Los Angeles General Manager Dean Lombardi has spent his two years in L.A. accumulating all the young talent he can find. So far, all it's earned him is two more non-playoff finishes, including last season's 71-point disaster that saw the Kings finish last in the Western Conference while using seven goaltenders.
Lombardi survived another non-playoff season, but coach Marc Crawford
did not. He was let go after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice, extending the Kings' streak of missing the postseason to five seasons. Instead of opting for a young coach to go along with his young roster, Lombardi opted to go with experience and hired Terry Murray
, who at 58 has been around the NHL for a long time, most recently as an assistant with the resurgent Philadelphia Flyers
Murray knows he has a big task in front of him to get the Kings back on track.
"We have some very good young hockey players in this organization," said Murray, who added that he and his staff would put in the time "to help these players become the best they can be.
"We need to get younger. We need to get the young guys going, but at the same time, we need to get the players who are presently young players on this club to start showing the way, to help lead and take over as core players and help the new young players to get their feet under them the right way."
The Kings showed last season that they have some excellent young forwards -- Anze Kopitar
, Alexander Frolov
and Dustin Brown
have bright futures. The hard part will be the same as last season -- keeping the puck out of their own net. There's very little experience on defense following the departures of Rob Blake
and Lubomir Visnovsky
, and none of the seven goaltenders who put on a Kings jersey last season would be mistaken for Martin Brodeur
Murray will have to do some impressive work to avoid a sixth straight early summer.
The Kings expect Jonathan Bernier
, their No. 1 pick in the 2006 Entry Draft, to be their goaltender of the future. Both he and the Kings would be happy if the future was now.
Bernier won his NHL debut by beating the Anaheim Ducks in the season opener in London last season. A month later, he was back in juniors, where he stayed for the remainder of the season.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
2007-08 SEASON STATS
(15th West/29th NHL)
|Change from 2006-07
(15th West/30th NHL)
(13th West/27th NHL)
"For me it will be a battle," he said of his hopes of making the Kings. "We have a lot of good goalies. It's up to me to have a good camp and show that I can play here. I have to show them what I can do, do my best, and hopefully good things will happen."
The Kings hope he's ready.
"We don't want to rush him, but we have high expectations for Jonathan," Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall said. "He's got the skills to be an elite goaltender. He's a very athletic goaltender with good quickness, and he's very willing to learn."
Still, the Kings may opt to give Bernier more time to develop. That would likely mean Jason LaBarbera and Erik Ersberg would battle for the starting job.
LaBarbera was a respectable 17-23-2 with a 3.00 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage before going down with a groin injury in February. Ersberg, a free agent from Sweden, was promising in a late-season trial, putting up a 6-5-3 record, a 2.48 GAA and a pair of shutouts.
It's been a long time since the Kings have been stable in goal. They're not likely to end their postseason drought until someone takes charge and establishes himself as a legitimate No. 1 NHL goaltender.
The Kings were a middle-of-the-pack team offensively, but their top forwards can play with anyone.
Kopitar (32-45-77 as a 20-year-old) is on the verge of stardom. He's a threat to score or set up a goal every time he steps on the ice, and the Slovenian native is becoming a more vocal presence in the locker room as his English improves. He's flanked by Patrick O'Sullivan (22-31-53, plus 4-for-5 in shootouts, as a 22-year-old) and Dustin Brown (33 goals, 60 points and a League-leading 311 hits). That's a first line capable of doing some serious damage.
Visnovsky was dealt to Edmonton for center Jarret Stoll, who should play with Frolov on the second line. Stoll was squeezed out by Edmonton's avalanche of forward talent, but should give the Kings a solid No. 2 center if he's fully recovered from post-concussion syndrome. Frolov (23-44-67) is solid at both ends of the ice. Rookie Ted Purcell, a 23-year-old who has 83 points with Manchester of the American Hockey League, is likely to get the first chance at second-line duty following a deal that sent Mike Cammalleri to Calgary.
What the Kings haven't had recently are solid third and fourth lines. Michal Handzus (7-14-21) was a disappointment last season, as was Kyle Calder (7-13-20). Former Boston College star Brian Boyle, one of the biggest forwards in NHL history at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, was impressive in a short showing (4-1-5 in eight games) with the Kings and could earn a full-time job. The Kings also have high hopes for 2007 draft picks Trevor Lewis and Oscar Moller, though both may need a season or two in the minors.
Raitis Ivanans provides muscle up front and Derek Armstrong is a useful checking center. Overall, however, there are jobs to be won here.
There are even more openings on the blue line, where the departure of Blake and Visnovsky figure to weaken an already-struggling unit.
"The defense needed to be rebuilt, and we think we're on the way to getting that done," Hextall said after the Kings spent two first-rounders on defensemen after using their first-rounder in 2007 on blueliner Thomas Hickey.
The Kings used the second pick in June's draft on Drew Doughty, who had 50 points with Guleph of the Ontario Hockey League and appears to have all the skills to make an immediate impact on the NHL as an 18-year-old. The Kings signed Doughty during the summer and will be disappointed if he's not a regular on the blue line this season.
The other first-rounder, Colton Teubert, may need another season or two before making an impact, but the Kings like his size and strength.
There's also room for Hickey, a surprise choice at No. 4 in the first round who's coming off some injuries that prematurely ended his season. Hickey had 11 goals and 45 points with Seattle of the Western Hockey League and might be ready for an NHL job.
L.A. already has an up-and-coming stud on the blue line in Jack Johnson, who was acquired by the Kings two years ago after being taken at No. 3 by Carolina in 2005. Johnson (3-8-11, minus-19) struggled at times as a rookie last season, but has the talent to be an elite blueliner.
The Kings also hope Peter Herrold, who played well in Manchester and didn't look out of place in L.A., can take a job. Tom Preissing (8-16-24) is the top returnee on the blue line and figures to get a lot of work as a mentor to the kids.
Three reasons for optimism
* Kopitar, Brown and O'Sullivan are an excellent No. 1 line -- a threat to score whenever they're on the ice. Kopitar, in particular, appears to ready to become a full-blown star, while Brown offers the rare combination of scoring ability and physicality.
* Johnson is a blue-chip prospect on defense, and Doughty has the speed, size and skills to make an immediate impact at the NHL level. Within a couple years, the Kings could have one of the NHL's best top-four defense units.
* The Kings will spend most of the first two months of the season at home. They play 22 of their first 31 games at the Staples Center, meaning that their kids will be able to break into the League in front of a home crowd.
Contact John Kreiser at email@example.com