Are The LA Kings Facing An Identity Crisis?

Coming off their second Stanley Cup championship in three years and returning almost their entire roster, everything looks great on the surface for the Los Angeles Kings heading into the 2014-15 season. Expectations are high for what has become a perennial NHL powerhouse. So wouldn’t it seem absurd to think that the defending champs could be facing an issue as fundamental as not knowing their team identity?

Well, when one looks underneath the surface just a little bit, something alarming becomes evident — the Kings were a completely different team in the 2014 playoffs, compared to the regular season. They became much more prolific offensively, scoring a whopping 3.38 goals per game in their 26-game championship run. By contrast, they lit the lamp just 2.42 times per game during the regular season. So that’s good, right?

Sure, it’s mostly good, especially since LA went on to hoist the Cup, but — digging a little deeper under the surface again — the offensive explosion came somewhat at the expense of the team’s defense, which has formed the Kings’ identity pretty much ever since Darryl Sutter took over as head coach in the 2011-12 season. The Kings yielded 2.69 goals per game in the postseason, a very unimpressive mark when compared to their stingy 2.05 average in the regular season.


Why the Change in Style?

Again, the Kings won the Cup, so one could say they showed an ability to adapt to different styles and still be effective. However, they were inches away from losing in each of the first three playoff rounds, which all went the full seven games. Their anemic offensive numbers from the regular season were not going to cut it in the regular season, but they got out of their comfort zone a little bit.

There are a couple of plausible reasons for the apparent change in style. One is their competition — playing high-scoring teams like the Sharks, Ducks, and Blackhawks presented challenges for the defense and likely forced the Kings to adapt and take more chances on offense.

Another reason, however, is that the Kings had different personnel from what they had for the majority of the regular season. Their lineup in the playoffs featured more speed and skill (in the form of Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, and trade-deadline acquisition Marian Gaborik). This is likely the lineup they’ll be using going into the upcoming season. Furthermore, steady defenseman Willie Mitchell was the team’s one notable off-season departure, forcing Alec Martinez (who has never played more than 61 regular season games), the aging Robyn Regehr, and/or the inexperienced Brayden McNabb into more regular playing time on the back end.

This lineup would, for the most part, tip the scale more toward speed and skill and slightly away from the Kings’ identity of size, toughness, and stinginess. So which Kings team will we see most consistently in the 2014-15 season? Will it be the more high-scoring, less defensive team from last year’s playoffs? Will it be the low-scoring but stingy team we’ve come to know over the years? Or, will it be something in between?

Risks and Concerns

There are of course potential dangers with all of these scenarios. If the Kings pick up where they left off in the playoffs and push the offense more, it will likely have an adverse effect on their defense, which could lead to struggles and inconsistency over a larger sample size of 82 games. Given Sutter’s coaching style, however, one would think that Los Angeles would focus on getting back to its defense-first ways. But would that once again stymie the offense and lead to inconsistencies, which we saw for parts of last year’s regular season? Also, how well will the aforementioned offensively inclined players adhere to this style over the course of an entire season? Is Marian Gaborik really going to play that hard, physical, defensive game for an entire year, and stay healthy doing so? There could certainly be some bumps in the road in that regard.

Should the Kings maintain their hard style, how would Marian Gaborik handle the rigors of a full season of that? (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)
Should the Kings maintain their hard style, how would Marian Gaborik handle the rigors of a full season of that?
(Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

Lastly, finding a style that is somewhere in between these two extremes is somewhat of a double-edged sword. On one hand, balance is something to strive for, as it keeps a team from being one-dimensional and makes the team more malleable when facing different types of opponents. On the other hand, though, that team could often find themselves caught in between and unsure of what they really want to do and who they really are, particularly early on, as they try to adjust and figure things out.

The Kings are certainly well constructed and will be strong contenders once again, but these are legitimate concerns that they will have to address, and there could very well be struggles along the way. Maybe the word “crisis” is a bit strong to apply to this issue of team identity, but LA will need to somehow reconcile the bipolar styles we saw in the regular season and playoffs last year. So what do they do?

Given Sutter’s nature and general coaching style, the most likely direction the Kings will go in is being a defense-first team, like we’ve gotten used to seeing for the most part. Given the higher amount of speed and skill in the lineup, the hope would be that they would be able to finish more often on the offensive opportunities they generate, as no one wants to see a repeat of last season’s anemic scoring numbers.

This is probably the wisest move for the Kings to make, given that it’s the style that the coach and the majority of the players are most accustomed to, as well as the fact that it’s helped turn them into a perennial contender the past few seasons. But given the emergence of new players who are less built for and less used to playing this way, this direction is not without risks. These players do have the advantage of a full off-season, training camp, and pre-season to prepare, but if there are early-season bumps in the road, the Kings will have to make careful decisions to keep this issue from becoming a full-fledged identity crisis.

29 thoughts on “Are The LA Kings Facing An Identity Crisis?”

  1. Tom,It’s nice of you to have noticed the Kings.
    You state that “…the team’s defense, which has formed the Kings’ identity pretty much ever since Darryl Sutter took over as head coach in the 2011-12 season.”
    This is not how it happened.. The defensive backbone was built by Terry Murray for four years prior to Sutter’s arrival. The Kings were young and learning the system which teaches accountability and a complete 200 foot game from every player. The defensive style of Murray’s teams got the Kings back into the playoffs after years of drought. When Sutter was hired and Carter was acquired, the offense did explode in the playoffs. Same parallel with the Gaborik deal. Look at the price he signed for. Compare that to the Ryan Johansen situation!
    Since then this group has done nothing other than forge it’s identity. The young players are mature beyond their years and fearless. They are as close knit team as I have ever had the pleasure to watch.

  2. Tom, baby. 2 cups in three years ought to relieve you of your great concern for the poor psyche of the Kings. How is the Rangers psyche aftere getting toasted while all the East Coast Bias media kept playing up “their overwhelming speed, which the Kings have not seen to date.” I imagine the idenitity of the Rangers is just a wee bit more precarious as they have no idea what it will take to actually WIN the big one. The kings have the best coach and GM in hockey, the best goalie, and nearly the best in everything else – You may not have seen it before with the klesser teams you follow, but deep teams like this adapt like a camelion to whatever style is needed to win. Only the Blackhawks are somewhat similar. Nobody in the East has a clue of how to reach this team level of play.
    Thanks for your article Tom. Your next one should be:

    “Why the East is so sucky, has no chance of beating the West for the Cup, and how they FEEL about it.”.

  3. This is an interesting article and I am trying to sort out my thoughts on this. When looking at the stats, comparing regular season to post season there are only a few with significant differences. The biggest is SA/G with post season higher by 4. The GA/G higher but only by .5. I think that speaks to effective defense. The G/G is higher also (thank god) or we would not be holding the cup. I am not sure all this translates to an identity crisis. I think the Kings know exactly who they are and are honest about strengths and weaknesses. We are a play off team. the goal is to get into the playoffs, not win the division. This may be the first year that I have even heard mention of that as a possible goal. I am not worried about identity and i doubt they are either. I do think that they would like to have a better regular season to ensure their spot a bit earlier, support some individual trophy nominations and perhaps have home ice advantage.

  4. Tom, Quick was seriously hurt and gave up some uncharacteristic goals. So from there, they adapt to a more open style, especially with their young speed. It really is that simple. IF you watched the San Jose series, you will have seen that the Sharks the first couple of games got EVERY single bounce and capitalized on every one of them. Guess what? The bounces didn’t go their way so much from game three on (even though they won that game).

  5. If you notice in the playoffs the kings are not a me first club, But a team first club. Kings could have tried to score with empty net goals, But they never gave up their defense position to score and just dump the puck back into the other teams zone and get a fresh line out there. Kings are a team that don’t rely on any one aspect to win. They can win low scoring game and be happy to do so, But if they give up a couple of early goals. They have the ability to pick up their offensive scoring and put pressure on other teams while trailing and out score them in the last period to win games. The Kings never feel like they are out of any series even if trailing by 3-0 as they can make the adjustments needed to win, which most teams cant, Kings can play your style of hockey better than your team can and play within themselves and not get caught up in any one game. There is only one other team that can compare to the Kings and that’s the Chicago Blackhawks. they are 1 2 and you could put either team at 1 after that its a big drop off. GO KINGS GO dynasty in the makings. Kings are also loaded in their minor league teams that teach team concept over the me concept most team super stars have.

  6. When you trail in a series, The Kings have the ability to adapt to the other teams styles of play. Started out horrible against the Sharks giving up a lot of goals in the first 3 games and look lifeless, Until game 4 with the Kings leading by 3 goals and only 1 1/2 min left in the game, The Sharks started to take cheap shots at the Kings and with the extra taunting cause a brawl near the end of the game., Which lit a fire in the Kings. A Comeback from a 0-3 to win the series 4-3, By then they had game up a lot of goals and only Chicago scored more than the Kings defense avg. per. game. Ducks and rangers were held in check. The identity of the KINGS is to be playing in JUNE, Kings are not built to win Division titles, But are built to win STANLEY CUPS

  7. The problem is that you don’t understand the team’s identity to start. They aren’t a “defensive team”, they are a “possession team”. A big reason their GAA is low, is because they tend to spend a majority of their time in the offensive zone… with the puck. Losing MItchell hurts a bit, but he’s also “aging”, so it’s not like they’re losing a key piece to the puzzle. Guys like Martinez and Muzzin should both be able to take a step forward this season in terms of defensive responsibility.

    Their uptick in GAA in the playoffs is also to be expected, given the teams they faced in the 1st 3 rounds. SJ, Anaheim, and Chicago placing T-6th, 1st, 2nd league wide in GF/G.

    And in regards to players not being “used” to the Kings style of play, everyone on the Kings team has learned to play this style. The reason the youngsters were not called up sooner, was to give them a chance to learn the system, develop at the lower levels, come back, rinse, repeat, until the Coaching staff was confident in their ability to play in the Kings system. Gaborik too, was thoroughly vetted before being traded for. And again, the Kings style isn’t about huge hits, it’s about possession. They get credited for a lot of “checks”, but you don’t need to lay a guy out to separate him from the puck, and Gaborik won’t exactly be required to do teh heavy lifting playing on a line with Kopitar and likely Brown, or maybe Williams.

    Given the acquisition of Gaborik, and the expected increase in performance from the youngsters, I think the expectation is rightfully set at being a top team in the conference, with a GF/A higher than we’ve ever seen, and a GA/A close to league best. Again, as a strong puck possession team, adding a top winger like Gaborik should only increase their ability to retain possession and keep pucks directed at the opposition, not the other way around.

    There is no identity crisis here. In fact, there isn’t even a concern.

  8. What a stupid article, you could use this same skeptics on any decent team in hockey. Just sounds like a bitter Ranger’s fan still trying to figure out first, how the Ranger’s even got to the cup finals, then whey they got beat so bad!!!

  9. Long time Kings fan so I could be considered a little biased. A lot of folks said they had an identity crisis in 2012 too. They barely snuck into the playoffs and then cruised right through the playoffs going 16-4 with only 1 road loss. I don’t think they really have an identity crisis. I think they’re identity is their perseverance. There is no quit on the team. Their last real identity crisis were the years from 02/03 – 08/09 when they missed the playoffs for six straight seasons as they were rebuilding.

  10. I’ll give you an legitimate answer. The team takes on the identity of the coach. This coach went to Princeton, on a full scholarship. He has hockey philosophies such as “you don’t have to play in your defensive zone in order to play good defense” , which is why the Kings transformed to a team who played defensively in their zone into a 90s-00s Detroit-style possession game. He uses the forecheck not to just hit other players randomly but to hit the opposing puck carrier…the forecheck is part of our possession game, to take possession away from the puck carrier. And we also hit the guy who has a high likelihood of getting passed the puck next or would attempt to take the puck from our guy. In other words he has a highly flexible style.

    You don’t have to worry about any identity on LA’s team. We found a way to win 8 straight road games for games 1-2 in every series in 2012 and we won 3 consecutive game 7s on the road in 2014. With crazy players like Justin Williams, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, and dynamic players in Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik plus the nutty Jonathan Quick…these players know how to win and ignore losing.

    Worrying about identity? That’s for the other guy who is trying to figure out how they can beat all of that with Drew Doughty in their face and Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov creeping in.

    The champs are here.

  11. I couldn’t even finish this article, 2 Cups in 3 years, that’s all that matters, the Kings went to 7 games because they were resilient,” they were inches from losing” who writes this crap? They didn’t lose, bottom line. East coast writers and fans are just pathetic.

  12. How is it possible that every article I read from this site gets worst? I didn’t think it was possible, but you guys find a way to push out the most biased mundane pointless articles. Mostly based on personal opinions or social media sites (I’m pointing at you Michelle Timian and your “America’s team” article). This site is a travesty of a hockey site. The ONLY reason I keep returning is because Yahoo keeps including your ridiculous articles in my daily feed and I can’t control them. Can you guys just close up shop now? Or find a different sport to talk about?

  13. I found this to be a complete waste of time until I realized the author is a RANGERS FAN! Then it all made sense. Hey Tom….bitter much?

  14. Interesting read Tom but I think the Kings are just one of those rare teams that can play any style you want and still beat you. If you want to bang, fine, bring it on…and conversely if you want to run and gun, well, we’re fine with that too. It’s called being versatile, experienced, and confident…seeing how the Kings have won two Cups playing each style.

  15. There are 28 teams that wish they had an identity crisis too. I exclude the Hawks because they are happy with where they are as a team.

  16. Considering Quick had an wrist injury that required surgery, and played through the 2nd Round against the Ducks and on, and still managed to make incredible saves, shows the identity of this team. That is, heart, resilience, and strong will.

    Whether this team is focused on defense or offense, things will change with personnel change. The emergence of attacking defenders like Doughty and Martinez really showed the versatility of the Kings. When you have your Captain and center Dustin Brown leading in hits, it shows the Kings aren’t just a one-sided team. The addition of Gaborik, the coming out of Pearson and Tafolli, really changed the depth and dynamic of the Kings. Now, instead of being a 2 line team offensively, you have a 4 strong lines from Brown, Stoll, Carter, and Richards who made a comeback in the 2014 playoffs after slipping during the season.

    The Kings’ calling car is still defense, but now are a more balanced team, rather than a defense reliant team.

  17. Don’t forget Mr. Quick. He turned his game around and got hot right when they needed him, Without that, they would have been beat. So I share your concern though I think Carter, Brown and Kopitar need to do better and they most certainly can. They definitely need to lead the way.

  18. Tom you sound like a Ranger’s fan, end of the day regardless. To start, one thing the Kings have in spades is a total understanding of their identity, who they are and how they play, you couldn’t be further off if you wanted to be. Secondly, and this could go on but will disengage here, the Kings depth is such, that you couldn’t ask for a better scenario to bring in the kids, and just like the fold healed after Scuds left, the same will happen sans Willie.

    Here’s one for you in parting, anyone of the Kings first three opponents would have also beaten whoever showed up from the east.

    • Thanks for the read and for the comment — I appreciate it. I can certainly understand why you might feel there is some bias here, but I do think this is an interesting development to look for this year. I acknowledge that the Kings will again be a strong contender this year, but what will be their most consistent style of play? The fact is, we saw two different teams in the regular season and the playoffs last year. The numbers support it, as does the eye test. When you think about this, it’s hard to see how the idea of the Kings shifting their style is really that far off.

      It’s very possible that any of the Kings’ playoff opponents would have beaten the representative team from the Eastern conference, but I’m not really sure what that has to do with this article.

      Nevertheless, appreciate you reading and participating in conversation!

      • Tom, the fact is, we also saw two different teams of the San Jose Sharks in the regular season and postseason. They were very drastically different teams. Going from second in the league in scoring to losing a 3-0 lead in the first round is ludicrous. So why are you not talking about their identity crisis? It’s far more extreme than the one you made up here for the Kings to get the clicks from a “controversial” article. They also lost their captain and assistant captain and could emerge from the preseason with different players wearing the letters while keeping their former leaders on the roster. If that’s not an identity crisis, I don’t know what is.

  19. As a long time King’s fan, I would have thought that the identity crisis is obvious: a perennial loser, to the extent that it was deeply entrenched in their DNA such that even The Great One couldn’t override it, has become a multiple time Stanley Cup winner and now perennial powerhouse. Has the last three years completely altered our collective DNA? Do I yearn for the years of suffering? Must I schedule another session with my psychiatrist?

    • Haha…thanks for the comment, and for the humor. I do think the Kings are still well built to contend; all I’m saying is that they might have to somewhat rediscover an optimal style of play over the course of this season.

  20. Good read. I was about to say the worry might be overblown, but you acknowledged that toward the end. You may be right: there could be a shift toward offense and skill (even subtly) and thus, away from grinding and defense.

    I think they will be fine, but it will be interesting to watch.

    • I can understand why you might think this, but in all honesty, I’m just trying to write things that not everyone else writes. I do acknowledge that the Kings will likely be fine, but I am interested to see what kind of style they take on this year.

    • One more thing I meant to add — I’ve written a handful of other articles prior to this one (and thus with the Stanley Cup finals more freshly in my mind), with mostly positive things to say about the Kings. This article is just about something that I think will be interesting to watch, and is something that not a lot of people are talking about, which makes it all the more intriguing.

  21. Thanks. I do think the Kings will be OK, mainly because of their great forward depth like you say, but I’m interested to see what kind of team they turn out to be this year.

    Regarding their d-pairs, they obviously have to keep Doughty and Muzzin together, as they are one of the best pairs in the league. Then that leaves them with Voynov, Regehr, Martinez, and Greene (and likely McNabb as a seventh). Putting the offensively-minded Martinez with Voynov might take away from that pair’s defense, but that pair needs a left-handed shooter on the left side. With Greene being a righty, that makes his pairing with Martinez more logical. We’ll see, though, if McNabb pushes the aging Regehr for playing time.

  22. Was skeptical before reading, but you make some good points about playoffs and regular season and who came back and who left. I will say this though, the forwards being so deep will mask any deficiencies on the back end. Although not sure why LA keeps pairing voynov with regehr, if they paired him with a decent stay at home left handed shooter, they would again have two elite pairs even with Mitchell gone.

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