Finally, after years of high draft picks and a lack of playoff hockey, the Kings are poised to be a contender. The outlook is positive for the Los Angeles Kings right now. This off-season was a little bit of an enigma. There was a lot of anticipation regarding Ilya Kovalchuk and all of the skills that he brings to the table. While the Kovalchuk signing never panned out, let's take a look at a few of the key moves that Dean Lombardi made during the summer.
- Signed Willie Mitchell to a two-year deal worth $7 million.
- Signed Alexei Ponikarovsky to a one-year deal worth $3 million.
- Let Alex Frolov go (he proceeded to sign with the Rangers)
Those are the three big events that described the 2010 off-season for the Kings. Each of these things has played a part in the Kings becoming a contender this season. It's a change in culture and a desire to win. Willie Mitchell is one of the premier shut down players in the entire league. Players like him don't come along all the time. If Willie can remain healthy, this signing could be looked at as the biggest steal of the summer. Had it not been for the concussion that nearly destroyed his hockey career, Mitchell could have easily demanded Dan Hamhuis money or Anton Volchenkov money. Dean Lombardi took a risk, but the potential rewards are incredible. What will Willie bring to the Kings? He will bring leadership, and a calming presence on the blue line. You could see it in Vancouver, he helped shape the Canucks' younger D-men. Liken it to the Sean O'Donnell/Drew Doughty situation. Willie has the opportunity to be incredibly instrumental in the development of this young Los Angeles team. The second thing, a calming presence, is perhaps even more important. Willie always makes the smart and safe play. No team can have enough guys like Willie. Often we will see guys that send a pass up the middle, or try to make a hit and end up out of position, not Willie Mitchell. He is one of the most reliable players in the league. When the season begins, Kings fans will realize just what kind of player they have in Willie Mitchell. He is simply one of the best.
Dean Lombardi continues to talk about culture. He wants to create a culture that matches that of the Detroit Red Wings. The model that the Wings have pioneered is one of the best. Is there a team that has been more consistent over the last decade than the Red Wings? Work ethic is one of the virtues that must be present to create a culture like this. Alexei Ponikarovsky is one of the hardest working players in the entire league. He will score you key goals, and play a safe game. While he is not offensively flashy, he brings consistent offense that we have seen throughout his entire career. If he can score 50-60 points on underwhelming Toronto teams, imagine the possibilities with the Kings. He could easily eclipse his career highs of 23 goals and 61 points. Hopefully he can develop some chemistry with the likes of Jarret Stoll and Anze Kopitar. We could see a much more potent offensive line if this becomes the case.
When the season ended, it was a foregone conclusion; Alex Frolov would not be suiting up for the Kings come the 2010/2011 season. His work ethic problems had been well documented within media circles, and it got to the point where he was hurting the Kings more than he was helping them. While this really isn't a "move" that Lombardi made this off-season, it could end up helping the Kings more than people think. Frolov is a player with an incredible amount of skill, yet his point totals have dipped over the past few years. Simply stated, it was time for a change of scenery, for both parties involved. While we are cheering for the Kings, let's hope that Frolov has a successful season in New York. Perhaps he will be able to revive a career that looked as though it was headed to Russia earlier in the summer.
Barring injuries and any other unforeseen circumstances, the Kings should be right near the top of the Pacific Division. The moves that have been made have helped immensely. They weren't flashy, they weren't fancy, but they were effective. Hopefully when the season ends, Kings fans will all let out a sigh of relief and say "Koval...who?"
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