Drew Doughty (Getty Images)
Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings have played a lot of hockey over the past four years and if there's one silver lining to them (possibly) missing the playoffs, it would be that it would give them almost five months to rest and train properly for next season.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the Los Angeles Kings are hanging onto the prospect of a playoff spot by their fingernails and the grip is getting less tenuous by the day. What might be more shocking is that the Kings have been able to even get this close to the playoffs in the first place.
As you all know, the Kings playoff hopes took a wallop to the solar plexus Tuesday night when they lost 4-2 to the lowly Edmonton Oilers, one night after dropping a 2-1 shootout to the Vancouver Canucks. That dropped their tragic number down to two – meaning any combination of points gained by the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets and points lost by the Kings adding up to two means they’re out of the playoffs.
When asked about his team’s play against the Oilers, Anze Kopitar came up with this explanation: “We just didn’t have enough energy, enough jump.”
And that should come as no surprise since the Kings have played more hockey than anyone on the planet – almost as much as those NHL-obsessed parents who have their kids on the ice 11 months of the year. Two Stanley Cup runs and a trip to the Western Conference final in the three seasons leading up to this one has put an awful lot of miles on the Kings players. Six of them – Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick and Slava Voynov – had an Olympics jammed in there as well.
And the thing about the Kings is they’ve been playing a lot of difficult, energy-sucking hockey in the past three seasons. When they won their first Stanley Cup in 2012, they barely qualified for the playoffs. And all their trips through the playoffs have been through the Western Conference, which is hockey’s equivalent to an ironman triathlon. Almost half the roster – Kopitar, Doughty, Carter, Brown, Quick, Justin Williams, Dwight King, Trevor Lewis, Jarrett Stoll and Matt Greene – have been through all four seasons and three playoff runs.
Let’s take Doughty, for instance. Including the 2014 Olympics and the playoffs, Doughty has played 353 games over the past four seasons. During that time, he’s logged 9,391 minutes of ice time for a per-game average of about 26 minutes and 36 seconds. Contrast that with workhorse defenseman Shea Weber, who has played 55 fewer games for the Nashville Predators in that time span and logged more than 1,500 fewer minutes of ice time (7,857 minutes). Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild has played 319 games, just 28 in the playoffs compared to Doughty’s 64 - and logged 8,994 minutes of ice time.
Which is why if the Kings don’t make the playoffs, the team might want to gently urge all of their players to turn down the invitations to take part in the World Championship this spring. Because what the Kings will need more than anything else is to find a beach and rest for a while before getting in their first full off-season of training in four years.
There is nothing wrong with this team that a little recharging of the batteries will not remedy. The Kings are still very deep at every position – and will be in much better shape on defense if Voynov is able to return to the lineup next season – and have most of their core players signed to long-term deals. One of those who is not is Kopitar, who has one more year remaining on his deal, which means the Kings can sign him to an extension anytime after July 1.
The Kings are undoubtedly tired, but there’s probably a good chance they’ve lost their edge, too. There was very little sense of urgency for the Kings against the Oilers and it’s a sense of urgency that seems to have been missing all season. The only team in the NHL that has been able to flip a switch has been unable to do that this season. And that’s likely because it takes a unique mindset to be able to prepare for and play at the level it takes to win in the playoffs for more than a year or two.
The Kings may be loathe to admit it, but missing the playoffs this season might be the best thing that could have ever happened to them. For their veterans, it will offer a chance to decompress after four long seasons and three long playoff runs and renew their vigor for next season. For their young players such as Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, it could serve as a stark reminder that they were so fortunate to have so much success as young players and that nothing should be taken for granted.
So while the Kings are sipping drinks by the pool or getting in a round of golf or a tennis game while 16 other teams beat up on each other this spring, they won’t get a trophy. But the rewards could be bountiful in the long-term.