The Los Angeles Kings mounted a credible title defence in 2013, ultimately losing in the Western Conference Final to the eventual-champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Off-Season Game Plan examines a Kings team that remains set to challenge for another title for the forseeable future and, as a result, doesn't require much tinkering.
Of course, part of the reason that the Kings don't need to do much tinkering with their roster is that they already made one somewhat predictable move, trading backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier to the Toronto Maple Leafs for right winger Matt Frattin and goaltender Ben Scrivens, a move that increased the Kings' financial flexibility as they prepare for a decreasing salary cap.
"We've taken this to nuclear science now in terms of how you put these equations together," GM Dean Lombardi told NHL.com, regarding the Kings' salary cap crunch. "There's a bit of a vise here that certainly you couldn't project it … we've got a challenge here, but I'm confident that we can meet it."
The Kings could have been even better in 2013 than they were the year before, thanks to outstanding puck possession metrics, but their goaltending wasn't close to its previous level. It's not difficult to see the potential, however, of just how strong the Kings could be if they paired their strong puck possession game with a good or great season from Jonathan Quick in goal; that's a team that can win a Stanley Cup.
Those are high expectations, but entirely justified given the play of this team over the last couple seasons.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Dean Lombardi/Darryl Sutter
Kings Forwards Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
One of the game's premier goal-scorers, Jeff Carter was fourth in the league with 26 goals last season and ranks fifth in goals over the last five seasons with 162, one behind Ilya Kovalchuk and one ahead of Corey Perry.
Carter's odd season included just seven assists, giving him the most lopsided goals-assists ratio (minimum 20 goals) since Peter Bondra had 34 goals and nine assists in the shortened season following the 1994 lockout. Carter provides additional value because, in addition to right wing, he can play centre, which he did seamlessly when Mike Richards was injured.
Over the last four seasons, there are six players that have scored at least 250 points and finished with a cumulative plus-minus of plus-50 or better and Anze Kopitar is one of them. A consistent scorer who is also gaining respect for his defensive play and has been one of the elite puck possession players over the last five seasons.
All that said, Kopitar also generated a career-low 2.09 shots on goal per game and scored at a career-low rate (0.21 gpg) last season, going the final 16 games of the regular season without lighting the lamp. Combined with three goals in 18 playoff games, that leaves Kopitar with three goals in his last 34 games played and he's obviously far too good for that.
Paired with Kopitar for much of the time, Justin Williams has also been an elite puck possession player for four-plus seasons with the Kings. He's a two-time Stanley Cup winner and four-time 20-goal-scorer who, after a series of injury-plagued seasons, hasn't missed a game in the last two seasons.
Kings captain Dustin Brown finished eighth in the league with 155 hits, the first season since 2005-2006 that he's finished outside the top three, though it's possible that some of the reason was simply that Brown's team had the puck more often when he was on the ice. Brown's more than a mindless, and sometimes dangerous, hitter, however. Over the last six seasons, he's scored 149 goals, tied with Patrick Kane for 26th over that span.
Brown's heading towards the final year of his current team-favourable contract, so he could be looking at a more lucrative extension this summer.
Mike Richards has been more effective as a scorer, on a per-game basis, in the playoffs for the Kings and he was better in the 2013 playoffs than he was during the regular season when he finished minus-8, his worst since 2006-2007 and played 16:21 per game, his lowest since his rookie year, 2005-2006. For as highly-regarded as Richards is for his two-way play, he does need to be better in puck possession terms to justify that rep.
In 82 career games, Matt Frattin has tallied 15 goals and 28 points, while playing 13:13 per game; relatively modest totals, but enough to indicate that he's worthy of a regular spot and, with the Maple Leafs picking up half the cost of his deal, he's a ridiculous bargain to play in a top nine role. At his best, Frattin uses his speed and physical game to forecheck, create turnovers and generate offence.
By all rights, Tyler Toffoli should be included with the prospects, having played 10 regular season and 12 playoff games, but it's hard to imagine that the 21-year-old won't be part of next year's squad. After scoring 28 goals, 51 points and posting a plus-20 rating in 58 AHL games, Toffoli added 11 points in those 22 total games for the Kings last season, playing under 12 minutes per game. With consistent ice time, he could provide an offensive boost on the second line next season.
A versatile forward who is a good fit as a third line centre on a contender, Jarret Stoll is defensively-responsible, yet has enough of an offensive track record to chip in occasion. The 16:31 per game that he played in 2013 was his lowest ice time since 2003-2004, his rookie season, yet his production was nearly better than 2011-2012 despite playing 30 fewer games.
Though Dwight King has a modest 24 points in 74 games over the last two seasons, the power forward is a valuable contributor on the lower half of the depth chart. He could use his size (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) even more than he does, but 23-year-old King is already an asset with some upside still left to explore.
A fourth-line checker, Colin Fraser has seven goals and 20 points in 168 games over the last three seasons but, even with minimal offensive production, he doesn't hurt the Kings for the 10 minutes a night that he's on the ice.
22-year-old winger Kyle Clifford is a tough customer, who has fought 33 times in his first three seasons, but is also gradually getting more opportunities to produce with his gloves on and he tied career-highs with seven goals and 14 points last season, despite playing a shortened 48-game schedule. If his development continues, a couple years from now Clifford could be a 20-goal scorer.
The Kings have taken their time with checking winger Trevor Lewis, who scored at a career-best rate (0.29 ppg) last season while playing a career-high 15:12 per game. With 12 goals in 203 career games, his offensive ceiling is limited, but he's reliable depth forward.
Jordan Nolan joined the Kings at the same time as Dwight King and both have added beef to the lineup, but Nolan isn't quite as effective. As fourth-line options go, he's fine, and has been inexpensive, but could be replaced if the Kings are ever looking to add more skill to the lineup.
Kings Defence Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
The Kings were exceedingly patient with Slava Voynov, having him play 231 games in the AHL before he was up to stay last season and then his ice time was kept in check until they traded Jack Johnson to Columbus. Since then, Voynov has emerged as the top offensive defenceman on the team, underscored in the playoffs when he scored six goals and 13 points in 18 games. He's earned a new contract and, after his playoff performance, isn't unknown any longer.
While Drew Doughty remains one of the better defencemen in the league, with strong possession stats over the past three seasons, but it was the season before that, when he was Norris Trophy finalist in his second NHL season coupled with his performance in the Kings' 2012 Stanley Cup run, that teases what he could become. When he's on his game, Doughty could be a perennial Norris contender, but that consistent excellence hasn't been there through his first five NHL seasons. He's only 23, so there's time for maturity to take effect and allow Doughty to be one of the league's best for the next decade or so.
A back injury kept Matt Greene out for most of the season, though he did return part way through the playoffs. He's a big, nasty stay-at-home defenceman who had a career-high 15 points and plus-4 rating in 2011-2012.
Moving to Los Angeles bumped Robyn Regehr's ice time back over 21 minutes per game -- he had played 18:38 per game in 105 games for Buffalo. Regehr continues to face the toughest defensive assignments, though he hasn't enjoyed much matchup success in recent seasons. What Regehr does provide is a big, veteran defensive defenceman, effectively filling the role that previously belonged to Willie Mitchell.
Speaking of Mitchell, he missed all of 2013 following knee surgery and there has to be concern that, at 36, he may not be able to make it back and, if he does, not at the level that he was prior to his surgery, when he made his living punishing the opposition's top forwards.
Though his ice time was managed to make him most effective, Jake Muzzin was outstanding in his role as a rookie, dominating puck possession and he was one of nine defencement to have at least 15 points and a plus-15 rating. If the Kings need someone to move up and take on more minutes, Muzzin, a 24-year-old with good size and a big shot from the point, is a natural candidate.
As depth defencemen go, Alec Martinez is quite effective in the limited ice time he receives. He's mobile and can move the puck, but is probably still locked in a battle just to get a regular spot in the top six.
The 10th overall pick in 2007, Keaton Ellerby was a fringe defenceman with a poor Florida team and was a fringe defenceman for a very good Kings team too. He was acquired when injuries decimated the Los Angeles blueline and helped L.A. get through that rough patch and, in a third pair or depth role, his size and toughness fits.
If the Kings re-sign Rob Scuderi, then they probably don't need to make changes to the unit at all, but if Scuderi leaves, another veteran would keep their defence at a championship level. There aren't a lot of ideal options in free agency, but Ron Hainsey, Andrew Ference and Toni Lydman are veterans with decent defensive pedigree.
It would have been unreasonable to expect Jonathan Quick to duplicate his 2011-2012 season when he was a Vezina finalist with a .929 save percentage during the regular season, only raising the bar with a .946 save percentage in the playoffs, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Kings won the Stanley Cup. However, as Quick recovered from off-season back surgery, he wasn't at his best for most of the regular season, posting an .895 save percentage through the end of March.
Quick played better late in the season and was terrific in the playoffs, essentially the reason that the Kings won the first two rounds, so it's reasonable to have high expectations for him next season, when he'll be further removed from surgery and presumably healthy right from the get-go.
Just acquired in the Jonathan Bernier trade, Ben Scrivens saw quite a bit of action early in the season, particularly in February (when he had a 2.25 GAA and .932 SV% in 10 GP), before James Reimer wrested control of the starting job. An unrestricted free agent next summer, Scrivens is a solid backup at a bargain price for the Kings.
||19-28-47, +17, 64 GP
||North Dakota (WCHA)
||4-13-17, +11, 42 GP
||Denver U. (WCHA)
||14-20-34, -3, 39 GP
||22-45-67, +18, 74 GP
||27-25-4, 2.53, .919 SV%
||Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
||20-35-55, +13, 54 GP
||15-18-33, +8, 63 GP
||St. Cloud St. (WCHA)
||1-11-12, +2, 42 GP
||23-13-36, +18, 42 GP
||26-30-56, +12, 74 GP
A late bloomer who was a rare first-round pick after his third draft-eligible junior season, Tanner Pearson made a smooth transition to the pro game, producing offensively and even getting into the Kings' lineup for a playoff game. After scoring 42 points in his last 49 AHL games, the 20-year-old is a contender for a spot next season, depending on if the Kings have any room.
When the Kings drafted Derek Forbort 15th overall in 2010, they probably hoped there would be a little more offence to his game, but he's a 6-foot-4 defenceman who can skate and move the puck, so there is potential for him to develop into a top pair defenceman now that he's turned pro.
A third-round pick in 2011, Nick Shore has put up 75 points in 82 games over the last two seasons at Denver and is a solid two-way forward prospect. He's signed and ready to embark on his pro career, but may need at least a year of AHL seasoning before he's ready to compete for a spot.
After a standout second season in the AHL, Linden Vey is knocking on the Kings' door. He's able to play right wing and centre, plays both ends of the rink and has enough talent to produce offensively.
A 6-foot-4 goaltender who has a .920 save percentage in 136 career AHL games, Martin Jones can't be too far from getting his NHL opportunity. Another strong season in the AHL from Jones could set him up to step into replace Scrivens in 2014.
A fifth-round pick last summer, Colin Miller had a breakout offensive campaign for Sault Ste. Marie. He'll need to get stronger before he's ready for the NHL, but his skill makes him well worth the wait, and a potential steal.
A small forward who scored 314 points in his last three years of junior, Jordan Weal had a solid first pro campaign. If he builds on it, with more offence in his second season, he'll push for a spot soon.
There are no frills to the game of Kevin Gravel, a 6-foot-4 defensive defenceman. He might be a safer bet than some ranked higher, but his lack of production limits his upside.
Drafted in the fourth round in 2011, Michael Mersch is an industrious forward who tallied 23 goals as a junior. If he has a strong senior year, he'll be a nice asset.
He may be too small to make it work at then next level, but Brandon Kozun has been a productive winger for three AHL seasons following a pair of 100-point seasons in the WHL.
The Kings have a variety of other interesting prospects inlcuding forwards Tomas Hyka, Nikolay Prokhorkin, and Maxim Kitsyn, as well as defenceman Nicolas Deslauriers.
No first-round pick.
According to www.capgeek.com, the Kings have approximately $57.8M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 17 players.
Check out my possible Kings lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.
Needs: One top four defenceman.
What I said the Kings needed last year: Two top nine forwards.
They added: Jake Muzzin.
Jordan Nolan, Alec Martinez, Keaton Ellerby.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.