The Los Angeles Kings will finally have the opportunity to raise their Stanley Cup banner, although a date for the home opener has yet to be determined. The Kings were originally scheduled to open the 2012-13 season on Friday, October 12, against the New York Rangers at Staples Center. According to the Los Angeles Kings’ website, the team will be holding a press conference on Thursday, January 10, to announce plans for the home opener, which is rumored to be set for January 19. The entire roster from the Cup winning team will be returning to the ice once training camp commences; however, the team may be without leading scorer Anze Kopitar on opening night. Kopitar, who spent the lockout playing for Mora in Sweden’s second highest professional league, injured his knee on January 5 and may be out of commission for two to three weeks. The Kings would have started the season without starting goaltender Jonathan Quick had the league resumed play in October. Quick, who underwent minor back surgery in August, was medically cleared by doctors on Tuesday, January 8. Alec Martinez, who was playing for TPS Turku in Finland during the lockout, took a puck to the face and required surgery. Luckily for the Kings, Martinez made a quick recovery and returned to the States to play with the Allen Americans of the Central Hockey League (CHL), registering a goal and an assist in three games.
Other Kings who signed on to play overseas include team captain Dustin Brown, who scored eight goals and 13 points in 16 games for the ZSC Lions in the Swiss league, and backup goalie Jonathan Bernier, who appeared in 13 games in the second division German league with Heilbronn Falken. Bernier also represented team Canada at the Spengler Cup, serving as a backup to Edmonton Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Prior to the lockout, Bernier had expressed his desire to move on to another hockey club in order to gain an opportunity to win a starting role, but Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi made a wise move in retaining the 24-year old goaltender. Although Jonathan Quick has been medically cleared by doctors to return to the ice, it is likely that Jonathan Bernier will be given more starts in the abbreviated season in order to rest Quick’s surgically repaired back.
Kyle Clifford also remained active during the lockout, signing on with the Kings’ ECHL affiliate Ontario Reign. In eight games, Clifford scored four goals and seven points. Trevor Lewis appeared in five ECHL games with his hometown Utah Grizzlies, posting three goals and eight points in five games. Three members of the team, Dwight King, Jordan Nolan, and Slava Voynov, spent the majority of the lockout playing for the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. All three rookie players impressed during the Kings’ Cup run, but they have had a marginal effect on the Manchester Monarchs. King had five goals and 17 points in 28 games. Nolan, who suffered a broken finger from a fight in the first game of the season, had two goals and six points in 21 games. Voynov led Monarchs defensemen and scored 16 points in 35 games. Playmaking center Andrei Loktionov is another candidate on Manchester who may start the season with the Kings due to Kopitar’s anticipated absence. In 26 games with the Monarchs, Loktionov scored six goals and 18 points.
Although the Cup winning team has retained its roster without any changes, the question remains whether or not the Kings are in a favorable position to repeat as Stanley Cup champion. The last NHL team that successfully defended the Stanley Cup was the Detroit Red Wings in 1998. With head coach Darryl Sutter at the helm from the start of the season, a Pacific Division title is attainable, but the Kings will need to consistently perform at the same level they played at the close of the 2012 season. Prior to the Jeff Carter trade, the Kings were only one point within a playoff spot, with three teams chasing the Kings for the eighth and final playoff spot. After acquiring Jeff Carter on February 23, 2012, the Kings went on a 13-5-3 run to close out the season and secured a five point cushion to secure a playoff spot. The stretch run nearly secured a division title for the Kings, who lost the title to Pacific Division rival Phoenix Coyotes by two points.
What was pivotal to the Kings’ success in 2012 was their team depth and the fortune of remaining healthy throughout the playoffs. Both of those strengths will be tested as the Kings start the season without their leading scorer. With Kopitar out of the lineup, the Kings may open 2013 with the following lineup:
Simon Gagne – Mike Richards – Justin Williams
Dustin Penner – Jeff Carter – Dustin Brown
Dwight King – Jarret Stoll – Trevor Lewis
Brad Richardson – Colin Fraser – Jordan Nolan
Willie Mitchell – Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez – Matt Greene
Jonathan Quick – Jonathan Bernier
Anze Kopitar, Forward (knee injury), Kyle Clifford, Forward (healthy), Kevin Westgarth, Forward (healthy), Davis Drewiske, Defenseman (healthy)