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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Pacific Review: Retooling Kings boast promising future

Welcome to OilersNation’s Pacific Review in which we take a team-by-team look at the other seven teams in the Pacific Division. Today, we have the Los Angeles Kings. 

Last season: 31-42-9 (71 points) – 8th in Pacific Division 

Notable Additions: Martin Frk, Joakim Ryan, Mario Kempe. 

Notable Subtractions: Dion Phaneuf, Johnny Brodzinski, Brendan Leipsic, Nikita Scherbak. 

Father Time hasn’t been kind to the Los Angeles Kings.

At the beginning of the decade, the Kings formed a mini-dynasty. They won their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2012 with a gritty, tight-checking team that suffocated opposing teams. Two years later, they won another Stanley Cup with a team that boasted balanced, deep scoring, and rock-solid defence.

Since then, though, the Kings have slowly spiralled into mediocrity. This is the reality of being successful in the NHL’s cap era. If you win, you’ll pay for it down the road.

Last season represented the exclamation point of the Kings’ demise. After either making the playoffs or, at the very least, being in the mix from 2015 to 2018, the Kings put up just 71 points in the standings, their worst total since the 2007-08 season.

Their core has gotten old. Anze Kopitar is now 32, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter are 34, Jonathan Quick is 33, and Drew Doughty is about to enter his 30s. Last summer’s major off-season addition, Ilya Kovalchuk, didn’t help make the team any younger. He’s 36 years old and looked a step behind the NHL’s speed. Even Los Angeles’ younger key players like Tyler Toffoli and Derek Forbort are 27 and can hit free agency this summer.

Despite being in purgatory with an ageing core and an ugly cap situation, the Kings have been able to stock an impressive farm system over the past few years. Since 2017 when the focus shifted away from immediate contention, L.A. has added top prospects like Gabe Vilardi, Jarret Anderson-Dolan, Rasmus Kupari, and Akil Thomas. This year, with their first top-five pick since 2009 when they selected Brayden Schenn, the Kings grabbed Alex Turcotte, who now headlines their next wave of talent.

General manager Rob Blake didn’t do much this off-season to alter the Kings’ roster.

A big change for L.A. was hiring head coach Todd McLellan who, as we know, coached the Oilers for parts of four seasons and spent seven seasons before that in San Jose. Otherwise, it’ll be mostly the same group heading into 2019-20 for the Kings that struggled in 2018-19, save for some minor additions and subtractions made from the roster.

The focus for the Kings has now shifted to the future. While the old core that was once a legitimate annual Stanley Cup threat is now past its prime, having veterans like Kopitar, Brown, and Doughty who have seen plenty of success provides nice insulation for prospects as they work their way into the NHL.

As I said, it isn’t likely the Kings make the playoffs. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Back in 2017-18, L.A. finished with 98 points in the standings. The key to that season was a Norris-calibre season from Drew Doughty, a ridiculous 92-point, MVP-calibre season from Anze Kopitar, and excellent goaltending from Jonathan Quick. If all three of those players put up huge seasons, the Kings could be surprising. More than likely, though, 2019-20 will represent a rebuilding year for the Kings.

The best thing for L.A.’s long-term future this year would be a trade deadline firesale. Tyler Toffoli, Derek Forbort, and Kyle Clifford will all become free agents this summer. Alec Martinez and Jeff Carter could also provide a contending team with some veteran depth on a playoff run.

Last year, the Kings dealt Jake Muzzin, a key part of their Cup-winning blueline, to Toronto for a nice package of futures. More deals like this in 2020 would be huge for the Kings’ rebuild. Even if the Kings are in the mix for the playoffs in the new year, it wouldn’t make much sense to borrow from a promising future in order to make a fly-by-night run in the short-term.