The Los Angeles Kings won the 2012 Stanley Cup championship in a rather unconventional, and dominating, fashion. NHL franchises should go west to learn what it takes to build successful teams in the 2010s.
Los Angeles has only four players on its current roster over 30 years old. If the Kings can keep their current roster around, 2012 should be the beginning of a new dynasty in the NHL. This group of players can develop even better chemistry in the next few seasons, which would have them consistently competing for the President’s Trophies, not just playoff spots.
The Kings reached the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs with outstanding defense and barely any scoring. Los Angeles ranked second in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.07) and 29th in goals per game (2.29).
Six of the seven most potent offenses in the regular season failed to reach the second round of the playoffs. Three of the top five defensive teams during the regular season made it to their respective conference finals. Maybe NHL franchises should invest more in preventing goals than in scoring goals.
The Kings showed that the right head coach makes a huge difference in the success of an NHL team. Los Angeles went through three head coaches this season before finding the right one in Darryl Sutter.
Other franchises besides the Kings have found immediate improvement after changing head coaches recently.
The St. Louis Blues replaced Davis Payne with Ken Hitchcock after 13 games of the 2011-12 regular season. Under Hitchcock, the Blues went from a .500 team to a 109-point team, as they placed second in the Western Conference. Also, the Blues were the only team to allow fewer goals in the regular season than the Kings.
The New Jersey Devils hired Peter DeBoer before this season. DeBoer took over a team who missed the playoffs in 2010-11, and he turned it into a Stanley Cup finalist.
The Phoenix Coyotes replaced Wayne Gretzky with Dave Tippett prior to the 2009-10 season. Phoenix has earned no fewer than 97 points in the past three seasons. Before Tippett’s arrival, the Coyotes had not made the playoffs since the 2001-02 season.
The Coyotes, Devils and Kings all made their respective conference finals this season.
Los Angeles showed that North American players still rule the NHL rink. Only three players on the current roster were born outside of the United States or Canada. With the NHL Entry Draft coming up, NHL franchises might want to focus their attention on North American prospects.
Dustin Brown is one of the NHL’s most fitting captains. He is a true leader, as he won the NHL Foundation Award for the 2010-11 season. According to NHL.com:
“The NHL Foundation Player Award is awarded annually to the National Hockey League (NHL) player ‘who applies the core values of (ice) hockey—commitment, perseverance and teamwork—to enrich the lives of people in his community.’”
Brown was also named a finalist of the award in the two preceding seasons. He has also won the Kings Community Service Award every season since 2008-09. The Kings have nominated Brown for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy the past two seasons.
The Kings have also shown that building a franchise through the NHL Entry Draft succeeds in today’s era of free agency and blockbuster trades. According to Corey Masisak from NHL.com:
“Of the 20 players who dressed for the Kings in Games 3-6 [of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final], 10 of them are ‘homegrown’ players—guys who were drafted and developed by the organization.”
Brown, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick—arguably the faces of the Kings—were drafted by Los Angeles.
Masisak also says:
“Every Stanley Cup winner since the work stoppage in 2004-05 ushered in the ‘new NHL’ has featured a core of homegrown talent…several integral players that were acquired through the draft.”
Indeed the Kings have traded away some former draft picks for veteran players, notably the transactions that brought former Philadelphia Flyers teammates Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to Hollywood. The majority of today’s Kings, though, started their careers in Los Angeles.
Only three of the 20 players who appeared in Games 3-6 for the Kings were acquired via free agency. This should advise NHL franchises hoping to get a top-flight free agent this offseason to think twice.
NHL teams win in the playoffs with hot goaltending. Quick, the Kings goaltender, won the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason’s most valuable player. His current contract states he will stay in Los Angeles for at least another season.
The Kings had a clear No. 1 goaltender in 2011-12. When a team has a No. 1 and a backup, both netminders know their roles, and this helps maintain locker room stability. Los Angeles needs to sign Quick to a long-term deal if it wants to build on its 2012 Stanley Cup championship.
Throughout 2011-12, the Kings went out and got what they wanted, rather than hoping problems would sort themselves out. Franchises with strong leadership at the captain and head coaching positions, a defensive style of play, a young nucleus developed from the draft—and from North America, and a true No. 1 goaltender will succeed in today’s National Hockey League.
Any franchise without all these things should take note.