Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Pacific Preview: The Kings need their stars to dominate

This is one part of a multi-part series profiling the teams of the Pacific Division from an Oilers perspective. 

The Kings have spent their past four seasons since winning the 2012 Stanley Cup bouncing in and out of the playoffs. Will that trend continue in 2018-19?

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What did they do last season?

  • 45-29-8 – 98 points (4th in Pacific) 
  • 239 goals for (17th in the NHL)
  • 203 goals against (1st in NHL)

It’s been a rollercoaster for the Los Angeles Kings since they won their second-ever Stanley Cup in 2013-14. They missed the playoffs the following season, rebounded and made it back, and then ended up on the outside looking in after that, and, all throughout the process, the Kings have been navigating through the deepest depths of cap hell.

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The failed season in 2016-17 ultimately cost general manager Dean Lombardi and head coach Darry Sutter, two key leaders behind the Kings’ only two championships, their jobs. Rob Blake stepped into the general manager role while John Stevens was promoted from assistant coach to head coach. The Kings responded with a 98-point season, good enough to get them back into the playoffs again.

Key to their success was comeback performances from Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, and, most shockingly, Dustin Brown.

Kopitar had a disappointing 2016-17 season after inking a mammoth $80 million deal prior to the season. He scored just 52 points over the course of 76 games, setting a new personal career-low for any non-lockout season. Then, in 2017-18, he rebounded for a career-high 92 points. Kopitar also took home the Selke Trophy for the second time in his career and finished third in Hart Trophy voting. Jonathan Quick spent most of 2016-17 on the Injured Reserve but had a healthy 2017-18 season, posting a .921 save percentage.

Ken Holland and Cost Certainty

The biggest surprise, though, was Dustin Brown, who appeared to be over the hill half a decade ago. Brown, at the tender age of 33, scored 28 goals, representing the first time he broke the 20-goal plateau since 2011-12, and set a new career-high in points with 61. That was huge for the team given the fact Jeff Carter missed most of the season due to injury.

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L.A. managed to work their way back into the playoffs thanks to an MVP-calibre season from Kopitar, some clutch out-of-nowhere offence from Brown, an excellent blueline led by Drew Doughty, and strong play from Jonathan Quick. They were average at scoring goals, but nobody allowed fewer goals against than the Kings did last season.

Feb 24, 2018; Gangneung, South Korea; Olympic Athlete from Russia forward Ilya Kovalchuk (71) celebrates beating Germany in the men’s ice hockey gold medal match during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Gangneung Hockey Centre. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

What did they do in the off-season?

  • Notable additions: Ilya Kovalchuk, Peter Budaj.
  • Notable subtractions: Tobias Rieder, Andy Andreoff, Kevin Gravel, Scott Wedgewood.
  • Other stuff: Re-signed Drew Doughty to an eight-year deal.

The Kings made two major decisions this off-season.

They re-signed Drew Doughty to an eight-year extension worth $11 million annually. Doughty was set to hit the open market for the first time in his career after the 2018-19 season, but this deal locks him up until 2027.

Their other big move was adding unrestricted free agent Ilya Kovalchuk to the mix on a three-year contract. Kovalchuk has been out of the NHL since the end of the 2013 lockout-shortened season. He spent five full seasons in the KHL on a dominant SKA St. Petersburg team and he helped Russia to an Olympic gold medal in Pyeongchang.

Morning Report: Oilers @ Panthers (15 February)
Jan 2, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) looks for a pass in front of Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

What’s going to happen this season?

Beyond bringing in Kovalchuk, having a fully healthy season from Jeff Carter will also be a major addition for the Kings this season. Like I said, they were average at scoring goals in 2017-18 and it’s difficult to imagine Dustin Brown being as good as he was again, but a full season of Carter and the added bonus of Kovalchuk will give the Kings a boost offensively.

But in order for the Kings to make the playoffs and end their back-and-forth yo-yo streak of making it one year and missing it the next, they’ll need their stars to be as good for them as they were last year. It’s inevitable Doughty will put up a Norris-calibre season at this point and it’s reasonable to expect Quick to be good too, but it’s hard to say if Kopitar can be as absurdly effective again.

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Kopitar just turned 31 years old in August. Can he continue to carry the Kings on his shoulders as the team’s point-per-game offensive leader and top defensive forward playing against the other team’s best competition at roughly 22 minutes a night again? It’s a big ask. And if he can’t, the Kings don’t have much to fall back on.

The Kings are what they are at this point. A solid, but old team with a very good core. If that core is as good as it can be, the Kings will do well. But there isn’t much room for error for Kopitar, Doughty, and Quick so the Kings are far from a guarantee in this hyper-competitive Pacific Division.

Los Angeles Kings cap situation

Los Angeles Kings projected lineup