If you are a Los Angeles hockey team looking to recapture the magic of a runaway hit, it might not be a bad idea to look to the studios across town for the right formula. Hollywood has long known that it’s best to bring back as many original cast members as possible for the follow up effort.
The Detroit Red Wings followed that script when they won the second of their back-to-back Cups in 1998, retaining the services of 21 players from the previous year’s championship squad. The Kings have adapted that outline, re-casting virtually everyone from last year’s blockbuster success, except Kevin Westgarth, Davis Drewiske (both did not participate in a playoff game) Andrei Loktionov and Simon Gagne.
So, while Robert Downey Jr. is wrapping Iron Man 3, and Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher are being courted for the next Star Wars installment, the Kings are counting on their own group of superheroes to recapture the prosperity of a year ago.
With a marquee lineup of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown and Mike Richards, this year’s squad compares favorably to the late ’90s Wings, who were built around Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan and Nicklas Lidstrom.
“One thing I’ve said numerous times about the whole process is that it’s key that we have that core intact every year when we come back,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said.
In giving the defending Stanley Cup champs a shot at claiming back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, President/General Manager Dean Lombardi placed an emphasis on stability. Doing so marks a stark contrast to the organization’s approach under previous regimes.
“My first few years here we had quite a significant rollover each year,” said Brown. “In that sense, we have started this process with Kopi, Dewy, Greener, Stolly. We have had a consistent group of guys coming back. I think that makes everything a lot easier in the game plan.”
It doesn’t hurt when one of those returnees is Jonathan Quick, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. For his part, Quick believes that if the Kings are to win another Cup, it won’t be due to one man, but rather because an entire team is familiar with one another, and pulling together.
“I think it does help that we have the same group coming back,” Quick said. “Where some teams need to find chemistry with guys that never played together before, everybody in here played together the past year.”
The Kings have one other advantage over other NHL teams in that the taste of success – and champagne – is still fresh. Dustin Penner, who won a Stanley Cup with the Kings and the Ducks, believes winning a championship makes you a target but also makes you hungry for more.
“I think there is an inner confidence in the room,” Penner said. “But at the same time, we know that we are going to be targeted in every building we walk into.”
Regardless of how many players return, repeating is no easy task. The NHL was once a league of dynasties, but since the Edmonton Oilers won four-of-five Stanley Cups from 1984 to 1988, 16 teams have spent their summer parading hockey’s Holy Grail around their hometowns.
When the Kings pried Wayne Gretzky from Edmonton in the summer of 1988, it was hailed as the beginning of the Sun Belt’s Ice Age. But it also put the NHL’s era of dynasties in cold storage. Since Gretzky left the Oilers, only Pittsburgh (1991-92) and Detroit have won consecutive titles, and no team has won three straight titles.
“I think it’s just the parity of the league,” Rob Scuderi said. “It’s been pretty evident since the ’04-05 lockout that there is a lot of parity in the league and there are a lot more teams that have a chance to win each year. As compared to before, when you said there were eight-to-10 teams that had a realistic chance. Now, I think that number is much higher.”
By virtue of winning last year, one of those teams is the Kings. But, according to Jarret Stoll, last year is ancient history and will have no bearing on what transpires this spring.
“That’s over with, now,” Stoll said of last year’s triumph. “You look back on memories and how much fun it was, but it’s over with. It’s a new season. Everyone has a chance to win it, and that’s how you have to look at it. Teams are going to prepare for you no matter what. I don’t think it really matters that there is a target on our back. We have not used that word in here. We have not used the “R” word once.”
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said returning the same group is only part of the equation; it’s also vital that those players remain healthy.
“We have the same locker room but it doesn’t mean we have the same lines,” Sutter said. “The guys that won the championships know full well that you need lots of guys, but you also need consistent lines.”
The Kings had a lot of things on their side during last year’s black parade to the Stanley Cup championship. The game’s hottest goaltender was backed by a sturdy defense, while being augmented nicely by an up-tempo attack. Home games were played before hockey’s hungriest fans, and, perhaps most importantly, the Kings remained both healthy and consistent.
“If you look at this team winning the Stanley Cup last year,” Sutter said, “we used the same six defensemen for the last 60 games. It’s pretty amazing. Other than an appendectomy (Brad Richardson) and a concussion (Kyle Clifford), we used the same forwards, too. That’s what you want.”
The Kings can’t promise their fans another Stanley Cup, but Sutter believes his team is well positioned for a repeat run.
“I think that in a salary cap year, it’s very simple,” Sutter said. “Every year, you have a different champion and every year, good teams remain good teams. It doesn’t mean you win the Stanley Cup, but it certainly means you put yourself in position to win.”
It’s been a decade-and-a-half since we have seen a repeat Stanley Cup champion, and it might be 15 more years before we see another, but the Kings have reason to like their chances: The stars are aligned.