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The Elephant in the Room

by Andrew Howard / Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have not been to the playoffs since the 2001-02 season.

The playoffs.

It's the elephant in the room, and yet Kings head coach Terry Murray isn't afraid of addressing it.

In the first season under Murray last year, the Kings missed the playoffs, finishing 14th in the Western Conference with a record of 34-37-11. It marked the sixth consecutive year the Kings have failed to make it to the postseason, the last time coming during the 2001-02 season.

Yet in the early part of training camp, there is a palpable sense of optimism surrounding the team, and making the playoffs seems to be on the minds of coaches and players alike.

When asked after Tuesday's exhibition game against the Phoenix Coyotes if this team was a playoff caliber team, right winger Justin Williams was blunt with his answer.

"For sure, definitely," Williams said. "I think we have the young skill and the talent mixed with the veteran guys that are able to make that next step. Once you do, you can just take off from there, once you get that confidence and composure that you're a good team and you're better than the other team you're playing against, and I think we're ready to make that next step."

Williams won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, so he knows what it takes to win at the highest level in the NHL. After being traded to the Kings from the Hurricanes mid-season last year, Williams believes that every organization reaches a time in which they take a step forward in the right direction, and he believes for the Kings, that time is now.

"We all agree that there comes a time with different teams where they need to make that next step," Williams said. "We have that young core here that is able to make that. When you can make that next step, you can win close games, you can come from behind and feel that you can win any game."

With players talking about the playoffs already in training camp, there is the fear that players may get too far ahead of themselves, yet Murray welcomes the conversation.

"If you want to be, you've got to act as if, that's my philosophy," Murray said. "You have to address the fact that we are trying to make the playoffs. That's our goal, and we'd be very disappointed if that doesn't happen. You can't be afraid to talk about the elephant in the room. That's what it is. When you talk about it, it brings that attitude to the practice and brings your own preparation to the next level to get ready for games. That's good stuff, that's what you have to have."

Adding to the sense of optimism surrounding the Kings this season are the additions of veterans Ryan Smyth and Rob Scuderi.

Smyth was traded to the Kings from the Colorado Avalanche in July and will look to bring a veteran presence and a great work ethic to Los Angeles. So far in training camp, Smyth has been playing in the starting line with Williams and Anze Kopitar.

Scuderi signed with the Kings in the off-season after winning the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, and has already made quite an impression on the young defensemen on the team.

Dustin Brown believes that with the additions of Smyth and Scuderi, along with the continuing development of players such as Kopitar, Alexander Frolov, and Jarret Stoll, the Kings will provide quite a challenge to opposing teams this upcoming season.

"We all need to be better than we were last year," Brown said. "If were able to do that with the additions of those two, kind of wrap that in with all of us being together over the last couple years, I think that's where you're going to see success."

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