Living Like Kings

Will Los Angeles’ offseason acquisitions put the Kings atop the Western Conference this season?

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

For almost as long as the Los Angeles Kings have existed, the team has been overshadowed by that “other team” from that “other sport” who also calls the Staples Center home from October until June.  But not this year, at least that is what the Kings are hoping after the two big moves the team pulled off this summer which has created quite a buzz and raised the expectations for this season.

The last two years left the Kings with a disappointing exit in the first round of the playoffs, despite the fact that the team was built to make a deep run in the postseason.  There were several holes that needed to be addressed this summer and the Kings wasted no time in doing so.

Just a week before the start of free agency on July 1, the Philadelphia Flyers in a surprising move, sent captain Mike Richards to the Kings for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second round pick in 2012.  Despite the fact that the Kings lost Schenn, the top NHL ready prospect in hockey, the move showed  Los Angeles wants to win now and adding Richards proved that. 

Richards is among the league’s best two-way forwards, he can do it all.  He is a key contributor on the power play, is a threat on the penalty kill (no one has more shorthanded goals in the last four years) and he has the ability to know when to pass and when to take the shot.  Last season, Richards finished with 23 goals and 43 assists with the Flyers.  The biggest gripe about Richards is his presence in the locker room, which although it was taboo, could have been the reason Philadelphia wanted to get rid of him.   

And then came free agency.  Just one day after it began, the Kings added a former teammate of Richards’ in Philadelphia, Simon Gagne.  It was another big move as the injury prone left winger signed a two-year contract worth $7 million.  Gagne suffered two injuries last season – one in the regular season and one in the playoffs – but still managed to tally 17 goals and 23 assists in 63 games with Tampa Bay, who had one of the league’s most potent offenses.  When he is healthy, Gagne is still among the best in the NHL at his position but he has battled several concussions the last few seasons and is a bit of a risk.

This busy offseason comes just months after Los Angeles acquired Dustin Penner from the Edmonton Oilers near the trade deadline last season.  Penner was an underachiever in his four years with the Oilers but a change in scenery might be just what he needs.  Of course, we cannot forget Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll, who each had at least 40 points last season, making the Kings offense a problem for the opposition.

And we cannot forget about the Kings defense.

The offensive-minded Jack Johnson led the defense in points last season with 42 and when veteran Rob Scuderi and the strong defense of youngster Drew Doughty are added into the mix, the Kings shouldn’t have to worry much at the blue line this season.  The Kings lack depth on defense however and could pick up a solid fifth defenseman before the start of the season.

Now the Kings biggest worry is goaltender Jonathon Quick.  Goaltending is the key piece in wining a Stanley Cup and while Quick has the talent, he has come up rather small in the playoffs.  With two years of playoff experience under his belt, the Kings hope the team in front of Quick is good enough to take the pressure of him and allow him to come up with big saves when needed.

The Kings are surely the biggest winners this offseason and on paper are certainly one of the favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup in June.  However, a lot can happen between now and then, especially for a team that has battled its fair share of injuries in the past.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.