The LA Kings knew they were going to make the playoffs last season, even though most other people thought they would not. They proved naysayers wrong, and took on Edmonton in round one. They bowed out, but not before seven games had been contested. What does that get them in terms of national recognition as measured by the number of US countrywide TV games? They’re about mid-pack in the NHL, with nine. Their problem? No flash, just good steady hockey.
But make no mistake—they are a better team than last year after adding some offense so that this year, a playoff berth should yield more than a first-round exit, no matter how exciting that might have been.
New to the dance in LA is Kevin Fiala, a first-round pick of Nashville in 2014 and late of the Minnesota Wild. He had 85 points on 33 goals in 82 games last year and has had three successful points-scoring seasons in a row. The cost was Brock Faber and a first-round pick. Fiala then signed a deal which runs for seven years at $7,875,000 per season, so anxious Angelinos are hoping for his best.
Most observers have at least some interest in Phillip Danault, wondering whether he can reprise his surprising 27-24-51 point season of last year. Danault came to the Kings to be a checking center, and he has done that. The points were an unexpected bonus for a team that scored 239 goals in a league where the 300-goal mark was broached by three teams in the Western Conference alone.
Viktor Arvidsson, too, enters his second full year for the Kings. He was good for 20 goals and 29 assists last year after coming over from Nashville for a second- and a third-round pick.
Other names familiar to local fans at least include Adrian Kempe, who had 35 goals last year and finally seems to be coming into his own. Add in Alex Iafallo, too. He chipped in 17 goals in a 37-point campaign.
Defense is where it gets interesting for LA. They obviously still have Drew Doughty, and it’s interesting to note that five of the eight defensemen listed on their Cap Friendly page are players that LA drafted, but there are no notable names, really—just workhorse types like Matt Roy and Sean Walker. Who will be the next great blueliner in the lineage of Rob Blake, Mattias Norstrom (no flash, just everyday solid consistency) and, of course, Doughty? Oh wait—there’s the answer right there—Mikey Anderson. He’s on a million-dollar deal that gets him to RFA status next summer.
In net, Jonathan Quick, who enters the last year of his contract, surprises no one by continuing to refuse to allow father time to take his net away. He is backed up by/partnered with Cal Petersen, who played 37 games last year. Quick played 46 and posted a 2.59 GAA. He also played in all seven playoff contests. Petersen made one playoff appearance and recorded a 2.89 regular season GAA.
The Kings may have a bit of an advantage given their relatively weak Pacific Division. They were third last year, with Calgary and Edmonton one and two, and LA bettered Vegas for their playoff spot by five standings points. But wait a moment—Vancouver is going to field a better side than last year, where Bruce Boudreau played catch-up after joining as coach partway through the season. You can pretty much count Seattle, Anaheim, and San Jose out, but that still leaves five good teams (pending what happens to Vegas) fighting for as few as three playoff berths once more.
To accomplish the goal of getting back to within reasonable distance of a Stanley Cup, Coach McLellan likely won’t change his approach. This is less flashy and more focused on excellent checking and positional play than might be good for the TV market. But it will work if winning hockey games is the goal, and then he’ll have all the eyeballs he wants.