The last two years the Kings have been a popular pick to make a breakthrough and become a top-level contender in the Western Conference. Both years they have shown flashes of brilliance. In the playoffs both times, though, they have been very disappointing. Apparently two straight first-round departures was one too many for the management here because they had a very aggressive offseason.
The impact of the changes they made—more on those soon—will be dampened significantly if they can’t get a deal done with Drew Doughty. The 21-year-old is one of the most promising and impressive defensemen in the league and has the chance to be truly special for a long, long time. He’s a restricted free agent, though, and the two sides just can’t come to an agreement on what he is worth. The team and the player are only a few hundred thousand dollars apart, so it seems odd that they are playing chicken like they are. The longer Doughty is out of action, though, the worse it is for the team.
Los Angeles Kings offseason moves
The Kings got better now, there is little doubt about that. It just remains to be seen whether they will regret the big move in the long term. That big move, of course, was acquiring Mike Richards from Philadelphia. Grabbing a player of that caliber in his prime is never a bad idea. The only downside is that they had to give up Brayden Schenn, the top prospect in hockey right now in most eyes.
If Richards lives up to expectations and the team is dramatically better as a result, the cost will be acceptable. If Richards doesn’t come through, though, this is the type of deal that can haunt an organization.
The team also added Simon Gagne, a former teammate of Richards in Philly before he left for Tampa Bay last year. He has had trouble staying healthy, but he’s still a useful offensive player and could be a very nice addition if he can find some chemistry.
The biggest departure was Ryan Smyth. He returned back to his original team in Edmonton. While Smyth is a very solid player, he was never a perfect fit in L.A. so the offense has undoubtedly been upgraded despite his departure.
2011-12 Los Angeles Kings NHL outlook
Aside from the moves and signing Doughty, the biggest issue this team faces is just staying healthy. Both Anze Kopitar—still their best offensive player—and Justin Williams missed significant time, and that had a huge impact on the season. The team is deeper and more talented than they have been in years, but they still don’t have the luxury of weathering a whole pile of key injuries if they want to be a serious contender.
One thing this team doesn’t have to worry about is goaltending. Jonathan Quick is an elite goaltender who is only 25, so he has a whole lot more potential. He’s also a workhorse, averaging 66 starts per year the last two years. If that not enough, 23-year-old backup Jonathan Bernier has elite potential as well, and he looked very solid in his first significant NHL action last year. The team has one of the best goaltending tandems in the league, and both guys are young enough that they could have a very attractive trading asset if they choose to stick with one and move the other.
This has to be seen as a make-or-break season for Jack Johnson. He was the third overall pick in the 2005 draft, but the defenseman has yet to really find his way and live up to the enormous hype he entered the league with. In fact, he has been very underwhelming—a career minus-78 in 282 games. He needs to show signs that he can improve dramatically, or the team needs to cut their losses and move on.
2011-12 Los Angeles Kings schedule
The most interesting game on the schedule comes early for the Kings. On Oct. 15 Richards and Gagne will return to Philadelphia, but this time they’ll be in the visitor’s dressing room. Philly fans aren’t the kindest or most subtle, so the reaction they give their two departed stars—especially Richards—will be very interesting to see.
Los Angeles Kings NHL futures odds (from Bodog)
The Kings are 14/1 to win the Stanley Cup, the ninth lowest price in the 30-team league for Stanley Cup odds. At 6/1 they are the fourth choice to win the West and represent the conference in the Stanley Cup final, according to NHL odds.
2011-12 Los Angeles Kings predictions
I really like the moves they made, and I love their goaltending. It all comes down to Doughty. If he returns soon and is ready to go right away, this is a team that can easily be one of the final four in the West—and they have a chance to go much further than that. If they struggle to get Doughty on board, or if he isn’t better than he was last year, that will be a tough distraction for the team to overcome.
Either way they will make the playoffs, but without Doughty at his best they will be frustrated by their performance there yet again.
Doc’s Sports is very excited for this upcoming NHL season. Visit our home page to access all team previews, as well as more sports articles, betting odds and full coverage on the 2011-12 NHL season.