Even if we haven’t actually seen it, we’ve all heard about it. The King and I was a four-star, 1956 musical filled with star power (Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr, Rita Moreno), a trophy case of awards, (five Oscars) and as best picture, reigned supreme for an entire year. Likewise, the 2011-12 Kings were replete with star power (Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter), took home a big, shiny Stanley Cup, and as the anointed best team in the league, will reign supreme for a lockout-truncated year.
Admittedly, I never saw the movie (musicals aren’t my thing) but I sure as hell saw nearly every minute possible of a magical Kings season 45 long years in the making. As I discussed at length here, my tenure as a Kings fan spans nearly that entire period of time — 36 years and counting. I’ve seen the Triple Crown Line, listened to the “Miracle on Manchester”, watched the “Frenzy on Figueroa” and witnessed other epic moments, along with far too many failures. At the advent of a new season, I’m in the highly unusual position of talking about a team that the smart money calls one of the favorites to win it all again this year.
So what will the Kings look like this season? In short, much the same as last year’s squad, minus (hopefully) the epic early season offensive problems. An analysis of the team’s likely opening day depth chart is as follows:
Los Angeles is arguably strongest up the middle, with top-line center Anze Kopitar (25G, 51A, 76 points in 82 games) leading the way after another productive season. Many believe Kopitar has just scratched the surface of his potential and could top 100 points if he didn’t have significant stretches during the year whereby his production fell by the wayside. After a solid start, Mike Richards hits the skids and had a rough year offensively, in part due to injuries (18-26-44). He turned it back on in the playoffs, however, with 15 points in 20 games. Jarret Stoll posted easily the worst numbers of his professional career (6-15-21), but is one of the best faceoff men in the game and with five 15+ goal seasons on his resume, seems likely to rebound. Colin Fraser is a gritty, tenacious energy-line forward who adds toughness as well as gritty, defensive prowess.
Ten days before the trade deadline, Dustin Brown was wondering what the exchange rate was between the U.S. and Canadian dollars. A little over three months later, he was the toast of the town, having recorded 25 points in his last 23 games. In the playoffs he was even better, notching 20 points in 20 games and a few highly controversial, game-changing hits. Shall we watch the freight-train hit on Henrik Sedin one more time? Yes, we shall:
Penner suffered from the anti-offense malady most Kings experienced for much of the season (7-10-17 in 65 games), but picked it when it counted, with 11 points in 20 games during the playoffs. Stunningly, Gagne (7-10-17 in 34 games) was injured most of the year, and Dwight King was a third-line force, scoring 14 points in 27 games during the season, eight more in the playoffs.
For some strange, mystical reason only the hockey gods know for sure, the trade for Jeff Carter galvanized the Kings, who (including the playoffs) went 29-9-3 after the deal. He only had nine points in 16 regular season games for L.A., but they were nine pretty tasty points. Like most of the team, he turned it on in the post-season with 13 more, including eight goals. Justin Williams had another very solid campaign (22-37-59), Trevor Lewis was a defensive specialist and penalty-killer, and Jordan Nolan was another big-bodied late-season callup that helped turn the chemistry of the team for the better.
Kings fans were allover Doughty and his newly-signed mega-deal (eight years, $56 million) when the former Norris finalist had just eight points in his first 25 games. Of course, the Kings didn’t understand they needed to put the puck in the net back then, so that practically led the team. However, he slowly shook off the malaise, starting with actually shooting the puck instead of holding it way too long at the point. He ended up 10-26-36 for the season, along with recording another 16 points in the playoffs. Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene aren’t out there to score but instead serve as terrific stay-at-home defensemen. Trading away Jack Johnson opened up a spot for the talented Slava Voynov and he delivered in style with eight goals and 20 points in just 54 games. Alec Martinez (6-6-12 in 51 games) is an ideal #6 defenseman.
Goaltenders: Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Bernier
What more can be said about Quick (35-21-13, 1.95, .929) that hasn’t already been repeated a thousand times over? Virtually every Kings fan thought he would keep the seat warm for the eventual savior, first-round selection Jonathan Bernier. Now, with Quick locked up for the next ten seasons, it’s pretty safe to say it’s the other way around. It seems likely Bernier will eventually be traded, but for now, they make a hell of a 1-2 punch in net.
The dynamics of an NHL season are so variable and uncertain that is exceedingly difficult to repeat as champion. The last back-to-back Cup winners were the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and again in 1998, so clearly, it’s a tall order. Having said that, the Kings are set up nicely to give it a good, solid run: strong up the middle, outstanding leadership, good team speed, ferocious hitting, outstanding goaltending, and a blend of scorers, puck-movers and pure defenders on defense. With Darryl Sutter at the helm, it could very well happen again.
Or not. We Kings fans aren’t conditioned to allow ourselves to think that way. It’s simpler to just hate the Ducks.