After long year, LA Kings primed for renewal, Cup run
LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Kings are rested from an uncommonly long offseason and ready to forget about a summer of arrests, departures and general upheaval.
A team that grew accustomed to deep playoff runs is ready to make another. A talented core believes it can recapture the magic that made the Kings into Stanley Cup winners in 2012 and 2014.
The Kings insist their championship story isn’t over. After the tumult of the past 12 months, a return to title-winning form would be remarkable – but the entire NHL knows the Kings are completely capable of doing the unexpected.
”I think guys are excited to get on the ice, because it gives us a chance to think about things other than everything the team has been going through,” captain Dustin Brown said.
The Kings cut ties with Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards after their respective arrests for alleged drug-related offenses, and the ugly saga of Slava Voynov’s domestic violence conviction probably ended with his voluntary return to Russia, wrapping up their No. 2 defenseman’s career in Los Angeles.
General manager Dean Lombardi has looked inward after the troubles, vowing to educate his players on multiple aspects of life. The Kings have said little about their departed teammates, knowing their only way out of the situation is forward.
And the upcoming season is promising. The Kings still have a championship-caliber core consisting of Brown, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik and Jonathan Quick, and they’ve added power forward Milan Lucic to help their top-end scoring.
”We feel confident that we can get back to the playoffs because that’s where we belong,” Doughty said. ”We know what quality of a team we have, and we feel like we’re still one of the best in the league.”
Here are some more things to watch when the Kings begin Wednesday:
FRESH LEGS: The Kings played an NHL-record 64 playoff games in three years during their championship run, winning an astonishing 10 postseason series in that time. The grind was undeniable, and while nobody in Los Angeles uses it as an excuse, the Kings must benefit from five months of recovery as they attempt to get off to a quick start in the race for the Pacific Division title, which they have never won.
TURNOVER: Along with the arrests, the Kings lost a large chunk of last season’s roster during the summer to cap issues, playing-time concerns and old age. Conn Smythe Trophy-winning forward Justin Williams’ clutch skills belong to Washington now, and Andrej Sekera gave up Manhattan Beach for Edmonton as a free agent. Former backup goalie Martin Jones is starting for the Kings’ bitter rivals in San Jose, and capable defenseman Robyn Regehr is enjoying retirement in Canada.
REPLACEMENTS: The Kings have several veterans signed to lucrative, long-term contracts, which limits Lombardi’s ability to restock. Still, he made two strong moves in landing Lucic and free-agent defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, and he picked up Jhonas Enroth to back up Quick. Lucic’s toughness could fit in splendidly with coach Darryl Sutter’s responsible style of play.
KOPITAR’S CONTRACT: Kopitar has led the Kings in scoring for eight consecutive seasons, but the franchise center heads into the season without a deal for next season. His agent, Pat Brisson, is in talks with the Kings that could yield a deal imminently. ”Kopi has the ability and professionalism to not let it be a distraction,” Brown said. Lucic also is in the final year of his deal.
YOUNG GUYS: The Kings are counting on the continued development of Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, the two young goal-scoring forwards who grew up in their system and broke into prominence during the 2013-14 Cup run. Toffoli is armed with a new contract after scoring 23 goals last season, while Pearson is back at full strength after missing the final 40 games of last season with a broken leg. Toffoli and Pearson are key components of the Kings’ future.
CAPTAIN’S SLOG: Brown scored just 27 points last season, including a career-low 11 goals. Those aren’t the numbers Los Angeles expects from its leader, who begins the second season of an eight-year contract with an annual salary cap hit of $5.875 million this fall. Brown rested, hired a nutritionist and worked aggressively in the offseason to get better. The Kings need it from a forward who scored just one goal in their final 25 games.