Kings face summer of uncertainty after failing to reach Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Los Angeles Kings against the San Jose Sharks always feels like spring time hockey.
There's been perennial playoff drama. Nearly a year ago, we had the "reverse sweep." Only a few months ago, there was picturesque outdoor mayhem as the Kings, once again, stole the Sharks' thunder in their own backyard.
But Saturday afternoon at the Staples Center, the two teams clashed in what was quite possibly the most anticlimactic game between the two rivals in recent history. The Kings won 4-1, but it was the last game of the season for both.
Springtime hockey no more.
"It sucked," winger Justin Williams said. "It sucked playing a game that really has no factor on any standings. We have not played a game like that in a long time. Reality will set in that we won't be playing in the playoffs and wont have a chance to defend our Cup and that's what really stings."
It's the first time since the 2008-2009 season that the Kings haven't had anything to play for. After two Stanley Cup wins in three years and a Western Conference Finals appearance in between, the bar had been set much higher than the Kings could reach this season.
"It's an empty feeling, for sure," said center Anze Kopitar. "It's not what we expected at the start of the season, but it is what it is now. I'm sure we'll all look back at this and learn from it and realize that this is not a good position. We know that already, but we've got to make sure that we come back next year stronger and win in the playoffs again."
There were a few highlights -- a standing ovation from an extremely loyal sellout crowd being the biggest.
Two of the goals were scored by players the Kings will need big performances from next season: defenseman Brayden McNabb and center Andy Andreoff. Their games will need to be elevated because the Kings could be without the services of a few of their stars.
Sports can seem kind of silly when there's nothing to chase, but the Kings will be doing a considerable amount of chasing through the summer. They'll be chasing their free agent stars in Justin Williams. Jarret Stoll and Tyler Toffoli. With the announcement that Robyn Regehr will retire, the Kings now have six defenseman under contract past this season, Slava Voynov included.
The Voynov situation doesn't seem to have an end in sight. And with that comes the myriad of salary cap issues for general manager Dean Lombardi to navigate.
The Cup team from a year ago is mostly intact and the leadership of the dressing room would like to keep it together and try to right the wrongs of this season with another Cup run next. Continuity has been the key to their successes, they say.
But it might not be that easy.
"I think that's always the idea you have," captain Dustin Brown said. "If you look at my first few years, it was like a turnstile in here. But you look at it now, the last few years, it's been pretty solidified and we've been winning."
Coach Darryl Sutter insists that he will be back next year as well.
"What do you mean will you see me?" he said. "Am I invisible?"
But Sutter has a burning question as well: Under the new playoff format and with the way the game has evolved, can Kings Hockey still win?
"Our record ends up being, this year, identical to the record from our first Cup year," Sutter said. "We finished in this new division, this new format this year fourth (in the Pacific) and ninth (in the Western Conference). We finished fourth and ninth with an identical record, but that record is not good enough to be a playoff team and that record is not good enough to win a championship."
The championship window is sometimes much smaller than it initially looks. The Kings' grinding, low-scoring ways may not be enough to win anymore. Especially when the defense, an aspect that was once this team's calling card, is pieced together.
A summer of uncertainty awaits the Kingdom.