With the emergence of a certain hockey team in metropolitan Las Vegas, Nevada, the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings don’t hate each other like they used to do. That is not to say, however, that these two rivals have started feeling any sort of warm feelings for each other.
The Sharks and Kings split their season series at two games apiece in 2018-19. The second of the Sharks’ two losses came at a time when they were doing their annual backtracking-into-the-playoffs bit, and the Kings successfully played spoiler to deter the Sharks from getting any closer to winning the Pacific Division.
Where we left off
The 2018-19 season for the Kings was ... not good.
Despite the KHL’s leading scorer and 2018 Olympic MVP and gold medal winner for Russia — I mean, the Olympic Athletes of Russia — Ilya Kovalchuk, joining the Kings on a three-year contract, the Kings just couldn’t get it figured out all season long.
After a 5-8-1 start to the season, head coach John Stevens was fired and was replaced by Willie Desjardins — yes, that Willie Desjardins. He wasn’t able to turn around the Kings’s fortunes, leading them to sell at the trade deadline. Jake Muzzin was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in late January for a package including Carl Grundstrom and the Leafs’ first round pick. The Kings didn’t stop there, trading Carl Hagelin to the Washington Capitals and Nate Thompson to the Montreal Canadiens, both for picks. The Kings ended their trade deadline by trading third-pairing defenseman Oscar Fantenberg to the Calgary Flames for a fourth-round pick in 2020.
It was at this point that the Kings had accepted their fate. They were eliminated from playoff contention on March 18 and sunk all the way down to last place in the Pacific Division.
2019 Entry Draft
I must give credit where credit is due: the Kings had a fantastic draft. They started their 2019 draft off by selecting US National Team Development Program center Alex Turcotte with the fifth overall pick, and then took Swedish defenseman Tobias Bjornfot later in the first round with the 22nd overall pick that they got from the Maple Leafs in the Jake Muzzin trade.
They then selected what I consider to be one of the bigger steals of the draft, taking Arthur Kaliyev with the 33rd overall pick (a pick that some of us here at FTF were very jealous of). They drafted the Swedish-born winger Samuel Fagemo later in that round with the 50th overall pick. Some other standout picks were Czech goaltender Lukas Parik (third round, 87th overall) and Moncton Wildcats defenseman Jordan Spence (fourth round, 95th overall).
The Kings made some depth signings to kick off their free agency, signing Martin Frk and a good friend of ours, Joakim Ryan, to one-year deals. They also reunited Adrian Kempe with his brother, Mario Kempe, who had been in the Arizona Coyotes organization, signing him to a one-year deal, and rounded their free agency out by signing Canucks castaway Ben Hutton to a one-year deal earlier this week.
During the buyout window, the Kings decided to part ways with Dion Phaneuf, taking on the rest of his two-year contract. He will be owed $2,187,500 this season, $4,062,500 in the 2020-21 season and then $1,062,500 over the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons.
The Kings did make a change behind the bench, and the man they chose is a name that many of you will recognize, and some of you will shudder reading it.
The former Sharks (and more recently, Edmonton Oilers) head coach agreed to a multi-year contract to serve as the Kings’ 29th head coach in franchise history, after reportedly being in negotiations to become the Buffalo Sabres’ head coach.
What can we expect in 2020?
Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic currently predicts the Kings to finish with 78 points, which would once again place the Kings dead last in the Pacific Division. They have only an eight percent chance of making the playoffs, and a .1 percent chance of winning the Cup.
They will still have their three stars in Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, but all three had serious declines last year, especially Quick. In fact, his .888 save percentage last season was the second-worst among goalies who had played 25 or more games (only Aaron Dell’s was lower, but we won’t get into that). There’s a legitimate possibility that his current understudy, Jack Campbell, may very well take the reins as starting goalie after his strongest season ever in the NHL, after posting a .927 save percentage in 31 games played.
Only four more years to go!
To clarify, that's 10 years after next year -- so 11 years in total of our goaltender being better than yours.— LA Kings (@LAKings) June 28, 2012
In all seriousness, despite having interesting pieces besides their Big Three like Carl Grundstrom, Kovalchuk, Alex Iafallo and the Kempe brothers, it just won’t be enough for the Kings to avoid the cellar. They shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the Sharks in their four regular-season games. Of course, the operative word is “shouldn’t.”
They’ll first face the Sharks on November 25 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.