The Los Angeles Kings have won the 2012 Stanley Cup, their first in team history. Considering their playoff dominance and the players on their roster, the Kings appear to be built for long-term success.
However, there have been other teams over the last few years that appeared to be capable of winning multiple championships and failed to do so.
The NHL hasn’t had a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Before that, it was the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992. While arguments can be made for the Red Wings and Devils teams of the 1990s and 2000s, the last true dynasty was the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980’s, who won Stanley Cups in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990.
Can the Kings become the NHL’s next dynasty?
Youth and the Salary Cap
The salary cap has played a significant role in increasing parity in the NHL. The difference between the NHL’s best teams and those in the middle of the pack isn’t as great as it once was. In 2010 the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds battled for the Eastern Conference title. In 2006 the Edmonton Oilers, a No. 8 seed, came within one win of the Stanley Cup.
This year the eighth seeded Kings dominated the playoffs. The Kings were considered a strong team going into the season, but they underachieved, finishing 29th in the NHL in scoring. Don’t expect the Kings to finish eighth in the west or be second last in scoring next season.
The 2012 playoffs revealed the true potential of the Kings and cemented Dean Lombardi’s job as GM. Lombardi has assembled a solid group of strong, talented players. The Kings are young enough that they could be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders for the next five years.
The Kings average age is 26.5 and many of their top players are under 28 and just entering their prime. Captain Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are all 27 years old. Drew Doughty is only 22, Anze Kopitar is 24 and Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick is 26.
All of these players are under contract next season, along with backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier, Justin Williams, Simon Gagne and all of the Kings’ defensemen. In fact, the only unrestricted free agents are Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll, Colin Fraser and Scott Parse.
With over $15 million in cap space, Lombardi shouldn’t have a problem re-signing these players or replacing them if necessary. What he will do in the years following 2013, with a player like Quick due for a substantial raise, remains to be seen.
Talent and Depth
It’s not just the youth of the team that makes them a contender for years to come; it’s their depth, grit, offensive and defensive abilities.
Jonathan Quick has proven himself as an elite NHL goaltender and Bernier is a capable backup who could be a starter on many NHL teams. Combining for a 2.07 goal-against average in the 2012 regular season, the Kings goaltending duo was second to only the St. Louis Blues.
The Kings' defense is led by Drew Doughty who has great abilities in both the defensive and offensive zones. The Kings' oldest player, Willie Mitchell, is only 35 and logged huge minutes in the playoffs. Depth is the Kings greatest strength as all six blueliners were plus players in the postseason, playing disciplined, effective hockey.
On offense the Kings boast skilled forwards who are willing to play tough, two-way hockey. Anze Kopitar is consistently the team’s leading scorer in both the regular season and playoffs. Captain Dustin Brown led the team in hits throughout the 2012 season and playoffs, while also contributing offensively. With a second line of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner, a third line of Jarret Stoll, Trevor Lewis and Dwight King, the Kings have significant depth at forward.
Dean Lombardi has assembled a well rounded team through the draft and by pulling the trigger on the right trades at the right times. He also made a brilliant move hiring Darryl Sutter midseason as head coach.
With the right line combinations, motivation and good health, the Kings can continue to be one of the top teams in the NHL.
Factors Working Against Dynasties
Along with the salary cap, there are a few factors that make building a dynasty a tough task.
One factor is the long, grueling schedule a team must endure to hoist the Stanley Cup. The regular season begins in October, with training camp and exhibition games preceding that, the offseason can be short for a Stanley Cup finalist.
The Penguins and Red Wings made it to back-to-back finals in 2008 and 2009, but neither team has gotten past the second round since.
Injuries can also be a key factor, just ask Crosby and the Penguins. The Kings were lucky enough to remain, for the most part, healthy throughout the later part of the 2012 season and the playoffs. They will need to stay healthy to have a chance at building a dynasty.
Finally, perhaps the most obvious factor: the competition. The Pittsburgh Penguins have long been viewed as having the potential to create their own dynasty. With a healthy team next year and Vokoun backing up Fleury, perhaps the Penguins will go all the way.
Let’s not forget the Kings' opponents in the west. The Canucks will once again have a strong team that will contend for the President’s trophy and the Stanley Cup. The central division still boasts a number of tough teams including the Red Wings, Blackhawks, Blues and Predators. Although there could be some significant changes to those teams come July 1st.
The Kings have a young group of players who have the talent and grit needed for sustained success. Dean Lombardi and his staff have done a great job on the management end and they don’t appear to be in cap trouble, yet. Coach Darryl Sutter now has the experience of two finals appearances and clearly the players have bought into his system. However, as mentioned above, there are a number of factors that make it difficult to win multiple championships in a small time frame.
Do the Kings have what it takes to form a dynasty? Yes, but until they’re playing in the Stanley Cup Finals for a second straight year, there is no reason to believe they’re any different from any of the other recent champions.