Alec Martinez emerged as the hero for the second straight series as the Los Angeles Kings completed their wild ride through the postseason with a win over the New York Rangers in Game 5. It marks the second championship in three seasons for the Kings.
The series wasn't as lopsided as the 4-1 score would suggest. Los Angeles just played better in the crucial moments, which was a theme throughout the playoffs. It's amazing to think the Kings were once down 3-0 in the opening round against the San Jose Sharks and fought all the way back to this point.
Now the championship celebration is on, and it will last for awhile. That said, it won't be long before the focus shifts to next season for both Stanley Cup Final teams. So let's take a look at what the offseason may hold for both the Kings and Rangers.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings front office, led by general manager Dean Lombardi, deserves a lot of credit. The group has built a roster that's tailor-made for postseason play, with a virtually perfect combination of offensive firepower and defensive grit, which are both essential to playoff success.
In turn, the results during the regular season haven't jumped off the page. The Kings finished eighth in the Western Conference two years ago and sixth this season. Yet Los Angeles still ended up getting a pair of championship parades because the team was so tough to play in the postseason.
The journey was a little more difficult this time around, especially after falling in that 3-0 hole to start off. Scott Burnside of ESPN passed along comments from Jarret Stoll, who talked about the difference between the two playoff runs:
It definitely puts things in a different perspective with how hard it was, not that it wasn't hard two years ago, but we had to go through so much this year with the comebacks and the battles and the teams we played. It was a long road. It took everybody.
His last sentence stands out above the rest. For the Kings to win the Cup this year, it really took everybody. They weren't a team overly dependent on one or two lines. It was a true team effort, with 19 different skaters registering points and even a few appearances for backup goalie Martin Jones.
Which team should be the early 2014-15 favorite?
The good news for Los Angeles is that most of the roster is under contract beyond this season.
The exceptions are Marian Gaborik, Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene. Given the team's depth at the back, re-signing one of Mitchell or Greene would probably be enough. A short-term deal for Mitchell is the best option.
Gaborik is a more interesting case. Once a premier scorer, he's had a couple of lackluster regular seasons in a row. But he exploded for 14 goals in 26 playoff games to play a key role en route to the Cup. If the Kings can't bring him back, replacing him becomes the top offseason priority.
New York Rangers
While the Kings focus on a couple of moves, things figure to become far more busy for the Rangers in the weeks ahead. The team that takes the ice on opening night next season probably will look quite different than the one from Game 5 Friday night.
New York has six players slated for unrestricted free agency, most of them being glue guys who provided the secondary scoring punch behind the big names. Then there's five more restricted free agents, highlighted by one of the playoffs' breakout stars in Chris Kreider.
Katie Strang of ESPN New York notes a couple other decisions that will need to be had:
Maybe the worst part for all of those involved is that the group will never again get a chance with the team constituted as it currently stands. [Brad] Richards has likely played his last game as a Ranger, with a potential buyout looming. Rick Nash, with another disappointing postseason performance, might not be long for Broadway.
Mats Zuccarello, another one of the restricted free agents, led the team in scoring with just 59 points. All season long, the Rangers relied on a balanced attack, and it's very difficult to replicate that success when there's a ton of player movement.
The question general manager Glen Sather must answer is whether he wants to target top free agents like Thomas Vanek and Paul Stastny, which would take up a large portion of cap space. The other option is re-signing as many players as possible and then adding low-priced free agents to fill the remaining voids.
Getting the restricted free agents locked up, most importantly Kreider and Zuccarello, will give Sather a better look at exactly how much he has to spend on the open market. Moving Nash and Richards would obviously give the Rangers more flexibility, if they go that route as Strang suggested.
Ultimately, changes are coming to New York one way or another. The Rangers just have to hope their roster is equally as strong when the dust settles after the free-agency surge.