This is the seventh article in a series of articles looking at and analyzing the success of the last five teams to raise the Stanley Cup. Be sure to read the first three articles in the series, “Where Have all the Dynasties Gone?”, “Detroit: Setting the Parameters of a Modern Day Dynasty”, “Detroit: End of an Era?” , “Pittsburgh – Needed to hit Rock Bottom before Rising Up”, “Chicago – Fresh Replacements is the Key“, and “Building the Boston Bruins: Having a Philosophy and Sticking to It Pays Off“. The objective of this series is to search for the new magic formula to create a champion and whether that champion would be built to stand the test of time.
Today, we turn our focus to the 2012 Stanley Cup champions the Los Angeles Kings as we continue analyzing the final four teams standing in this year’s Stanley Cup play-offs.
The Los Angeles Kings franchise has enjoyed the shortest existence out of the clubs we have been examining, however it has enjoyed seeing some of the best players in the history of the game lace up their skates. The club has been in existence for 46 years. During those 46 years the Kings have only made the Cup finals twice; once following the infamous Wayne Gretzky non-high sticking call against the Leafs in 1993, and then again in 2012 when the team won its first Stanley Cup.
So if a club has only made the Cup finals twice in 46 years why are we even bothering to write an article about it discussing if it might be a dynasty or not? Well first off, it is obvious that the club is not a dynasty yet. Remember the purpose of the article is to consider if a team, who at the very least made it to the conference finals this season after winning the Cup last year, has what it takes to eventually develop into a dynasty.
Unlike the other articles, there is very little to say in respect of the history of the Kings as far as a dynasty goes, only to say that it is a club that has had the likes of Gretzky, Marcel Dionne, Luc Robitaille, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Larry Murphy and Larry Robinson play at least two seasons with the team during its existence.
In the past the Kings could not be blamed for a lack of effort to produce a good team. It may have been faulty thinking, bad or aimless planning on the part of management, but it at least tried. Just look at the list above; any team bringing in those players were not trying to lose on purpose. However, for the longest period of time, that’s what the Kings did – lose. They ultimately failed to win the big one when it mattered.
The current version of the club started to take shape at the 2005 entry draft in which the Kings selected Anze Kopitar and goaltender Jonathan Quick. Both players have turned into key contributors for the Kings. The next big impact year from a draft perspective for the Kings was the 2008 entry draft in which the team selected Drew Doughty, Colton Teubert and Vyacheslav Voynov.
The team had also stock piled young players like Jack Johnson, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn all of whom the club would use in 2011 and 2012 to make deals for key contributors Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
Over the same period of time, the club would sign free agents like Rob Scuderi and make smaller trades for Matt Greene, Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams to add a veteran presence to the team.
However, up until December of 2011 the club seemed to believe that the reason they were failing on the ice was due to a lack of star power. The club in the 2010 off-season pushed hard to sign superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, but in the end lost out to the New Jersey Devils (I am betting it is now very happy it failed in its attempts), tried to convince (eventually unsuccessfully) Ryan Smyth that he should continue to play hockey as a King rather than go back to the Oilers to finish out his career.
During this time it stood firmly behind their bench boss, Terry Murray. Well after starting the 2011 season with a 13-12-4 record, not a strong record but not horrible either, Management admitted they had made a mistake in sticking with Murray as coach, while trying to make numerous player changes to fix the problem. The club fired Murray and brought in Darryl Sutter and the team went on a 25-13-11 streak that would not only take them into the play-offs, but the club would win its first Cup in franchise history.
It appears that the missing link in Los Angeles was not necessarily a superstar player, but a leader on the bench that could harness the team’s potential and talent.
As mentioned above, prior to 2011 the club seemed to lack focus, and while the team did draft smartly, and was slowly putting together a strong nucleus of players, the one missing key ingredient was leadership from the bench. By helping lead the team to winning the cup last year and leading the Kings to the Conference finals this year, Sutter has at the very least stabilized the coaching situation in Los Angeles.
Management: The Kings are lead by general manager Dean Lombardi, who took over as the club’s general manager in 2006. Lombardi has overlooked the clubs growth through the building phase and his philosophy and hard work has helped lead the club to its first Stanley Cup win last season. During his tenure the Hockey News named the Kings as the top in its “Future Watch” draft recap (2010).
However, even for a seasoned general manager like Lombardi, it has been a road not void of speed bumps and curve balls. When he assumed the general managers role in 2006, he brought in veteran coach Marc Crawford to help lead a young team. By 2008 the team decided that experiment had failed and Lombardi replaced Crawford with Terry Murray. Murray had a decent record as coach of the Kings, but failed to get the true potential of the club forcing Lombardi to make the tough decision to replace Murray with Darryl Sutter mid-way though the 2011-2012 season. However, it was that tough decision to replace a coach with a winning record that may have been the key contributor to the Kings first Stanley Cup win.
Coaching: As mentioned above, unlike the other Stanley Cup conference finalists this season, the Kings have been through a number of coaches through its rise to relevance. However they appear to have found its man in Sutter. Although Sutter has only a short track record with the Kings, he has a long-standing history in the NHL as both a player, coach and in management. He is well known for his ‘tough-love’ style coaching philosophy and he is not afraid to bench any player who is underperforming or following the club’s system. Sutter was handed a team filled with all the talent in the world, and what he has shown in his season and a half as bench boss of the Kings is that he knows how to harness that potential and talent.
On Ice: The Kings are led on the ice by captain Dustin Brown. Brown was named the team Captain in 2008, where he would become the youngest captain in club history. Brown has consistently put up 50+ point seasons (full seasons) for the Kings, but when compared to Zdeno Chara, Jonathon Toews and Sidney Crosby, Brown would certainly be a captain that flies under most people’s radar.
Brown is joined on the ice by assistant captains Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards. Richards was the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers prior to coming over to the Kings in 2011. All three players are 28 years old or younger and still have a lot of hockey left to play.
In 2011 the Kings had all the talent in the world on its roster, the problem was figuring out how to harness that talent. Sutter was able to do just that. The question that remains is will the novelty wear out? Will Sutter be able to consistently harness the potential and talent?
The club is the reigning Stanley Cup champions (until one is crowned this season), and the potential and talent that helped win the Cup last season still exists on the roster. The Kings only have 6 players on the roster that are older than Brown (28), and 6 players who were born in the 1990’s. So the club is still on the young side and fairly well balanced between veteran and youth.
One of the biggest strengths of the Kings roster is in net. The Kings have two goalies that are considered capable of being starters in the NHL. Jonathan Quick has solidified his role as the clubs starter, constantly making highlight reel saves, while 24-year-old Jonathan Bernier has been honing the trade waiting his chance. The Kings will be forced to make a decision shortly on Bernier as he has been patiently waiting for his shot – they will not wait forever. Lombardi will likely need to move him this summer either for picks or prospects to improve the club in other need areas.
The defense core is led by veteran defensive defenseman Greene, Scudari and Robyn Reighr and by a youth movement of offensive defenseman led by young Norris Trophy finalist Doughty and Voynov.
Up front the club consist of many forwards about to enter their primes, such as Carter, Richards, Kopitar and Brown. They added veterans like Dustin Penner and Justin Williams over the years to add a veteran voice to the strong draft classes that have produced young players like Dwight King, Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford.
According to capgeek.com the Kings have 14 players under contract for the 2013-2014 and has a little over $11,800,000 in projected cap space to fill out its roster. This does not include any buyout the team may choose to make in the off-season.
Management will be forced to make tough decisions this summer as there are a number of roster spots still needing to be filled and not that much money to do it with. Lombardi will need to make decisions on a large number of restricted free agents including Bernier, Clifford, Lewis, Voynov, Alec Martinez and Keatin Ellerby as well as decide whether to bring back Penner, Scuderi and Brad Richardson, all of whom will be unrestricted free agents. As mentioned earlier, the Kings will likely be forced to move Bernier this summer as long as they can find a taker who can offer the right package for the highly talented goaltending prospect.
The club will likely do all it can to re-sign Clifford, Lewis, Matinez and Voynov, however will most likely allow Penner and Scudari to leave via free agency.
To get an idea of what the Kings have in its system to possibly fill the holes left by some of these departures check out LWOS August 8, 2012 series Top Shelf Prospects.
Out of all of this years conference finalists the Kings are the toughest in my mind to determine whether the franchise will continue its hot play and become a dynasty, or fizzle and drop back down into mediocrity. While the Kings have the potential and talent, there is still the question of whether the on-ice leadership is strong enough to continue to harness that potential.
As long as the Kings can continue to harness the potential and draft well it might be able to continue to lead the west. At this point in time it is too early to tell which route the Kings will take.
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