Can veteran winger Marian Gaborik bolster the Kings’ ineffective offense?
The Kings ranked near the bottom of the NHL in scoring last season with only 206 goals, the fewest of the 16 teams that advanced to the playoffs. The Pacific Division champion Ducks scored 266, by way of contrast. Gaborik’s scoring during the postseason was one of the reasons the Kings won the Stanley Cup, however.
Gaborik enabled Kings coach Darryl Sutter to form a strong first line with center Anze Kopitar and winger Dustin Brown. It also allowed Sutter to team Jeff Carter with Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, giving the Kings the sort of scoring punch they lacked. Gaborik and Kopitar seemed like a match made in hockey heaven. They are two skilled European-born and -bred players who see the ice better than most. When they click, it’s like magic on the ice.
The Kings have so much going for them that it’s strange to think they struggle in any one aspect of the game, but their inability to score cost them a better seeded place in the Western Conference standings. They won the Stanley Cup despite having home-ice advantage in only the last of the four playoff rounds. At some point, the stress of travel and the unpredictability of road conditions will prove costly to the Kings. Scoring more goals, moving higher in the standings, could ease their burden in 2014-15.
Gaborik is the man to make that happen.
Did the Kings do enough in the offseason to stay on top?
General manager Dean Lombardi showed his faith in his roster by keeping it intact. Lombardi didn’t wish to mess with success. He did not sign any outside free agents, but did retain the services of veteran winger Marian Gaborik. Lombardi rewarded Gaborik, the Kings’ leading goal-scorer in the playoffs with 14, with a new seven-season contract worth more than $34 million. Lombardi also allowed veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell to depart as a free agent. Mitchell signed a new contract with the Florida Panthers in the summer. Lombardi did not make any trades.
Meanwhile, opposing teams in the Western Conference bulked up in the summer.
The Ducks, smarting from a second-round playoff loss to the Kings, added size and grit by trading for center Ryan Kesler and signing defenseman Clayton Stoner. They also took a chance on former 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley, hoping he could jump-start his career in Orange County.
The Chicago Blackhawks signed former New York Rangers veteran Brad Richards for the same reason the Ducks signed Kesler. The Blackhawks, who lost to the Kings in the conference finals, coveted a stronger, more experienced second-line center to compete with their rivals.
The Dallas Stars, eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs by the Ducks, acquired former Ottawa Senators standout Jason Spezza in order to get deeper and more experienced at the center position. Spezza was No. 2 behind Kesler on the Ducks’ offseason wish list.
The St. Louis Blues added Paul Stastny from the Colorado Avalanche, a rising superstar in the NHL who plays, wait for it, center. The Blues were still smarting from their first-round exit at the hands of the Blackhawks last spring when they made the move.
Can the Kings repeat as Stanley Cup champions?
There are plenty of reasons why no team has repeated as champs since the Detroit Red Wings won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and ’98. If it was easy to win and win and win again then everyone would be doing it, right? Plus, the growth of the NHL to 30 teams and the parity that accompanied expansion diluted the product. There is more parity than ever. Plus, the salary cap limits how much teams can spend. Rich teams can’t simply outspend the poor ones in search of top talent.
So, the Kings have miles to skate before they can even think about the playoffs or winning a second consecutive championship (and a third in four seasons). They must negotiate the often perilous 82-game regular-season schedule before advancing to the postseason. They also must fight the boredom that comes with knowing the really important games won’t be here until April. It’s something all teams in all sports with championship aspirations must endure.
The Kings are no exception. Because they have won Cups while finishing eighth and sixth in the West, they must resist the notion that they can flip a switch and suddenly play their best hockey. They seemed to be able to do it after making adjustments after losing the first three games of their first-round series last spring against the San Jose Sharks, but that’s a bad trap to fall into if you expect to repeat.
Here’s Kings coach Darryl Sutter on the anticipation of watching the second Stanley Cup championship banner in three seasons being raised to the Staples Centers rafters before the season-opening game Wednesday against the San Jose Sharks:
“Are we looking forward to it? Are we looking forward to seeing our banner being raised? Absolutely. We were looking forward to last night (the presentation of the Stanley Cup championship rings during a dinner downtown), too. ”
The Kings took their time with goaltender Jonathan Quick after he underwent offseason wrist surgery. Quick didn’t play in the Kings’ first four exhibition games before playing in their final three during a trip to San Jose, Colorado Springs and Las Vegas. He’s expected to be in goal for Wednesday’s season-opener Wednesday against the Sharks.
“I don’t think it was progress,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said of Quick’s progress from the start of training camp last month. “I think he was good from the start and our plan was exactly what happened. He wanted to play the whole second game in Colorado Springs and I just thought with the (high) altitude and all that, that I was just more concerned with the third period. So, then he was fine with that, and he was good from the start.”
Here’s what NBCSN analyst and former NHL standout Jeremy Roenick had to say Monday about the Kings’ status as Western Conference favorites: “The Kings have to be the favorites again. It’s extremely hard to repeat … we haven’t had a repeat in nearly 20 years. That’s a tall order, but they have such good chemistry and they are so well-coached. You have to put Chicago and L.A. at the top of the Western Conference again … they’re still the favorites.”
Top-line forward Marian Gaborik skated with his teammates Monday and there’s zero reason he won’t play in the Kings’ regular-season opener Wednesday against the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center. …
The Kings on Sunday assigned goaltender Jean-Francois Berube and center Jordan Weal to their American Hockey League team in Manchester, N.H., and placed defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk on injured reserve. …
The team also announced Sunday it signed right wing Justin Auger and defenseman Zachary Leslie to three-year entry-level contracts. They were assigned to Manchester on Sept. 26, after joining the Kings for the first week of training camp.
The Kings sent left wing David Van der Gulik to their American Hockey League team in Manchester, N.H., on Tuesday. Their roster is down to 28 players with several more cuts to come before they open the regular season Oct. 8 against the San Jose Sharks.
The Kings rimmed their roster by three more Monday, sending centers Nic Dowd and Nick Shore and defenseman Vincent LoVerde to their American Hockey League team in Manchester, N.H. The Kings have 29 players remaining on their roster.