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Kings playoff quest doomed by age, lack of offense

Los Angeles hopeful infusion of youth powers path to future success

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Kings failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in five seasons following a stretch when they qualified for five consecutive seasons and won the Stanley Cup twice, in 2012 and 2014.

The Kings (25-39-8) were eliminated from playoff contention when they lost 3-2 to the Winnipeg Jets on Monday; Los Angeles is 1-6-0 in its past seven games and 2-12-4 in its past 18.

Here is a look at what happened in the 2018-19 season for the Kings and why things could be better next season:

 

The Skinny

Potential UFAs: Jonny Brodzinski, C 

Potential RFAs: Alex Iafallo, LW; Adrian Kempe, LW; Brendan Leipsic, LW; Cal Petersen, G

Potential 2019 NHL Draft picks: 10

 

What went wrong

Internal affairs: The Kings shook things up 13 games into the season by firing coach John Stevens on Nov. 4 after a 4-8-1 start and acquired forward Carl Hagelin in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward Tanner Pearson 10 days later. But the moves failed to generate a spark under replacement Willie Desjardins. Los Angeles traded Hagelin, defenseman Jake Muzzin (to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 28) and center Nate Thompson (to the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 11). The Kings lost 10 straight (0-6-4) from Feb. 9-28 and went 2-6-0 after the losing streak until they were eliminated.

Aging core: At age 35, forward Ilya Kovalchuk is the elder statesman on a team that returned six core players from the Stanley Cup wins in 2012 and '14: Forward Dustin Brown, 34, center Jeff Carter, 34, goalie Jonathan Quick, 33, center Trevor Lewis, 32, defenseman Alec Martinez, 31, and center Anze Kopitar, 31, and also has 33-year-old defenseman Dion Phaneuf. The signings of Kovalchuk and 29-year-old defenseman Drew Doughty (eight years, $88 million) were the significant offseason moves but the Kings' failure to keep up with an NHL trending younger and faster was another part of their downfall.

Punchless offense: The Kings are last in the NHL in goals for (168) and 30th in goals per game (2.33). Special teams have been no better. Los Angeles is 26th on the power play (15.6 percent) and 30th on the penalty kill (75.4 percent). The coaching change did little to ignite the offense. The Kings scored 140 goals and averaged 2.37 per game after Nov. 4.

 

Reasons for optimism

Coaching candidates: If Desjardins doesn't return, the pool of potential coaches is plentiful. Stanley Cup winners Joel Quenneville and Randy Carlyle are available, along with veterans Todd McLellan, Alain Vigneault and Mike Yeo. If Los Angeles goes younger, options include assistant Marco Sturm and American Hockey League coaches Sheldon Keefe and Jay Woodcroft. A wild card could be Ralph Krueger, an international coaching veteran who guided Team Europe to a second-place finish at the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

Adrian Kempe: The Kings have been waiting for one of their in-house young players to blossom. The 22-year-old center did with 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 22 games after the 2019 NHL All-Star break. Considering Kempe finished without a goal in the final 25 regular-season games of 2017-18 and scored five in the first 49 this season, his second-half progression could signal a breakthrough in 2019-20.

Video: LAK@ARI: Kempe nets impressive goal on rush

In the pipeline: Kempe and a group of prospects have the potential to help launch Los Angeles into a new era. Carl Grundstrom formed instant chemistry skating to Kempe's left once they were reunited in Los Angeles following their days as linemates for Modo in the Swedish Hockey League. The 21-year-old, acquired in the Muzzin trade, was the 19th player in Kings history to score in his NHL debut after getting 39 points (16 goals; 23 assists) in 55 AHL games. Jaret Anderson-Dolan, a 19-year-old center selected in the second round (No. 41) of the 2017 NHL Draft, continued his progression for Spokane of the Western Hockey League (43 points; 20 goals, 23 assists in 32 games). Also keep an eye on another 19-year-old center, Akil Thomas. Chosen in the second round (No. 51) of the 2018 NHL Draft, Thomas had 102 points (38 goals, 64 assists) in 63 games with Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League this season and signed a three-year entry-level contract March 16.

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