It is very hard to believe but today marks the 30th and final team of our series. The three month journey began late in July and continued (with some stops) to it’s last destination. Do not worry, we have a couple post-op Q&A’s for everyone but Gann Matsuda, the excellent writer from Frozen Royalty was kind enough to jump on the coolest hot seat out there and answer our questions. Here we go with none other than yes, the Los Angeles Kings.
1. The Los Angeles Kings were on top of the world again in the summer. Did the second Stanley Cup feel any different from the first?
No doubt about it. From an outside perspective, history had been made here in Los Angeles and even though the Anaheim Ducks were the first team in Southern California to win the Stanley Cup in 2007, their Cup win had nowhere near the impact. They’re in a smaller market down in Orange County, a considerably smaller fan base and the franchise has far less history. Also, social media just barely a blip on the radar back in 2007. As such, after about one week, there was nothing in the local news here in Southern California about the Ducks and the Stanley Cup. There was no lasting buzz at all.
It was the opposite end of the spectrum when the Kings won it in 2012. It was huge news here, and even in Orange County. The Kings and the Cup were in the news in Southern California all summer long, and of course, they were all over social media, as well.
When the Kings won it all again last June, from the moment captain Dustin Brown hoisted the Stanley Cup, things were very different. Player reactions were much more subdued. They all said it was a very different experience compared to 2012 because this time, they knew what to expect—the majority of them were now experienced playoff veterans, and Stanley Cup Final veterans.
It was different for the rest of us, too. No longer were the Kings synonymous with failure (in terms of winning championships). Old school fans from the early days of the franchise did not have the sense of impending doom that they had in 2012, even when the Kings were up 3-0 in the Cup finals against New Jersey. “When is the bottom going to drop out?”
No, in 2014, it was very different. None of the familiar sense of dread was evident. No one was expecting failure like they had been conditioned to do for so many years. It was like winning the Stanley Cup was now expected.
2. Did anyone ever see Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar having the kind of chemistry and success that they enjoyed in the playoffs for the Los Angeles Kings?
If anyone did, they were totally guessing, or they’re a liar. Gaborik’s injury history was the first thing most thought of. We knew he would add a dimension the Kings didn’t have—speed and scoring on left wing. But would he play defense, and would he stay healthy?
Gaborik provided all of those things, and then some.
3. Was there any inkling that Jonathan Quick was hurt in the playoffs or was it hidden rather well?
Just like in 2012, when he played with a pretty serious back injury, no one outside the team had any idea Quick was playing with a significant wrist injury. Then again, he didn’t know it was that serious, either. He was surprised when he found out that he needed to undergo surgery.
4. Now about “That 70’s Line”, what made this line click so well?
First off, Jeff Carter is one of the best players in the NHL, and vastly underrated. He’s big, strong, has incredible speed, and has one of the top 5 (maybe top 3) wrist shots in the league. Several NHL scouts have told me that the puck comes off his stick in a way that few players have ever been capable of, and they’re not just talking about how hard the shot is.
Toffoli and Pearson are products of the Kings’ development system, and to their credit, they were fantastic students. They both have a scoring touch, Toffoli more than Pearson, and especially in Pearson’s case, they have surprising speed and the ability to dig pucks out during battles along the boards. They all complement each other and with their speed, they back defenses off, forcing them off-balance, having to react rather than be aggressive, and the way these guys skate, if you give them an inch, you’re toast.
5. The Los Angeles Kings were able to pretty much lock up their players to long term deals that were not bank breakers. What is the biggest take from their signings?
That players are willing to sacrifice pay to be able to play for a team that is not only a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, but one that should be right there in the mix for at least the next few years.
It’s also a clear indication that the Kings have become a model franchise in the NHL. It’s not just that they’ve won, but it’s the way they’ve won. The franchise was torn down and rebuilt from the ground up by President/General Manager Dean Lombardi to be a contender year after year after year. Players see that and want to stay.
Gaborik is perfect example of that. He could’ve gotten considerably more money on July 1 than he got by signing with the Kings. But in his words, “…it wasn’t about the money. I wanted to stay here.”
6. What prospects on the farm should we know about that could be on the verge of the big club or just progressing through the ranks.
The one prospect that’s furthest along in his development is center Jordan Weal, who’s game has come a long way since he was selected in the third round (70th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He’s a small forward at 5-10, 183 pounds. But he’s added muscle, especially within the last year, and it really shows. He got a long look in training camp this fall before heading back to Manchester in the final round of training camp cuts.
Weal is a skilled center, a good scorer, a good playmaker, and is strong in the face-off circle. He’s improved in the physical aspects of the game and has come a long way on the defensive side of the puck.
The problem for Weal, besides his size, is that there is a logjam at center on the big club’s roster, so his road to the NHL might not go through Los Angeles.
Others to watch: Nick Ebert, D; Scott Sabourin, RW; Michael Mersch, LW; Nick Shore, C; Valentin Zykov, C (still in junior).
7. Which team worries you most in the Pacific Division?
Anaheim appears to be the strongest team in the division, outside of the Kings. San Jose would be just behind the Kings, followed by Vancouver, with Phoenix, Calgary and Edmonton bringing up the rear.
Anaheim has proven to be built for the regular season, and I expect them to win the division again, maybe even the conference. Meanwhile, the Kings will make the playoffs, something they’re built for. If healthy, they’ll go deep once again.
8. So did you get any time with the Stanley Cup?
I covered the Kings visit to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles when they took the Cup there so that patients and their families could get to see it up close and personal. But I waited until the end of September to take a photo with it at a private party hosted by one of the Kings’ hockey operations staff members.
9. Darryl Sutter has a unique beat on this team. What makes him such a brilliant taskmaster?
He understands and relates to his players like no other coach I’ve ever seen, and he totally bought into the team culture that Dean Lombardi created here. The selfless attitude that is dictated by that culture is reinforced and enhanced by Sutter, who also recognizes that his players are young enough, by and large, to be his children. In some ways, he is more like their father than their coach. Even he has said that.
10. Who deserves the Calder so far for Los Angeles? Who could be the most valuable player (MVP)?
Pearson is already in the Calder conversation on a league-wide basis. He, Carter and Toffoli are battling it out for early consideration for the Kings’ MVP.
As for Hart Trophy consideration, it’s way, way too early for that.
11. Lastly, what will Los Angeles’ fate be for the upcoming season? Will they advance deep into the playoffs again or maybe do the repeat?
The Stanley Cup will remain in the hands of the Western Conference for the foreseeable future. None of the Eastern teams are as good as the Kings or the Chicago Blackhawks. None have the combination of goaltending, defense and scoring that these two teams possess.
Unless something drastic happens, the Kings will make the Western Conference Final again, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them hoist the Stanley Cup in June for the third time in the last four seasons.
Next up will be our prologues, first with Jeff Marek of Sportsnet. I humbly cannot thank all of the writers and personalities for their help in this wild and crazy endeavor. It really has been an amazing ride and learning experience.