Get the NBC/Versus NHL analysts talking about the Kings’ 2011-12 prospects, and it’s put-up or shut-up time.
For them, and for the team. Maybe we hit a nerve during a conference call Monday with some of the TV talking heads.
Pierre McGuire, for example, said it about the Kings’ Dustin Penner (left, after a rare goal last season): “One guy that better step up is Dustin Penner. He was a bust last year. And if they’re going to improve on their power play — it was 21st in the league last year — Penner is the guy that’s going to have to help them out. I mean, they paid a huge bounty to get him from the Edmonton Oilers. And he won Stanley Cup in ’07 in Anaheim, where he was a huge factor for that team. The one guy who’s got to alleviate a lot of the pressure on Dustin Brown is Dustin Penner. And if he doesn’t do it then he’s got to look at himself in the mirror because he’s been taking a lot of money for a long time and not producing.”
Eddie Olczyk, a one-time Kings player: “I really think that the Kings are on the verge of really taking that next step. I think the biggest question mark that I’ve had in the past is that,: Who can help Anze Kopitar? This guy is a sensational two-way hockey player. And when you bring in a guy like Mike Richards — I don’t want to say it lessens the load, but it gives a little bit more support. And when you have a guy that can play in every situation like Mike Richards, it makes everybody that much better and that much more accountable as far as, you know, the way that you play and what he can do and play in any situation.
“I love Dustin Brown. But, you know, do they have that guy to be able to be another clutch goal scorer to give them a little bit more depth? They’ve gotten a top six forward in Mike Richards. But to me is if they can find a guy like Simon Gagne, probably on the outside looking in, when you talk top six, realistically. But, you know, sometimes you have to be forced into that situation and play. And can he do it? Yes because he’s a unique player.
“I would be really disappointed if (the Kings) didn’t take that next step. And I think they’re one team not a lot of people are talking about. So to me, I think that they’re one of those teams in the Western Conference that has really a legitimate chance to get to the Western Conference final this season.”
Studio analyst Mike Milbury: “I’m with Ed on this one a lot. But probably even more so. Mike Richards (not the one pictured right) was supposed to be the Bobby Clarke in Philadelphia, and many nights he was. This is a guy that’s got an Olympic Gold medal and plays tough as nails. And now his pride is wounded. A team that he thought he’d be with for his whole career now has quit on him and traded him for whatever variety of reasons. But I think you’re going to get a committed, enthusiastic leader in your locker room. A guy that can play under pressure and play to the big scene in Los Angeles I think this is going to be a great year for Mike Richards assuming he stays healthy.
“I think the Kings are definitely a team in the Western Conference that would, in my opinion, it would be disappointing if they’re not top four.”
The Kings’ European launch to the NHL season starts in Stockholm, Sweden (Friday vs. the N.Y. Rangers, 10 a.m., Versus) and in Berlin, Germany on Saturday (vs. Buffalo, 11 a.m., FSW).
Versus will use the NHL’s world feed Saturday and have Mike Emrick and McGuire call it from the network’s Stamford, Conn., studio watching the video. Milbury, Keith Jones and Liam McHugh are on the pregame, intermissions and postgame. Saturday, the Kings’ Bob Miller and Jim Fox will do a similar setup — calling the action off the world feed from the Fox Sports West studio in downtown L.A.
Nick Nickson and Darryl Evans are on the trip and will call both games on KTLK-AM (1150) radio.
Fox, starting his 22nd season with the team in the booth next to Miller, said on the Prime Ticket “Kings Live” preview show that’s been airing this week that San Jose and Chicago are his best bets to win the Western Conference. While Patrick O’Neal pointed out that many Vegas oddsmakers put the Kings now at about 16-to-1 to win the Stanley Cup — meaning they’ll at least be one of the 16 to make the playoffs — Fox gave his assessment of the team’s chances:
“The way I like to describe things: If everything goes normal — nothing really bad, nothing real great — they’re a playoff team. No big deal? If you make the playoffs in the Western Conference, you are a good team. The Kings are not favorites to win the Stanley Cup, but if at the end of the season they end up winning it all, I would not be surprised. I think they have the necessary elements.”
And the weird stat of the week: The last three Stanley Cup winners all started their regular season with trips to Europe — Boston (the 2011 champs) started with two games against Vancouver in Prague, Czech Republic; Chicago (2010) started with two games against Carolina in Helsinki, Finland; Pittsburgh (2009) played Ottawa twice in Stockholm. Prior to that: The Kings and Ducks played each other twice in London. You know that didn’t end well.
“There’s a lot to be said about the bonding thing,” said McGuire. “You can bring your guys together pretty quickly on those trips.”
Added Olczyk: “You do have a lot of new players, so to speak, veteran guys that have been around the block , then young players that are coming into the mix. As a coach, you’ve got to be able to learn to control your guys whether it’s over in Europe or on the ice back here in North America. And I think that if you can get them knowing each other and knowing the system, they come together a lot quicker. When you do hit that rough spot at some point which I think that all teams go through sometimes, they’re just, they’re camouflaged a little bit more because of how well you may be playing or where you are in the standings.”