Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The chances Los Angeles misses the post-season again in 2015-16 are slim, especially with two nice additions in Milan Lucic and Christian Ehrhoff. The Kings’ offense hasn’t been high-powered over the past few seasons, but they’ve relied on stellar team defense and puck possession to become one of the league’s elite teams.
2014-15 Record: 40-27-15 (95 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 2nd, Pacific Division
What To Expect: The Kings won’t have to search for a source of motivation this season. They were the first defending champs since Carolina in 2006-07 to miss the playoff. The Kings’ archrivals in Chicago won a third title in six seasons and were celebrated as a dynasty. A championship in 2016 would give the Kings three in five years. A much-needed full summer of recuperation and a beefed-up lineup put the Kings in the thick of the Stanley Cup hunt. Brawny left winger
Milan Lucic was acquired from Boston after a down season and has a shot at regaining his 30-goal form on a line with
Anze Kopitar and
Marian Gaborik. Lucic, an imposing talent seeking redemption, is a perfect fit on paper. With
Andrej Sekera and
Robyn Regehr departing, and Slava Voynov heading back to Russia after serving a jail sentence for domestic violence, GM Dean Lombardi insulated the ‘D’ by adding the skillful
Christian Ehrhoff. Lombardi cleaned up his cap by terminating the contract of
Mike Richards for a “material breach.” The Kings will have to absorb the losses of
Justin Williams and
Jarret Stoll, both key cogs in the previous Cup runs.
L.A. is a puck possession monster, and that won’t change, but production needs to improve. The Kings had the league’s 21st-best shooting percentage, so luck could help their scoring futures. The top two lines are potent on paper and have more to give. On the back end, top pairing
Drew Doughty and
Jake Muzzin combined for 87 points and will again provide that kind of punch.
Brayden McNabb and
Alec Martinez will be asked to play important roles. If Ehrhoff is healthy, he’ll log top-four minutes. As usual, goaltender
Jonathan Quick will be worked to the bone, as the backup position has been downgraded from
Martin Jones to free agent signee
Jhonas Enroth. After playing 64 games in the previous three playoffs, the Kings enter 2015-16 with ample rest, a chip on their collective shoulder and a dynasty in sight.
Best-Case Scenario: It’s not a stretch to say the Kings were the best team to miss the post-season in 2014-15, but they’ll be back in the playoffs this season. The addition of Lucic up front is perfect for the bruising Kings and Ehrhoff, if he can stay healthy, will fit nicely on the blueline. Los Angeles has every right to expect to contend for the Cup this season.
Worst-Case Scenario: No matter the firepower, Los Angeles’ offense hasn’t been the most lethal over the past four seasons. Since their Stanley Cup-winning ways began in 2011-12, the Kings have amassed 735 goals in the regular season, which ranks 23rd in the NHL. If the offense dries up at the wrong time, the Kings could be in another tight battle for the post-season.
Who To Watch: New King Lucic is entering the final season of his contract and could cash in as a free agent next off-season. There’s nothing that puts jump into a player quite like impending free agency. If Lucic is the impact player the Kings want him to be, the mix of Lucic, Koptiar and Gaborik could be the perfect combination of speed, size and skill. Lucic is coming off of his worst offensive season since 2010-11, but Los Angeles is looking for the 6-foot-3, 235-pound left winger to use that size to produce at least 25 goals this season. A good season for Lucic could mean even better things for the Kings.
What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):
Click here for more detail on these predictions. On the ice, there’s not much to dislike about the Kings. The roster is loaded with talent making them a near lock for the playoffs and probably near the top of the West, too. The Kings are still very much elite and the odds of a team this good missing two seasons in a row are slim. Their biggest strength is on the back-end lead by the league’s best pairing in Doughty and Muzzin. It may be surprising to see Muzzin rated higher, but his numbers away from Doughty have been much better than the other way around the last few years. For WAR, it’s difficult discerning who drives the bus on a defensive pair because they’re usually attached at the hip. It’s pretty commonplace among other pairings to see one guy get a huge chunk of credit, so that may be something to keep in mind with these projections. At forward, the Kings have one guy that fans need to keep an eye on this season and that’s Tyler Toffoli. He’s been sensational in limited minutes so far, and a look on the second line next to Jeff Carter could mean big things for him this season. The rest of the top nine is very solid overall. The Kings boast a formidable 1-2 punch at center that will be tough to match in the West.
In goal is a controversial man among most analytics folk. Quick’s numbers – during the regular season at least – have been below average for a while now, but his reputation is that of one of the league’s best. It’s peculiar too since his backups routinely post better numbers than he does. Goaltending could be the Kings fatal flaw this season, but as long as Quick can remain somewhere near average the strength of the rest of the roster should make up for it.
THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.