Scott Thornton, Anze Kopitar, Jack Johnson and Dustin Brown wait on the ice as the officials review a play. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)
When the 2008-09 season kicks off in a few days, or weeks, whatever, my eyes will be on the Los Angeles Kings.
It’s not that I have high expectations for the Kings next season; I just like the direction the team is going. By building mainly through the draft, GM Dean Lombardi has ensured that when the Kings get good, they’ll be good for a long time.
I have no doubt there are Kings fans upset about the slow pace in which the team is rebuilding and wish Lombardi would sign a couple of veterans to get his club into the playoff hunt. But if he did, he might as well rename the Kings the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It takes patience to build a winner.
When The Hockey News Yearbook comes out in late August, it will come as no surprise we have picked the Kings to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season. Let’s be honest, the Western Conference remains very competitive and even if they improve, it is hard to imagine the Kings passing enough teams to make it into the post-season.
That said, you have to like a defense that will one day include Jack Johnson, Drew Doughty, Thomas Hickey and Colten Teubert. Also, the acquisition of banger Matt Greene from Edmonton gives the Kings an authority figure in their own zone. With the departure of veteran Rob Blake, Doughty should have an opportunity to step right into the NHL from junior and be an impact player.
Up front, center Anze Kopitar remains one of the NHL’s deep, dark secrets despite the fact he finished 23rd in league scoring with 32 goals and 77 points in 82 games in his second season. The crafty 6-foot-4, 220-pound pivot has the potential to be a top 10 scorer in the league and it might just take that kind of output to get him the recognition he deserves.
Alexander Frolov remains a consistent high scorer for the Kings, while Dustin Brown enjoyed a 33-goal breakout season this past year and should score at that level for years to come.
I love the addition of Jarret Stoll, a skilled center who possesses a big shot and can kill penalties, from Edmonton. If the game gets boring, you can always turn your attention to his girlfriend, Rachel Hunter, who is sure to be sitting in the stands.
Goaltending remains a question mark for the Kings and until they find a bona fide starter, wins will be hard to come by. Of course that could change if Jonathan Bernier rises to the occasion next season.
Some wondered about the signing of Terry Murray as the team’s new head coach, but not me. Murray has had success at the NHL level and I am convinced he’ll be behind a number of players drastically improving their plus-minus rankings.
Having tied for last with the fewest points this past season, it isn’t a stretch to suggest the Kings will improve next season. Enough to make their fans happy? Probably not. But if I’m Lombardi, I stay the course.
Remember Kings fans: Be patient.
Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.
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