Underestimate the Los Angeles Kings at Your Own Risk in 2013-14 NHL Season
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Shame on you puck prognosticators everywhere.
With goalie Jonathan Quick, top-line center Anze Kopitar and No. 1 defenseman Drew Doughty—all established and young All-Stars who possess upside—manning the most important positions on the ice, the Los Angeles Kings have to be considered a Stanley Cup favorite.
Yet they are not the sexy preseason pick.
The defending champion Chicago Blackhawks are the consensus choice. Vegas Insider likes the Pittsburgh Penguins and Bodog (h/t Odds Shark) favors Chicago. Both see the Kings' championship odds as no better than 12-to-1, with higher expectations for the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues.
It obviously takes more than three players to form a great team. A champion displays all sorts of characteristics, needs to avoid the injury bug and has to get its fair share of good fortune along the way.
Those things are a lot harder to control and forecast.
What the Kings can control—personnel decisions, player development and molding a roster around an identity their coach and general manager demand—is an area in which Los Angeles excels.
The Kings might be two-time defending champs if not for better health by the time they reached the third round last season. But 13 games of physical battles with first the Blues and then the San Jose Sharks added up by the time the Kings faced the 'Hawks.
Now, starting fresh, the Kings' roster looks better than it did at the outset of last year when they made virtually no changes from a franchise-first Stanley Cup in 2012.
The players whom general manager Dean Lombardi has assembled fit the way the Kings and coach Darryl Sutter want to play to a tee.
The Kings like to play fast and hard, and they can do that because of their top-end skill and team depth. It starts in goal with Quick, who has been outstanding in each of the last two postseasons. A team plays confidently in front of an elite goalie and the Kings skate with that swagger.
How far will the Kings go?
Only 23 years old, Doughty is good now and he'll get better. Drafting and developing a No. 1 defenseman is never easy, but in Doughty, the Kings have struck gold.
He can log big minutes while matching up against opposing top-line players, he has offensive skills and he possesses great leadership ability.
Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin burst on the scene last season flashing offensive skills in addition to fitting Sutter's demanding attention to defense done the right way. Where the Kings really benefit this season is with the return of Willie Mitchell (two knee surgeries later) and Matt Greene, a pair that was hurt last season.
All that defense is nice, but what completes the Kings is their depth up front.
At 26, Kopitar is underrated for his defensive play, strong on faceoffs and a creative, dominant force in the offensive zone.
If Kopitar is going well, opponents have to key on him. That just helps the duo of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The pair came up as highly regarded prospects in the Philadelphia Flyers' system, but due to some rumored locker room turmoil and the fact that general manager Paul Holmgren needed to clear cap space in order to sign Ilya Bryzgalov, both were traded in 2011.
Lombardi was smart enough to reunite them in a market where hockey is not nearly as much under the microscope, and it's working.
Jarret Stoll, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams are all dependable and playoff-style players like Kopitar, Richards and Carter. There is no team as deep up front.
The Kings' depth will allow them to match up against Chicago, Pittsburgh and any other team deemed to be elite.
Yes, there will be injuries and times when teams do not play as well.
The season ebbs and flows—it's a marathon rather than a sprint. The Kings have enough players who understand the grind and what a difficult and challenging climb is ahead because they have been through it before.
That's not to say the Blackhawks, Penguins and other up-and-comers don't have similar experience to draw upon, but with how L.A.'s roster looks now and the fact that it could could get better by the trade deadline, don't be surprised if the Kings get fit for another crown by season's end.
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