What Now? L.A. Kings Look To Rebound in 2011-12
Prior to the start of the 2010-11 NHL season many experts were looking for the Kings to be this season’s breakout team. High hopes and even higher expectations were bestowed upon the Kings who were thought to be a Stanley Cup favorite early on.
The Kings got out of the gate quickly, collecting a record of 9-3 with one overtime loss in October. The Kings followed that up with 5-7 record in November before adding another nine wins in December.
While the Kings record looked good on paper, few people felt the Kings looked like a cohesive unit, even fewer felt they were a Stanley Cup team.
The Kings managed just five wins in January, but picked it up with eight wins in February and nine wins in March.
The Kings would finish off the 2010-11 season losing three of their final five games, which saw the Kings finish seventh overall in the Western Conference with a record of 46-30-6 which gave the men in black 98 points on the season.
The Anaheim Ducks finished ahead of the Kings in the standings with 99 points on the season. Just one more win would have afforded the Kings home ice advantage in the playoffs.
Further, if not for a pair of losses to the Ducks in the final two games of the season (2-1, 3-1) the Kings may have earned a more desirable matchup with the Nashville Predators, whom the Kings defeated three out of four games this season.
A late season injury to all-star forward Anze Kopitar certainly helped derail the Kings. Kopitar led the kings in scoring this season with 73 points. His offense and leadership were dearly missed throughout the playoffs.
That said, the kings entered the playoffs confident that the addition of power forward Dustin Penner from the Edmonton Oilers would help ease the pain of losing Kopitar.
Where this came from I am not so sure? Penner did very little during the regular season for the Kings, posting two goals and six points through 19 games, certainly not enough to point to him stepping up in the playoffs.
As it turns out, Penner did struggle in the playoffs, registering one goal and two points through six playoff games to go along with a minus-3 rating.
Penner was criticized by the fans and media for being invisible throughout the Kings series against the San Jose Sharks. His inability to score and/or create scoring chances frustrated the fans, as did his inability or unwillingness to back check, which was exposed on a nightly basis.
In the end it’s hard to believe a 6’4”, 245 pound player could be invisible, but Penner was exactly that, INVISIBLE.
Of course any time you lose a playoff series there is plenty of blame to go around. Not to be outdone, Alexei Ponikarovsky was even more invisible than Penner, registering one goal in four games on just five shots. Michal Handzus also struggled, registering one goal and one assist, but emerging with a minus -4 rating in the series, which was the worst on the team.
Brad Richardson, Ryan Smyth, Jack Johnson, Justin Williams and Drew Doughty all stepped up for the Kings, but in the end their efforts were not enough to get by the Sharks.
Between the pipes Jonathan Quick was adequate, but hardly a difference maker throughout the series.
The playoffs were a different story for Quick as he posted a bloated 3.16 goals against average (13th overall in the playoffs) and a .913 save percentage (11th overall in the playoffs).
Quick did face 229 shots in the series (the most of any playoff goalie thus far). That said, Quick gave up six goals on two occasions (both loses), underlining the fact that he and his team were not good enough in this series.
Going forward the Kings have a number of restricted and unrestricted free agents to deal with this summer.
Forwards Michal Handzus, Alexei Ponikarovsky and part-time defenseman Peter Harrold are all UFA’s, with all three of their futures with the Kings up in the air.
Trevor Lewis, Oscar Moller and Alec Martinez (all RFA’s) may find themselves as the odd men out this summer as the Kings try to get fellow restricted free agents Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds and Brad Richardson signed to contract extensions.
According to CapGeek.com the Kings have a projected Cap space of $11,506,190. Even with an expected $2-3 million increase in Cap next season, it will be tough for the Kings to sign all of their free agents and make an acquisition or two.
Unrestricted free agent centre Brad Richards has long been rumored to be coming to Los Angeles, but unless the Kings are able to unload a big contract (that Dustin Penner trade really handcuffed this team), it appears as if the signing of Richards is very remote.
On the cusp of making the jump to the big team are a number of impressive prospects, including the likes of forwards Brayden Schenn and Andrei Loktionov and defensemen Thomas Hickey and Derek Forbort, all of whom may require some more seasoning, but have huge upsides nonetheless.
Given the kings Cap restraints, look for Kings general manager Dean Lombardi to give his youngsters every opportunity to crack the lineup in 2011-12 and/or look to make a few deals to help bolster his club.
It was a disappointing 2010-11 season for the men in black. The good news is the future still looks very bright and, as the saying goes, “there’s always next year”.
Until next time,