Among all of the disappointments through the first round of the NHL playoffs, the spotlight is shining brightly on Southern California. With the Anaheim Ducks bowing out to the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night, two of the heaviest teams in the playoffs made swift and speedy exits.
The L.A. Kings and Ducks faced different hurdles with their opponents, but the one constant was goaltending. Martin Jones of the Sharks and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights stonewalled their opposition. They have been the two best goalies in the playoffs so far and are early candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy. It’s hard to believe that Jones’ 1.00 goals-against average and .970 save percentage is bested by Fleury’s 0.65 G.A.A. and .977 save percentage.
Regardless, both series were supposed to go down to the wire. I foolishly picked both of these series to go seven games, although I wasn’t the only one. Many believed the Kings’ experience would help them beat the Golden Knights. The Sharks vs. Ducks series was largely a toss-up, with little separating the two.
The Kings and Ducks now go into the offseason with arguably two of the most disappointing playoff finishes. They are both reminiscent of the Chicago Blackhawks last year when they got swept by the Nashville Predators. Following their exit, Stan Bowman went out and made a number of moves. They weren’t necessarily strong moves, but it was clear that a first-round exit would not be swept under the rug. The Kings and Ducks’ losses don’t have to inspire silly changes, but changes should be on the horizon.
Kings Dizzied by Speedy Golden Knights
One of the glaring weaknesses in the Kings game was the lack of speed in their lineup. The Golden Knights skated circles around the Kings and L.A. didn’t have an answer. How they go about fixing this problem remains a mystery. Their top prospect, Gabe Vilardi, projects as a top six-winger but not a speedy one. Other prospects with speed like Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Mike Amadio don’t figure to be top-six impact players.
With aging vets like Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter on the roster, the Kings look that much further removed from going back to the Stanley Cup Final. It might be hard to blame Dean Lombardi and Rob Blake for keeping the core largely intact, but their playoff performance makes it evident that the Kings need to add speed. Guys like Tyler Toffoli, Adrian Kempe and Tanner Pearson can skate but the Kings need more. For whatever reason, none of those guys made an impact in the playoffs.
The biggest thing to consider is the contract status of Drew Doughty. He is entering the final year of his deal and can re-sign with the Kings beginning on July 1st. Will he want to stay with a Kings team in decline? After winning the Stanley Cup in 2014, the Kings have only won one playoff game since (1-8).
Successful Duck Hunt for Sharks
Even though the Ducks have had more recent success than the Kings, they seem further away from competing for the Stanley Cup. Watching the Kings get swept by an expansion franchise was one thing but at least that series was close in terms of the score all the way through. The Ducks, on the other hand, suffered numerous beatdowns at the hands of the Sharks. None was more damning than the 8-1 debacle in Game 3.
On paper, this should have been a much closer series. The Cam Fowler injury was an obvious disadvantage, but there was plenty of blame to go around.
It starts with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell. The Ducks’ top line had a combined goal differential of minus-13 at even strength, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Perry might epitomize the Ducks’ problems as a whole. The former Hart-winner will make more than $8.6 million per season until 2021 but hasn’t hit 20 goals in the last two seasons. That’s a lot of money for a winger who can’t reach 20. Considering his age and contract, could this be a player the Ducks look at moving?
Although Ryan Kesler had a decent series compared to most Ducks, his body seems badly broken. It’s asking a lot of him to perform up to his $6.8 million cap hit for the next four years. It’s troubling that he can’t even partake in practice thanks to the condition of his body.
Which Roster Would You Rather Have?
The answer might come from looking at the top of the lineup. With Anze Kopitar and Ryan Getzlaf, both teams have top-line centres who can still produce near an elite level. However, both teams have a bunch of money tied up in aging players (Brown, Carter, Perry, Kesler). At least for the Kings, their top players produced points this season, while Perry and Kesler battled injuries and inconsistency.
However, it looks like the Ducks have the stronger prospect pool moving forward. While Vilardi, Anderson-Dolan and Kale Clague remain big-promise players for the Kings, the Ducks arguably have more talent in the pipeline. Sam Steel, Troy Terry, Max Jones, Maxime Comtois all give the Ducks hope for future offensive production. Jacob Larsson and Andy Welinski could contribute to an already promising defence.
In both of these organizations, however, there don’t appear to be any elite offensive players. That could persuade Bob Murray and Blake into making moves that could benefit their organizations long-term. One thing that seems to be a safe bet? Something’s gotta give this offseason after two disastrous playoff performances from these historic franchises.