QUEBEC CITY, QC. — It’s the third day of my Western Conference predictions! Here’s the link if you missed the Eastern Conference picks.
2014-15 WESTERN CONFERENCE predicted standings
2013-’14 summary: Los Angeles Kings
Regular season record of 46 – 28 – 8, 100 points, 6th West, Stanley Cup winner.
The Kings definitely didn’t have the most conventional path to a Stanley Cup. They overcame a 3-0 deficit in the first round against the San Jose Sharks. They then eliminated the Anaheim Ducks in seven games. The game seven trend continued when they beat the Chicago Blackhawks to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. The Kings ended the NHL playoffs in dramatic fashion by needing overtime to win the Cup. An unlikely hero in Alec Martinez rose to the occasion and did what millions of individuals have done in their dreams: score the Stanley Cup winning goal.
The emotion from this goal represents what hockey is all about.
Under Darryl Sutter, the story has been the same for Los Angeles: a low scoring team that turns it on during the playoffs. But I suspect that phenomenon will change next season. With a full year of Marian Gaborik and an influx of youth with the likes of Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, the Kings should be a better team offensively. The Kings scored on average 2.42 goals a game last season, however that number changed to 3.38 goals a game during the playoffs. Such a contrast in numbers is definitely hard to explain but some of the Kings players had career lows this season which could explain many things.
Dustin Brown actually had fewer points this season than he did in 46 games during the shortened season. His 27 points were rather disappointing and shocking considering he’s used to scoring 20+ goals and producing 50+ points. It’s quite strange to attribute what happened to the American forward, it’s not like he’s regressing because of age or after injury troubles. He just hit a wall last season. But to be fair, the Kings’ captain did a complete 180 in the playoffs and was essential in their Cup win with his contributions.
Another player who had a disappointing season based on his status is Justin Williams. The 32-year-old clearly made up for it in the playoffs with his Conn Smythe worthy performance, but he only had 43 points last season. That’s his lowest total since 2008-09 which saw him get traded from Carolina to Los Angeles. The Coburg native will certainly get a raise from his annual salary of $3,650,000, it will be interesting to see if he decides to take less money to stay with the Kings. After three Stanley Cups, the forward probably doesn’t have a lot left to prove and could look for that big last contract before retiring.
Pearson and Toffoli will both look to build from a solid showing the playoffs. The two kids and Jeff Carter formed a line called ‘That 70’s line’ and found a lot of success. Pearson is kind of an interesting story, he was passed over in the 2011 draft and was selected as an over-ager by the Kings in 2012. The 22-year-old has paid his dues in the AHL and will play in the team’s top nine. Pearson impressed me with his speed and hockey sense, I don’t think 40 points is out of the question for him. Toffoli who was selected in the same draft has all you’re looking for in a goal scorer. His 14 points in last year’s playoffs testify that he can contribute at this level. I expect him to score at least 20 goals next season.
Gaborik’s health is definitely a concern since he hasn’t played a full season since 2011-12 (and that was the first time in his career that he played all 82 games in a season.) The Slovakian played a crucial part in them coming out victorious with his playoff leading 14 goals. Gaborik has tremendous chemistry with Anze Kopitar and many are hoping that the two can keep that success intact next season.
It is surprising that the Kings won the Cup despite having only two players with 50 points or more on their roster. What’s even more shocking is the gap in points between their scoring leader, Kopitar, and the next player. The Slovenian star had 70 points while Jeff Carter, the next highest scorer, had 50! If Los Angeles can get more scoring from the likes of Williams, Pearson, Gaborik and Toffoli, they should easily finish in third place. They will also count on role players like Dwight King, Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis to bring secondary scoring and play their roles namely winning battles in the corners and being responsible defensively.
Some fans weren’t impressed by Jonathan Quick at times but I’m sure those people ate some crow when they found out that the net minder was playing with a wrist injury. When you’re a player, you can play injured without hurting your team, you just tell yourself that you won’t deliver body checks on a certain side or block a shot. When you’re in net, you can’t afford to have that mentality; you’re the difference between winning and losing. The fact that Quick was able to lead the Kings to a second Stanley Cup in two years despite not being one hundred percent is remarkable.
Quick facts about Los Angeles:
- Drew Doughty has never won the Norris trophy, is this the year?
- Can the Kings become the first team since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 to win back-to-back Stanley Cups?
- The Kings only had two 20 goal scorers last season, the lowest amount for a Stanley Cup winning team in the modern era.