Maybe this is the year...
Fooled you. Let me finish that sentence before you jump in.
Maybe this is the year sports pundits stop using the words Los Angeles Kings and Lord Stanley’s Cup in the same sentence. While the East Coast watching hockey world likes to believe the California hockey teams are the powerhouses of the Pacific Division, it’s become fairly clear the Los Angeles Kings are just riding in on our coattails.
The Sharks and the Kings will play four times this season and you can be sure that each game at the Tank will be filled with “Beat LA” chants. Trouble is, I don’t think it’s going to be as hard to beat LA this year as it has been in year’s past, especially with Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns roaming the San Jose blue line.
Where we left off
Consider this: When we last saw the Los Angeles Kings, they were getting humiliated by the Vegas Golden Knights. The Kings scored a grand total of three goals in the entire four-game playoff series and were the first team kicked from the playoffs.
Granted, the games were close. The Los Angeles Kings had the best defense in the league last season. They also had the best penalty kill in the league last season.
But they couldn’t score!
As we entered the off-season. LA was stuck looking for answers.
2018 Entry Draft
They found one fairly quickly, signing forward Ilya Kovalchuk in late June to a three-year, $18.75 million deal. Trouble is, no one knows how well Kovalchuk will do in his return to the NHL. He hasn’t played in America in the last five years and he’s 35-years-old. This could be an amazing pick up for the Kings, or it could a large weight that causes salary cap issues down the road.
As for the actual draft, the Kings added seven prospects to their system. They picked up forward Rasmus Kupari with the 20th overall pick. Jewels from the Crown will tell you Kupari is a super fast forward, but still needs some time to develop. He’s expected to play in Finland this upcoming season.
The Kings got a steal with the 51st overall pick when they snagged Akil Thomas. You may remember we here at Fear the Fin thought he might be a good first round pick for the Sharks.
LA also picked up three forwards and a pair of goalies on day two of the draft.
Other than the Kovalchuk signing the Kings were relatively quiet during the off-season. On July 1, they signed Drew Doughty to a eight-year, $88 million extension. According to Cap Friendly, the extension starts next season and runs through the 2026-27 season.
All the main players are returning to the lineup this season, which means the only spots that will be up for grabs will be a few fourth line spots that weren’t really locked down to begin with.
What can we expect in 2019?
The Kings are always solid defensively. Jonathan Quick is still a dependable, steady goaltender; Drew Doughty is still among the best defensemen in the league; and Anze Kopitar is the reigning Selke Trophy winner.
However, what the Kings lack is scoring. Kovalchuk will help, though I’m not really sure it’s going to make an impact that’s worth more than $6 million a year. The Kings haven’t added any other significant pieces, so the players will have to look within for scoring.
The Kings are a bubble team. They barely made it into the playoffs last season, finishing in the Western Conference’s first wildcard spot. And they didn’t add anything.
Assuming the Sharks and the Golden Knights are a lock for two of the three playoff spots in the Pacific Division. That leaves one more Pacific Division spot and at most two wild card spots open. The Anaheim Ducks are still considered a playoff contender. If the Edmonton Oilers find their groove again, or the young guns on the Arizona Coyotes or Calgary Flames develop faster than expected, the Kings could find themselves on the outside looking in come April.
The Kings open the season at home against the Sharks. Game time is 7 p.m. on October 5. The teams will play four times this season. The other three games are in December, January, and March.
That’s my take on the Kings this season, what’s yours?