An update on the Kings and a glance ahead, from Yahoo Sports...
Inside Shots: Los Angeles Kings Team Report
Yahoo Sports, June 5, 2009
Depending on which way the wind blows—or, more accurately, on the whims of general manager Dean Lombardi—this could either be a very mundane summer for the Kings or one of the most exciting summers in franchise history.
The roster, as presently constructed, doesn’t require many decisions. The two unrestricted free agents, Kyle Calder and Denis Gauthier, are essentially spare parts who could easily be replaced if they don’t re-sign. Notable restricted free agents Jack Johnson, Brian Boyle and Teddy Purcell are likely to be retained.
The question for Lombardi then becomes: How bold does he want to be between now and mid-September?
Lombardi has publicly stated that the Kings need help on the wings, particularly in terms of acquiring a high-scoring left winger. Since the free agent market for wingers isn’t deep, a trade is the most likely scenario.
Lombardi has the pieces, in terms of prospects and draft picks, to make a major trade but has hedged his bets by saying that he won’t overpay. It’s probably a 50-50 bet that Lombardi will either stand pat and wait until 2010 to acquire a top scorer or make a bold move around the time of the entry draft.
Season Highlight: The Kings were already fading from playoff contention on March 5, but they stirred the home fans with a comeback victory over Dallas. Michal Handzus scored with 3:18 remaining in the third period to close the Kings’ deficit to 4-3, Anze Kopitar tied it with 14 seconds remaining and Handzus completed a hat trick when he scored 1:31 into overtime to give the Kings a 5-4 victory.
Turning Point: The Kings returned home on Feb. 12, after an outstanding East Coast road trip in which they went 4-1 and moved a season-best three games over .500, and had one of their worst efforts of the season. A 2-0 loss to Calgary, in which they were outshot 36-20 and allowed three power-play goals, sent the Kings on a spiral. It was the start of an 11-game stretch in which the Kings went 2-7-2 and fell out of playoff contention.
• For the first time in his three-year tenure, GM Dean Lombardi wrote an “open letter” to Kings fans on May 26, a letter that was posted on the Kings’ website. Lombardi, who frequently holds “town hall” style meetings with fans and recently held a conference call with season-ticket holders, gave fans an update on the team’s status entering the fourth season of his rebuilding process. The lengthy letter included a statistical breakdown of the recently completed season and included Lombardi’s assertion that “there is no question in my mind that we have made significant progress these past few seasons toward reaching our ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup.”
• Andrei Loktionov wasn’t highly regarded last summer, when the Kings selected him in the fifth round of the entry draft, but Loktionov’s stock is rising quickly. Loktionov recently completed a successful run with the Windsor Spitfires, who won the Memorial Cup. Loktionov, in his first year of North American junior hockey, had a solid regular season but really turned it on in the playoffs. In the Memorial Cup, Loktionov had seven points (two goals, five assists) in six games as they Spitfires rallied from an 0-2 start to win four consecutive games and the tournament.
Quote To Note: “We have taken many positive steps as an organization this past season but were unable to climb into playoff positioning as the season wore on. I want to assure you that all of our end-of-season discussions with our players involved a clear message and understanding that next season carries an expectation that we will be playing playoff hockey.”—Kings GM Dean Lombardi, in his “open letter” to Kings fans.
Most Valuable Player: The Kings anticipated that Drew Doughty, the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, would make the team out of training camp. What they couldn’t have anticipated is that Doughty would lead the team in average ice time, at almost 24 minutes per game, be a stalwart on the power play and penalty kill and show leadership qualities. It’s hard not to think of Doughty as a future Norris Trophy candidate.
Most Disappointing Player: The Kings thought Jack Johnson, in his second full NHL season, would be ready to take a huge step forward. He might have been, but in the second game of the season, Johnson tore the labrum in his left shoulder and needed surgery that caused him to miss half the season. When Johnson returned, he had a few strong games but was never the impact defenseman the Kings anticipated he would be.
Free Agent Focus: None of the Kings’ top five forwards (in terms of points) or top five defensemen (in terms of minutes played) will be free agents this summer. Winger Kyle Calder and defenseman Denis Gauthier are the Kings’ two biggest unrestricted free agents. Forwards Brian Boyle and Teddy Purcell and defenseman Jack Johnson are the top restricted free agents.
• D Jack Johnson is a restricted free agent this summer and is expected to sign at least a short-term contract, but the story took a weird twist in mid-May when TSN reported that Johnson’s father, Jack Sr., had contacted a Russia-based KHL team about signing his son to a contract. Johnson fired his agent, the widely respected Pat Brisson, and reportedly has been represented by his father and a lawyer. Johnson, one of the Kings’ top young defensemen, was limited to 41 games last season because of an early season shoulder injury.
• G Jonathan Quick will have the inside track toward being the Kings’ starting goalie in the fall, and the argument could be made that the Kings would have made the playoffs this year if he had been their starting goalie all season. Quick, called up in December after Jason LaBarbera got traded to Vancouver, had 21 wins and a .914 save percentage in 41 starts. LaBarbera had five wins and an .893 save percentage in 16 starts. Quick is expected to compete with this season’s backup, Erik Ersberg, and Jonathan Bernier for the Kings’ starting job.
• C Brian Boyle faces a critical offseason. A former first-round draft pick of the Kings, Boyle has been a borderline NHL player in his first two seasons, one who has displayed a scoring touch but has been criticized for a lack of physical play, considering that he’s 6-foot-7. Boyle, the No. 26 overall pick in 2003, totaled four goals and one assist in 28 games in 2008-09 while serving primarily as the Kings’ fourth-line center. Boyle enjoyed some late season success, increasing the possibility that the Kings will sign him to a new contract and give him a chance to earn one of the team’s center spots.
• C Jarret Stoll missed the final eight games of the season with a groin injury but is not expected to require any offseason surgery.
• D Kyle Quincey missed the final seven games of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back and is expected to be back at full strength for the start of training camp.