Two years ago, calling the Los Angeles Kings a Stanley Cup contender would've been the funniest joke you'd heard in a month. Two years ago, calling the Los Angeles Kings even a playoff contender would've caused rumors of drug usage to circle around you.
Two years ago, the Kings were preparing for the '09-10 season still trying to break a six-season streak of missing the postseason, a stretch where they had finished within 10 points of the playoffs only once.
But things were starting to look up.
And look up they did. Los Angeles moved up from 13th in the Western Conference in '08-09 to sixth the following season in a 22-point turnaround, the second-largest improvement of any team in the league that year. And now, in the summer of 2011, Los Angeles has made back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in nearly a decade and has finally begun to be regarded as a legitimate elite club in the realms of the NHL.
Based on what we've seen so far, though, they're only going to get better. A successful offseason has added the few key pieces the Kings need to break through in their extremely difficult division, and the assets L.A. will retain—such as two-time All-Star forward Anze Kopitar and Olympic medal-winning defensemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson—give them an impressive lineup to begin the 2011-2012 season.
In our minds, the Kings are truly nothing short of a Stanley Cup contender, no matter what anyone said two summers ago. They have reliable, well-rounded units at all positions and have already proven that this current team really does know how to win. It's not too much of a stretch to predict that Los Angeles might just be the best team in the West...and here's why.
Note: This slideshow is Part Three of a four-part series looking in-depth at a few specific teams who we believe have become new Stanley Cup contenders or new playoff teams with their offseason moves.
Part One, portraying why the Buffalo Sabres will be a Cup contender in '11-12, can be found here. Part Two, explaining why the Florida Panthers will be a playoff team next season, can be read here. Part Four, stating our reasoning behind calling the St. Louis Blues a playoff team, is available here.