This isn’t how things were supposed to pan out for the Los Angeles Kings. They seemed primed to become the first team to repeat since the Detroit Red Wings of the late 1990’s. Instead, they failed to even reach the playoffs after winning the 2013-14 Stanley Cup, their second in three seasons. Of all Cup hangovers, theirs was the most epic. They had the Cup headache, the Cup nausea, the Cup spins, every symptom you can name of a Cup hangover, they had it. Once the dust settled on the 2014-15 season, most following the Kings were simply left wondering, “What the hell just happened?.
To make matters worse, the franchise became a fixture on TMZ over the summer with the well-documented drug problems of Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards as well as the domestic abuse case of Slava Voynov. Let’s just say the Kings are really looking forward to a new season starting.
Although a mess off the ice, Los Angeles at least appears to have a semblance of order on the ice. They once again crushed the league in puck possession. That’s an extremely encouraging sign going into a new season, as there’ would be legitimate cause for concern had that crucial aspect of their game fallen off. As simplistic as it may sound, the ’14-15 Kings were really unlucky. To miss the playoffs while leading the entire league in shot attempts is unprecedented. Think about that for a second. Since shot attempt data has been tracked, no team to finish atop that category has missed the playoffs. In other words, the Kings had to screw up pretty bad for that to happen.
Playing sub-.500 hockey on the road is a great way to miss the playoffs, and the Kings did just that, going 15-18-8. That’s basically playoff hope suicide in the unforgiving Western Conference. They were allergic to shootouts, going 2-7 in the skills competition. For better or for worse, the shootout can decide the fate of a team on the playoff fringes, and the Kings did themselves no favors in that respect.
Their shootout record is just as much an admonishment of Jonathan Quick as it is for the rest of the team though. Quick posted an unimpressive .918 save percentage on the road, and that’s with his team controlling possession at a 54 percent clip. The argument that goaltending doesn’t matter anymore in the NHL is picking up some steam, yet Quick’s ’14-15 performance should remind everyone just how pivotal a goaltender’s play can be. In a cruel bit of statistical justice where the Kings dominated advanced stats, they were done in by the most basic of goaltending statistics.
Where Do We Go Now?
General manager Dean Lombardi found himself parting ways with beloved King Justin Williams. For all his playoff heroics, L.A couldn’t retain Williams at his asking price with the impending free agency of Anze Kopitar in mind. That left Lombardi shuffling up his roster to address Williams’ absence, sending Martin Jones to the Boston Bruins in exchange for the ever-likable Milan Lucic.
Lucic is an intriguing add to the Kings lineup. He certainly fits into the identity that L.A has carved out for itself as a hard-working, grinding team with a bit of nastiness. As far as the latter goes, Lucic certainly has them covered.
He’s also an unrestricted free agent next summer, where he’ll certainly be asking for a raise from his current $3.25 million contract. However, in a Pacific Division that features some speedy teams in Anaheim, San Jose, and Edmonton (whom the Kings had trouble with last year), it’s tough to definitively say whether the slower-footed Lucic actually makes the Kings better or not.
The 2015-16 Kings will once again lean heavily on the minute-munching play of Drew Doughty and the excellent two-way game of Anze Kopitar. At this point, we can safely assume that they’ll once again be a dominant possession team. That might not matter all that much if Quick turns in another mediocre road and shootout performance. As excellent of an even strength team as they are, the Kings just flat out need better play from their starting goaltender. He certainly has the capacity to do so, but it remains to be seen whether that will happen or not.
L.A is one of the most perplexing stories around the league. Embroiled in off-ice issues and bogged down by some sloppy play on the road, they still remain an extremely talented and well-coached team that can hang with anyone in the playoffs. It’s hard to envision another season of awful road hockey from them, which logically should have them back in the playoff picture. If they address their few kinks, the Kings will once again be one of the most dangerous teams in the league next season.