NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the Los Angeles Kings.
A close look at the Los Angeles Kings last season revealed some cracks in their armor, even after they took the proper steps to seal them.
Los Angeles led the Pacific Division for much of the season and finished one point behind the Anaheim Ducks for first place, only to be eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round. Even after the midseason acquisitions of center Vincent Lecavalier and defenseman Luke Schenn seemed to solidify their lineup, the Kings couldn't fully fill roles behind their top players and lost to the Sharks in five games.
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"We knew we were vulnerable," general manager Dean Lombardi said. "We really got exposed in the playoffs. … I also think we had some mental issues in terms of having dealt with success, and a good punch in the nose like we got in the playoffs hopefully woke us all up."
That was supposed to be the motivating theme two seasons ago, when the defending champion Kings missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They have no playoff series victories since winning the Cup in 2014 and face another uphill path this season because they're up against the $73 million NHL salary cap.
The Kings have been right at the cap for several years because of big contracts for centers Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, right wings Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, defenseman Drew Doughty, and goaltender Jonathan Quick. As a result, they couldn't re-sign left wing Milan Lucic, who signed a seven-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers, and were quiet in free agency.
Video: NYR@LAK: Kopitar tips OT winner past Lundqvist
Lombardi's best signings were defenseman Tom Gilbert (one year, reportedly worth $1.4 million) and backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff (two years, reportedly worth $1.8 million, with an average annual value of $900,000) to fill depth needs, along with the signings of forwards Teddy Purcell (one year, reportedly worth $1.6 million) and Michael Latta (one year, reportedly worth $600,000), and defenseman Zach Trotman (one year, reportedly worth $650,000).
With fewer than $30,000 of salary cap space, according to General Fanager, the Kings again will rely heavily on their foundation, which shifted when Kopitar took over the captaincy for Brown on June 16. Kopitar signed an eight-year contract extension in January reportedly worth $80 million (AAV $10 million) and won the Selke Trophy to firmly establish himself as the face of the Kings.
"I think that one of the problems that we've had with our success is that thing I said four years ago: Whenever you've won, it's not recapturing the feeling, it's re-inventing the feeling," Lombardi said. "And that requires these guys now to establish their own identity, their own basis to lead and their own basis to get to the same place that Dustin took us."
Lombardi is big on identity, and he doesn't feel that needs to change by following the blueprint of the Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and their strong skating game.
"I'm not into flavor of the month," Lombardi said.
The Kings remain top-heavy with Kopitar, Quick, Norris Trophy winner Doughty and 31-goal scorer Tyler Toffoli. Lombardi points to their 12-3 record in 3-on-3 overtime last season as evidence of their skill.
Defensively, Los Angeles continues to be exceptional, with 192 goals allowed last season, second-fewest in the Western Conference behind the Ducks (188).
Video: EDM@LAK: Toffoli notches his second goal of the game
The concern going forward is whether the Kings have enough depth to withstand injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness by their established players. They need unproven players such as forwards Nick Shore and Andy Andreoff to contribute and their other prospects to develop, or at least make a case in training camp. If help isn't coming through a trade, Los Angeles needs to build up its organizational depth.
The loss of Lucic stings even more because he came to the Kings on June 26, 2015, in a trade with the Boston Bruins at the price of goaltender Martin Jones (who was then traded to and signed by the Sharks, helping them to the Stanley Cup Final last season), a first-round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft and defense prospect Colin Miller.
But Kopitar, Carter, Doughty and Quick each remains in his prime, and the Kings have vast experience and leadership. Is it enough to keep their championship window open?
Lombardi spoke about sticking with Los Angeles' philosophy when he discussed the leadership change.
"We're going to get there a different way, but I don't see us changing our values and our identity," he said.