Daniel Reedy |Aug 16th, 2019
The 2018-19 season was a disaster for the Los Angeles Kings. The team finished with the franchise’s worst record in over a decade and failed to rise above .500 even a single time this past season. The Kings’ finished second to last in goals scored on their way to the very bottom of the Western Conference.
Despite the tenured retention of core players — Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick — this is a team that looks far removed from the Stanley Cup champion Kings who took home the crown in 2012 and 2014. They actually won more games during those two playoff runs than they did in the entire 2018-19 season. Surely, this is a team looking forward to a fresh slate.
However, a year after an offseason that featured the signing of Russian goal-scorer Ilya Kovalchuk and extending Doughty to an eight-year, $88 million contract, the Kings have had a quiet summer. But maybe a coaching change is the transaction Los Angeles needs to return to relevance.
Biggest Offseason Move
In April, general manager and former Kings’ great Rob Blake officially hired Todd McLellan, who most recently coached the Edmonton Oilers before being fired midseason. McLellan joins Blake at the Kings’ helm after coaching him in San Jose where McLellan was the Sharks all-time wins leader. In 11 NHL seasons, McLellan has reached the playoffs seven times, including three Pacific Division titles — something the Kings haven’t won in nearly 30 years.
McLellan wasn’t as successful in Edmonton as he inherited an extremely top-heavy roster led by superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — and not much else. Unfortunately for him, he’s taking over a Kings roster that features a little more depth, but not nearly as much star power.
Fortunately for McLellan, he will be given a chance to rebuild rather than deal with the expectation of immediate success. He will bring seasoned experience as a coach who has found commendable success in the regular season and playoffs, although he never reached the final round. McLellan appears to be the balanced, knowledgable personality to lead the change in Los Angeles, but he will need to make do for time being with what’s expected to, again, be one of the oldest and weakest rosters in the league.
Apart from McLellan, the Kings’ additions list doesn’t include big names. Los Angeles’ 2014 first-round pick Adrian Kempe will have a chance to play with his older brother Mario Kempe, whom the Kings brought in on a one-year contract. The former Arizona Coyote forward posted nine points in 52 games last season.
The NHL has seen two very different versions of Joakim Ryan, whom the Kings signed to a one-year deal this offseason. As a rookie, he manned the blueline with Sharks star defenseman Brent Burns and was a solid presence in the defensive zone. But last season he struggled out of the gate and was supplanted by a little-known rookie (Radim Simek). Ryan never found his game and weakly slumped through a forgettable 2018-19 season. Maybe he can return to his rookie form and be a respectable lower-paring blueliner as the Kings look to rebuild their defense.
Forward Martin Frk has bounced around through a few organizations but he has a chance to find consistent playing time again. The winger will look to top his career-high 25 points that he totaled in 2017-18 for the Detroit Red Wings.
In one of the least surprising moves of the summer, the Kings cut ties with 34-year-old defenseman Dion Phaneuf. The 14-year NHL veteran was released, saving the Kings about $4 million in cap money after the aging blueliner struggled to a six-point season (67 games) in which he was a minus-21.
The Kings also let Jonny Brodzinski leave north for San Jose. The forward never made much of an impact for Los Angeles after the Kings took him as a fifth-round pick in 2013, totaling just 11 points in 54 career games.
The optimist viewpoint would be that the Kings can’t be as bad as they were last season, but the truth is, they could be. Apart from the aforementioned core of Kopitar, Doughty, and Quick, Los Angeles just doesn’t have much. Dustin Brown remains a useful player and, even at age 34, scored 22 goals (51 points in 72 games) last season. He became the franchise’s leader in games played last year and will likely continue to be one of the Kings’ primary point producers.
Kopitar is still a very good player and retains his reputation as one of the league’s best two-way forwards. Doughty followed up that contract extension with the worst season of his career. While he remains one of the leagues best blueline scoring threats, he’ll need to be much better in the Kings zone this season. Quick struggled with injuries but he too had his worst season.
Each of these four, along with Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, Tyler Toffoli, and Alec Martinez, remain from the last time the Kings raised Lord Stanley. The inconsistent Toffoli has flashed potential multiple times and Martinez can still contribute but, frankly, most of the Kings lineup would struggle to crack the top-6 of any playoff team. This is a team that would need several players to dramatically improve to have a shot at the postseason. Maybe Kovalchuk or Jeff Carter will turn back the clock but this looks to be another rough year for the Kings.
It has been over 1,200 days since the Kings have won a playoff game and that number is going to continue to grow after this season ends. It’s time to rebuild and look forward to 2020-21.
Playoff chances: Very low
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