1) Are the Kings a legitimate playoff team in the West this year?
Early indications sway toward optimism, as noted here. Much of this has been perpetuated by the front office's excitement to not have to say simply, "It's called rebuilding and it takes time."
Now that rebuilding is almost complete, it seems logical that playoffs are the next step.
But in a stacked Western Conference, do the youthful Los Angeles Kings really measure up?
If I may, I'd like answer this question after addressing the next four.
2) Who will play alongside Anze Kopitar on the top line this year?
The good news is that there are many legitimate options for this predicament. The bad news is that there are many legitimate options for this predicament, but in truth, this is a terrific problem to have.
Last season this was a question that really never got answered. The most productive winger playing with Kopitar and captain Dustin Brown was Patrick O'Sullivan who has since been traded. Justin Williams was acquired in that trade but was hurt for much of the year. He came on slowly at the end of the year and figures to be one of the front-runners this year for the role.
Another newcomer is in the same situation as well. Ryan Smyth was the Kings' main offseason acquisition and figures to line up on the left side.
The Kopitar-Williams-Smyth combination is an interesting blend of skillset chemistry on paper.
Kopitar is a do-it-all centerman who can skate, stick-handle, pass, shoot, and out-muscle with the best of anyone in the league.
Williams is a talented albeit injury plagued winger with good size, hands, and innate offensive ability.
Smyth the epitome of a guy who "has a nose for the net," simply because that's where he goes on every shift—straight to the crease. He is not afraid to pay the price in the dirty areas and stop at nothing to get loose pucks past opposing goaltenders. That said, he actually has decent speed, soft hands, and good vision as well.
Though with Terry Murray, nothing is set in stone and I like that. Let's not award these players the top line status until they earn it this season.
Dustin Brown was there for most of last year and figures to be in the mix for at least part of the year.
Teddy Purcell seems to be making strides and might see some 'P.T.' on the top line as well.
I think Frolov's first line days are over in L.A. and I'd be surprised if the Kings didn't trade him this year.
3) Is this the year for Jonathan Bernier to step in and take the reigns in net?
Last year, the answer was "no" strictly based on the fact that he wasn't ready. He is certainly closer to being ready this year, but not being the Kings' coach or GM I can't say for sure either way.
Regardless, there is certainly less of a need for Bernier this season.
Jonathan Quick stepped into the role of starting netminder last season and became at least reliable and occasionally above average. He is in line to provide the most consistent goaltending the Kings have had in years for at least one more season.
Erik Ersberg figures to serve as the back up.
Since the Kings have a reliable 1-2 in net, they will probably keep Bernier down in Manchester one more year to continue to develop.
4) Who will man the point on the power play?
Currently on the roster for the Kings are the following defensemen:
See any blue-line snipers? Me neither. The trend is that the names from the above list that are capable of playing the point on the PP are all born after Ferris Bueller's Day Off came out. Johnson was born in 1987, Doughty and Hickey were both born in 1989.
At this point we aren't sure that Hickey will make the big squad but I really hope he does. If he does I could actually see him getting some time on the power play—he has great vision and hands.
There are trade rumors in the works to fill this void, but at this point it looks as though Doughty and Johnson would see most of the time on the PP blue-line—unless the Kings employ the use of a forward on the point—which I could actually see happening. Jarret Stoll would fit into this role perfectly by taking the draws and sliding back to the blue line. He has a blast of a shot and is consistently tops in the league in the circle (seventh in percentage last year).
5) Will the offseason moves pay off?
Truthfully, Lombardi didn't gamble all that much this off-season. The biggest would be sending budding young blue-liner Kyle Quincey, who notched the most points among D-men on the Kings last season, along with the useless Tom Preissing to Colorado Ryan Smyth, who comes with his own price tag of near $7 mil/year.
I'd say Smyth has to bury 30 goals and provide more than just a veteran presence, but actually be a role model and mentor to the vast pool of youth on the Kings' roster.
I, for one, think he can pull it off.
Rob Scuderi was a solid free-agent acquisition, and thus he simply has to be a solid top-four defenseman in order to prove his worth. Should not be a problem.
But more than this—t's the notion that some of the high-end wingers were not worth what they eventually received. Lombardi was reportedly in the mix on Hossa, Gaborik, and Havlat, and was simply unwilling to match what they were offered by their current respective clubs. Unfortunately, the length of all their contracts (Hossa-12 years; Havlat-six years; Gaborik-five years) makes it impossible to definitively say whether they will be worth it or not after this season; however, it may be possible to decide if they were not worth it, considering they are all injury prone and at least one (Hossa) will already be missing time early this season with an injury.
At least right now, it leaks like Dean made the right decisions.
Looking back to the first question, many thing still have to be considered. Every other team in the West, regardless of whether they missed the playoffs last year or not, will be looking to improve this season as well. On paper, many have: Chicago brought in the services of Marian Hossa, San Jose won the Heatley sweepstakes, and Calgary now boasts the twin towers of Phaneuf and Bouwmeester.
The question of playoffs has been somewhat taboo in Los Angeles- until this season. So much so that the newest ad campaign for the Kings this year is just that: playoffs. And not in the Jim Mora tone.
I think with all the new found optimism and considerable improvement in lack of holes on the team, the Los Angeles Kings will at worst be fighting for a playoff spot, and realistically should finish somewhere between fifth and ninth in the Western Conference.