The Los Angeles Kings have surprised the National Hockey League with their ascent from the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. Even more surprising has been the dominating fashion by which Los Angeles has come within one game of winning the Stanley Cup.
Los Angeles has a strong young core of players who could continue this dominance over the league if they stay together. The Kings have a goaltender in Jonathan Quick who looks like the NHL’s best heading into 2012-13.
There are a few other teams who could match the kind of success the Kings have achieved lately: either spontaneous or dominating. Some such teams have already showed promise, while others could show promise next season with strong enough play to sneak into the postseason.
Let’s take a look at five teams who could be the Los Angeles Kings of 2012-13.
Under head coach Bruce Boudreau, who replaced Randy Carlyle after 24 games, the Anaheim Ducks posted a winning record. Though the Ducks missed the playoffs in 2011-12, a full season with the former Washington Capitals head coach could be just what the team needs to reach the playoffs in 2012-13.
Anaheim has some excellent offensive players in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. This trio’s on-ice teachers include Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu. These five led the Ducks in scoring in 2011-12.
At 41 years of age, Selanne continues to play at a high level. The career resume of “The Finnish Flash” includes 10 All-Star nominations, two First-Team All-Star nominations, 663 goals (12th all time), and a Stanley Cup in 2007 with Anaheim. Keeping Selanne around next season would greatly benefit the Ducks.
At 37 years old, Koivu also provides the Ducks with veteran leadership. Among the decorated Ducks is Perry, who won the 2010-11 Hart Trophy.
Goaltender Jonas Hiller led all NHL netminders in games played (73). He made the All-Star Game last season. If Hiller can play up to All-Star form again in 2012-13, Anaheim can surely sneak into the postseason and upend some more highly regarded Western Conference teams, like the Los Angeles Kings.
The success of the Kings will add to the fire of this Southern California hockey rivalry.
The Buffalo Sabres nearly made the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2011-12, as they finished ninth in the conference. Buffalo changed a lot over last offseason, so more time spent in Lindy Ruff’s system should help this team.
The Sabres made a splash in the summer of 2011, as they signed players like Christian Erhoff, Ville Leino and Robyn Regehr. These acquisitions added to an already solid core of players, which includes Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville and Tyler Myers.
Buffalo’s success in 2012-13, though, hinges on goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller’s performance has dropped off since winning the 2009-10 Vezina Trophy, and the Los Angeles Kings’ Jonathan Quick has possibly dethroned Miller as the best American goaltender. This should be enough motivation for Miller to have a bounce-back season.
Team USA rode Miller to the silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and Buffalo could do the same in 2012-13.
The Avalanche played middle-of-the-road hockey this past season, and with so many young players, they should play even better in the near future.
Gabriel Landeskog, the second overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, is a Calder Trophy finalist. Joining him at forward in Colorado are budding superstars like Ryan O’Reilly, Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene. A full season of Steve Downie’s physical play and occasional goal scoring should bring the Avalanche to greater heights in 2012-13.
Team captain Milan Hejduk has elected to return on a one-year deal. Hejduk won a Stanley Cup championship in Colorado in 2001. He will provide this young group with veteran leadership for at least one more season.
Defensman Erik Johnson must live up to his potential this season. Johnson was drafted first overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He posted a minus-6 plus/minus rating in 2011-12, which must be improved upon as a star defenseman.
With Jean-Sebastian Giguere another year older in 2012-13, look for Semyon Varlamov to see even more time in net.
The Avalanche must overcome a strong Vancouver Canucks team in the Northwest Division, as well as other more experienced Western Conference foes, but anything can happen.
The New York Rangers won the Eastern Conference regular season title. The Rangers compare strongly to the Los Angeles Kings.
New York has an American captain in Ryan Callahan. Los Angeles also has an American captain in Dustin Brown. Both players scored 54 points in 2011-12. Both players averaged over 20 minutes on the ice per game.
The Rangers and the Kings played outstanding defense this past season. Both teams employ a defensive-minded system and Vezina Trophy finalist goaltenders in Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick. Both teams ranked in the top five on the penalty kill as well.
These teams almost met each other in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. They should be amongst the favorites to represent their conferences in the finals next season.
Former Kings and current Flyers Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.
The Philadelphia Flyers and the Los Angeles Kings have built up an extremely connected history over the last few years, so much so that a few Flyers who reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010 are current Kings.
On June 23, 2011, the Flyers traded captain Mike Richards to the Kings. In return, the Flyers acquired Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.
On July 2, 2011, former Flyer Simon Gagne signed with the Kings as a free agent after spending the 2010-11 season with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On February 23, 2012, former Flyer Jeff Carter was traded to the Kings from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The comparisons do not end on the ice.
Prior to the 2008-09 season, former Flyers head coach Terry Murray took the same position in Los Angeles. John Stevens became an assistant coach with the Kings after the Flyers fired him from the head coaching post during the 2009-10 season. Ron Hextall, the standout goaltender for the Flyers in the late 1980s and 1990s, serves as the Kings’ assistant general manager.
The Carolina Hurricanes also traded former Flyer Justin Williams to the Kings during the 2008-09 season.
Philadelphia has the firepower to dominate a playoff series like the Kings have done. The Flyers played just as well offensively in 2011-12 as the Kings did defensively. With the number of rookies Philadelphia put on the ice this season, the future looks even stronger.
The goaltending is just as strong as in Los Angeles from a name perspective. Ilya Bryzgalov established himself as one of the league’s most underrated goaltenders as a Phoenix Coyote.
Aside from some flashes of brilliance in March 2012, Bryzgalov has not met the expectations that come with the goaltender position in Philadelphia. He surely has the talent to keep pace with Quick in 2012-13, and with a greater understanding of the Philly atmosphere, he should improve.
Heading into the 2012-13 season, should hockey fans continue to call the Kings “Flyers West,” or are the Flyers now “Kings East?”