The 2020-21 season will be anything but traditional. The NHL still doesn’t know exactly what the season will look like, so fans should expect the unexpected. Last season, the Los Angeles Kings finished with a record of 29-35-6, totaling 64 points, 28th in the league. The team wasn’t even close to a playoff spot last season, and they were one of just seven teams to miss the expanded 24-team playoff format. While the Kings were far off from the playoffs last season, they are closer than a lot of people might think.
The issue for Kings right now is the number of question marks when it comes to the young players, and how the team will be able to transition to the next era. Younger players can be very unpredictable, and if the Kings are going to be better in 2020-21, it will be up to them. Because of this volatility, it is easy to imagine some surprising outcomes next season, for better or for worse.
Not Unreasonable: Calvin Petersen Struggles
With Jonathan Quick phasing out of his career, and the departure of Jack Campbell, Petersen is expected to step in as the next starter for the Kings. He has played 19 games over the last two seasons with the team, posting some good numbers. Last season, Petersen put up a 2.64 goals-against average (GAA), as well as a .922 save percentage (SV%).
These numbers were almost identical to his stats in 2018-19, a 2.61 GAA, and a .924 SV%. While these are good numbers, the sample size is a bit of an issue. Petersen has been very consistent, but he only played eight games last season. He is expected to take on more of a starter or 1B role in the coming season, so it is hard to know how he will fare.
A lot of Petersen’s performance will be dependent on how the team in front of him plays. Surprisingly, the Kings were not a bad defensive team last season. They finished the shortened season 14th in the league in terms of goals against per game, allowing 2.99 on average. They also finished the season fifth in the league in terms of shots against, allowing just 29.7 per game.
While it is expected that the Kings’ defense in the coming season will be better than that of last season, it is possible that the numbers from the team’s blue-line in 2019-20 were a fluke. If Petersen ends up facing significantly more shots in 2020-21, his performance may suffer.
Bold: Drew Doughty Will Not Be the Kings’ Highest-Scoring Defenseman in 2020-21
Doughty has been on a bit of a decline over the last couple of seasons. Last season, the Kings’ highest-scoring defenseman put up 35 points in 67 games. He also posted a minus-16, and while that may seem quite bad, it is a step up from the team as a whole, a minus-32, and Doughty’s 2018-19 season, a minus-34.
Doughty really fell through last season in the category of advanced stats. For starters, he had the most giveaways (GV) on the team by a significant margin. He gave away the puck 82 times, with the second-worst being Sean Walker, with 65 giveaways. Doughty also ranked last on the team when it came to expected plus/minus (E +/-), finishing the season a minus-5.4.
Doughty also had very poor possession metrics. In fact, he ranked last on the team for any skater to play a full season in Corsi for percentage (CF%), relative Corsi for percentage (CF% rel), Fenwick for percentage (FF%), and relative Fenwick for percentage (FF% rel). He finished the season with a CF% of 50.2. percent, a CF% rel of -4.3 percent, an FF% of 49.2 percent, and an FF% rel of -5.3%. To sum it up, Doughty was not a standout player for the Kings last season.
Eventually, the possession issues will catch up to Doughty, and the 30-year-old could see his point totals take a dive. While there is no telling when this will happen, it could be as early as the coming season, and another player could take over as the team’s highest-scoring defenseman. When it comes to candidates who could take over as the leading scorer of the Kings’ D-core, there are a few options.
The most obvious answer is Walker, LA’s second-highest scoring defenseman last season. He was able to put up 24 points in 70 games in his 2019-20 campaign. This would earn him a new contract over the offseason, as the Kings inked Walker to a four-year deal, an average annual value (AAV) of $2.65 million.
Another solid possibility is Matt Roy, who performed at the highest level in all of the areas in which Doughty didn’t. While he didn’t have the most attractive numbers last season, putting up 18 points in 70 games, if Roy can continue his good habits, he could see a big jump when it comes to the scoresheet. He was a player who the Kings could truly count, and his play would win him multiple awards last season.
In the coming season, the Kings will also likely see Mikey Anderson, Tobias Bjornfot, and Kale Clague. All three of these players played most of last season with the Ontario Reign of the AHL. They were all able to get some NHL action, but none of them had any significant impact. While it is not probable, if one of these three takes off, exceeding expectations, they could rise to the top of the Kings’ defensive lineup.
The Boldest: The Kings Make the Playoffs in 2020-21
In a normal season, this wouldn’t be reasonable for even a bold prediction, but the upcoming season will be anything but normal. Due to COVID-19, the NHL will have to reinvent how the season will be played. This will likely include a division realignment, as travel will be a big big issue for the league.
The new western division would feature the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, Vegas Golden Knights, and the Kings. The NHL may decide to allow the top four teams from each division into the playoffs. If we can assume the Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Stars would be the top three teams in the division, there would be one spot up for grabs.
It is looking like the Ducks will be the least likely to push for a playoff spot, and the Sharks have more work to do than they seem to think. The Coyotes had a poor offseason, so they are also not looking like a playoff team. This would leave the last playoff spot for the Kings and Wild to fight for. In looking at Minnesota’s roster for the upcoming season, it would be very hard for the Kings to find their way past them, but not impossible.
If Petersen does end up playing a consistently good game, the veterans turn back the clock, and the young prospects come to play, Los Angeles could be looking at the playoffs in 2020-21. While a lot would have to go right for the Kings to make the cut, and I don’t think it is realistic, next season will be unpredictable, so the possibility shouldn’t be ruled out.
The 2020-21 Season Will Be Crucial for the Kings’ Future
It is fun to talk about bold predictions for next season, but the Kings’ 2020-21 campaign should mainly be about starting the transition to more competitive hockey in the smoothest possible manner. Time is almost up for a lot of veterans on the team, and it’s time to hand over the baton to the future of the organization. It may be difficult, but the light is at the end of the tunnel for the Kings, so proper execution should be the number one priority for the coming season.