The fall from grace was painful indeed for the Los Angeles Kings.
Champions in 2012 and 2014 and conference finalists in 2013, the Kings had arguably the NHL’s most successful three-year run in 20 years. No, they never set the league on fire during the regular season, barely making it into the playoffs in 2012 and earning low seeds the next two seasons. However, despite having to scratch and claw their way into the postseason, Dr. Jekyll quickly turned into a rampaging Mr. Hyde once the puck dropped to start the playoffs.
During the playoffs, the game slows down as defense and goaltending take center stage. Playing a heavy, physical game that capitalizes on their superior puck possession, Los Angeles’ style of play was perfectly suited for the playoffs. The net results were the spoils of hockey royalty: the Kings hoisted the first two Stanley Cups in team history.
What went wrong this yearAlas, that was then and this is now. For the first time since 2008-09, the Kings failed to qualify for the dance.
It’s impossible to point to one single factor that went wrong in a consistently inconsistent season. Despite posting winning streaks of six and eight games, they struggled for long stretches of the season, falling as far as 12th in the conference standings before fighting their way back into the mix in February. The defense wasn’t as effective as the 2013-14 squad, and although the offense improved, the Kings still scored one or fewer goals in 20 games.
So what exactly happened? The following are 10 key things that went wrong for Los Angeles during the 2014-15 season:
#10 – The Slava Voynov saga
Many Kings fans point to the Slava Voynov suspension as as the single biggest reason for the team’s uneven defensive efforts this year.
Facing charges of alleged domestic violence, Voynov was suspended by the NHL after having played in just six games. A solid second-pairing defenseman, the loss of Voynov shook the defense to the core, leaving a gaping hole that was not filled until the February 25th trade for Andrej Sekera.
Don’t think for a second that Kings fans aren’t bitter about it.
— David Wohl (@DavidWohl) April 10, 2015
#9 – The loss of Willie Mitchell
Veteran stay-at-home defenseman Willie Mitchell left Los Angeles after the 2013-14 season for greener pastures (two years, $8.5 million) with the Florida Panthers.
The loss of the cagey Mitchell, a huge factor in the team’s rise to defensive prominence over the past few seasons, was never adequately mitigated by general manager Dean Lombardi.
#8 – Injuries
Although injuries are something all teams face, the Kings experienced an uptick on the injury front this past year. Perhaps the two most noteworthy losses were Tanner Pearson (one-third of the ‘That 70s Line’) and Andrej Sekera, both of which came at critical times and disrupted team chemistry and rotations just as things were hitting full stride.
#7 – The decline and fall of Mike Richards
The long, downward slide of Mike Richards’ career finally reached rock bottom in 2015 when L.A. put him on waivers. Predictably, there were no takers for his services, as his $5.75 million cap hit represented one of the biggest overpayments in the league.
Richards returned to the team on March 23rd, but after recording just one assist in six games, still has yet to demonstrate he belongs in the NHL. His terrible contract exemplifies what’s wrong with the team’s current salary cap situation.
#6 – Dustin Brown’s strugglesThe enigmatic Brown gets a slightly bigger pass than Richards because he’s maintained his speed, was still among the league’s leaders in hits and was one of L.A.’s top players in terms of advanced stats. He’s also an effective team captain.
That being said, his offensive production (11 goals, 16 assists, -17) was, in a word, abysmal. It was the second straight year in which Brown did not come close to earning his keep. Even worse, his $5.875 million cap hit runs all the way through the 2021-22 season.
#5 – The Kings were cap-strapped for much of the season
Courtesy of the Voynov suspension, the Kings were so tight against the salary cap early on that they were $160 short of being able to call up a defensive replacement for the injured Robyn Regehr.
Eventually, the league granted the club cap relief, but given the combination of several untradeable contracts and the ripple effects of the Voynov suspension, the Kings had little financial flexibility this season.
#4 – Western Canadian fail
The Kings embarked on a crucial three-game swing through Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary starting on April 6th, a road trip that was sure to make or break their season. It broke it, as the team went just 0-2-1 and was eliminated from the playoffs courtesy of a loss to the Flames.
#3 – The league is adapting
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Other teams have begun to catch up with respect to emphasizing puck-possession and size, sometimes beating the Kings at their own game. Given L.A.’s success, it was only a matter of time.
#2 – Their luck runneth out
Let’s face it — the Kings just weren’t lucky enough this year. All too often, pucks hit posts, bounced the wrong way, or other futile outcomes happened, even when the team outplayed its opponents.
#1 – Overtime misery
Without question, the team’s epic overtime/shootout fails were the single biggest factor in their failed campaign.
If the Kings were merely awful (say 5-13) instead of terrible (3-15) after regulation, they would have made the postseason. Former THW writer Sheng Peng chronicled L.A.’s struggles after the first 60 minutes in this excellent piece.
So what do you think? What were the primary reasons the Kings failed to make the playoffs this year, and do you think they can return with a vengeance in 2015-16? Leave your thoughts below, or message me @McLaughlinWalt.
Note: keep an eye out for my upcoming “10 Things That Went Right for the L.A. Kings this Season” piece later this week.