The Los Angeles Kings are set to begin the 2013-14 season and the question is: Will they finally win their division?
Much of the roster that went to back-to-back Western Conference Finals and won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2012 is intact. So in that sense, the lofty expectations fans and the media have for the team are justified.
The only major difference for the Kings this season is their division, which is welcoming three Canadian teams. The Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks join the Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific.
With that in mind, here is a complete preview of the Kings' 2013-14 season.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
The 25-year-old winger was acquired as part of the Jonathan Bernier trade with the Maple Leafs. Frattin stands 6'0" and weighs 205 pounds. He has good speed, a strong shot and can play a gritty, physical style. It appears he will start the season on the second line and could earn some power play time as well.
Scrivens was the other piece in the Bernier trade and should be a strong backup to Quick. At age 27, he has just 32 games of NHL experience, but had a number of strong performances when James Reimer was hurt last season. Scrivens went 7-9-0 with a .915 save percentage, 2.69 goal-against average and two shutouts in 2013.
The Kings sent a sixth-round pick to Chicago in exchange for the 28-year-old winger. However, if he plays 40 or more games it becomes a fifth-round selection. Carcillo has struggled to play consistently in the last couple years because of a knee injury. He will likely be in and out of the lineup in LA, playing limited minutes on the fourth line.
The 25-year-old netminder who had been stuck in a backup role for years now gets a chance to compete for a starting job in Toronto. General manager Dean Lombardi dealt him to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Scrivens, Frattin and a second-round draft pick. Look for Bernier to take hold of the starting job early in the season and never relinquish it.
Penner is back in Anaheim after signing a one-year, $2 million contract (per CapGeek) with the club this offseason. Penner has been a good depth forward for the Kings over the last three years. He notched 14 points last season and was a big part of LA's Cup run in 2012, recording three goals and eight assists for 11 points in 20 games. He should play a similar role in Anaheim.
The 34-year-old defenseman is also returning to where his NHL career got started. Scuderi signed a four-year, $13.5 million deal (per CapGeek) with the Penguins, the team he helped win the Cup in 2009 before signing with LA. Even this late in his career Scuderi remains a solid stay-at-home defenseman. Watch for Scuderi to be a key component to the Penguins' Cup run this year.
Like many NHL teams, the Kings made some last-minute roster moves to meet the 23-player limit and comply with the $64.3 million salary cap. LA waived defenseman Jeff Schultz and sent forwards Tanner Pearson, Linden Vey and Tyler Toffoli to the AHL's Manchester Monarchs. However, don't be surprised if any of these three or defenseman Derek Forbort are called up at some point this season.
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Dustin Brown||Anze Kopitar||Justin Williams|
|Matt Frattin||Mike Richards||Jeff Carter|
|Dwight King||Jarret Stoll||Trevor Lewis|
|Kyle Clifford||Colin Fraser||Jordan Nolan|
Daniel Carcillo may not be the odd man out by the time the puck drops Tuesday in Minnesota. But for now, Nolan has the edge because of his experience with the Kings.
As for Brown, there was some question as to whether he'd be ready for the first game as he recovers from a hamstring injury. According to Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times, the captain is confident he will play stating, "If you ask me—100 percent. Barring no setbacks."
The Kings don't have a player who will produce 100 points, but they do have great depth and the luxury of being able to roll out three lines in almost any situation.
|Drew Doughty||Robyn Regehr|
|Willie Mitchell||Slava Voynov|
|Alec Martinez||Matt Greene|
Extra blueliners: Jake Muzzin and Keaton Ellerby.
A good mix of quick, offensively-gifted defensemen and tough, shutdown defensemen makes LA's blue line one of the NHL's best. Mitchell and Voynov should develop chemistry and make great strides individually by the Olympic break.
As previously mentioned, 21-year-old Tyler Toffoli was sent down to Manchester for the start of the 2013-14 season.
Toffoli showed great promise during his time in LA last season. He appeared in 10 games, notching five points and a plus-three rating. In the postseason, he appeared in 12 games, recording two goals and four assists for six points and a plus-five rating.
Toffoli has all the tools to play in the NHL, but a numbers game, combined with his age and inexperience, leave him on the outside looking in. For now.
It shouldn't come as a surprise if Toffoli plays 30 (or more) games with the Kings this season. Standing 6'1" and weighing 196 pounds, Toffoli has all the makings of a top-six forward. He has great speed, puck-handling skills and a quick release.
He spent time on the second line with Richards and Carter last season and could work his way back to that spot some day, although it will be tough with Frattin now on the line. At the very least, Toffoli should play solid minutes on the third line alongside Stoll.
If there is an injury or LA is having trouble producing on offense for a period of time, Toffoli will be the first to get the call. For now, he will likely form one of the AHL's best lines with Vey and Pearson.
Best Case: No. 1 in Pacific and Western Conference
It starts with a division title and ends with a win in their final playoff game. However, the Kings haven't won their division since 1990-91, their first and only division crown. In fact, since they went to the finals in 1993, the Kings have finished third or worse in the Pacific in all but three seasons.
To secure a division title and home ice for at least a portion of the playoffs, the Kings need to get off to a good start and play consistently throughout the season. It sounds obvious, but it's something they have failed to do in each of the past two years.
LA needs solid production from all six players on the top two lines and a power play which scores on at least 20 percent of its chances. Smart, physical play from the defense and, of course, great goaltending from Jonathan Quick are all keys to success.
Worst Case: No. 4 in Pacific and No. 7 in Western Conference
Forget the 2011-12 playoffs for a moment and look back on that regular season. A repeat of that campaign is the worst-case scenario for the club in 2013-14.
The Kings finished 29th in the league in goals per game, and with 95 points they just snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the West. Quick was the only bright spot on a team that failed to meet even the lowest expectations.
This season it will take a combination of average goaltending from Quick, a lack of goal scoring five-on-five and a weak power play for the Kings to end up a wild-card team. Also, injuries could play a factor specifically if veteran players like Willie Mitchell and Jarret Stoll were to miss a lot of time.
The Kings have the potential to go deep in the playoffs for a third consecutive year.
This season they will make that task a little easier by finally finishing atop the Pacific Division and securing home-ice advantage for at least part of the postseason.
Anze Kopitar will lead the team in points for a remarkable seventh straight season. The line of Matt Frattin, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter will be strong on the forecheck and provide consistent goal scoring.
Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov will be brilliant at both ends of the rink and also play key roles at the Olympics. Finally, Jonathan Quick will be at his best, earning a Vezina nomination at season's end.
Prediction: No. 1 in Pacific and No. 3 in Western Conference