro. Since both are unproven as NHL number one goalies the Ducks are rolling the dice a bit with this scenario.
"We had everything before us. We had nothing before us." With apologies to Mr. Dickens this sums up San Jose's current state of affairs. After grabbing a 3-0 series over the Kings in the first round of the playoffs last Spring, the Sharks lost four straight and suffered the embarrassment of becoming the fourth team in NHL history to blow such a lead. In goal Antti Niemi has been their go-to net minder for the last four seasons but one has to wonder if the team's collapse in the playoffs is the beginning of the end for him with the organization. He heads into the new season with one year left on his contract and if he falters early on to start this season 27 year-old Alex Stalock may be given the opportunity to advance.
In Vancouver the conversation about goaltending the past few seasons has centered on veteran Roberto Luongo and the up and coming Corey Schneider. Who do they keep? Who do they trade? Prior to the 2013 Entry Draft Schneider was traded to New Jersey making Luongo the club's top goalie for the eighth straight season. As the 2013-14 season unraveled for the Canucks Luongo was eventually dealt to Florida at the deadline leaving the team with a huge void. Enter 34-year old veteran Ryan Miller who was signed as a free agent in the off season to a three-year deal with a cap hit of $6 million per year. After a sub-par playoff run in St. Louis can Miller regain his level of play to make his new team a playoff contender?
The aforementioned Jonas Hiller has now landed in Calgary. The 32-year old Swiss native was inked to a two-year contract as a free agent this past summer. The deal is worth $4.5 million per year. Hiller will give the Flames experience in goal as the team continues re-tooling with younger talent and their recent draft choices. The Flames continue to search for the heir to Mikka Kiprusoff's reign. Last season Calgary played youngsters Kari Ramo, Reto Berra and Joni Ortio in goal. Berra was traded and Ramo appears to be the likely candidate to push Hiller for playing time. Ramo won 17 games in 40 appearances for the Flames last season.
The Edmonton Oilers have missed the playoffs for eight straight seasons and a contributing factor in this abyss has been goaltending. The Oilers head into the new season with a pair of cast-offs from other organizations hoping this gets them going in the right direction. Ben Scrivens, who grew up in the Edmonton area, was acquired mid-way through last season from the Kings. He played in 21 games with the Oilers going 9-11-1 with a club best .916 save percentage. Now with his third NHL team Scrivens, 28, will be given every opportunity to garner number 1 status. Ex-Duck Viktor Fasth, 32, was acquired last Spring and like Scrivens has limited NHL experience. Fasth played only 12 games last season for Anaheim and Edmonton.
The Arizona Coyotes have committed to Mike Smith as their goalie. He enters his fourth season as the club's number one net minder and his current contract has him locked up for three more years after this one. Smith's game faltered mid way through last season effectively knocking the Coyotes out of the playoff picture. Smith won 37 games in his debut season in the desert in 2011-12 and has not come close to this total since. Former Oiler number one pick Devan Dubnyk has been added to join Smith. Dubnyk spent eight seasons in the Oilers organization and never reached the level the club has hoped for.
The Kings 2014 Stanley Cup run featured so many superlatives that one now wonders what the team can do in the future that they haven't already accomplished.
On a team scale some of the more remarkable highlights include becoming the first team to advance to the Final after three seven-game series. They won three Game sevens en route to the Final, a feat never before done. They set a record for the most playoff games in one year by a Cup winner with 26. They were 7-0 in elimination games, one shy of the NHL record, and the most ever by a Stanley Cup winner. They also became the first team ever to win three consecutive playoff games where they trailed by two goals (Game 7 at Chicago and Game 1 & 2 vs NY Rangers).
On an individual level...Marian Gaborik, Justin Williams and Mike Richards all improved to 7-0 in Game 7's during their career. Anze Kopitar led the playoffs in scoring for the second time. He had 26 points in 2014 (5-21=26). In 2012 he co-led the league with 20 points. Jeff Carter, a deadline acquisition in 2012, has now scored 24 goals in the last three playoff years, most in the NHL. Dustin Brown became the first US born captain to win two Stanley Cups and Justin Williams continued his stellar play in Game sevens in his career improving his numbers to seven goals, seven7 assists, 14 points in seven career Game sevens. The 14 points is a league record while his 7 goals ties Glenn Anderson for most in league history.
Head Coach Darryl Sutter joined in the fun as well. Sutter now has the most ever Game seven wins (he is now 7-3). His 10 games tie him with Claude Julien and Mike Keenan.
In his 34th season with the club, Nick Nickson calls Kings games on the radio with Daryl Evans on new flagship station TalkRadio 790 KABC and along the Kings Radio Network. Following home games, join Nick and Daryl for “Kings Talk” at the JW Marriott Los Angeles LA LIVE (live remote takes place in The Mixing Room – fans are encouraged to attend and participate!). To participate by phone, call 800-ABC-KABC (800-222-5222).