Thursday, April 9, 2015

Can the Dynasty be Salvaged?

That was a pretty short dynasty, eh?

The buzzer just sounded, ending not only the Kings' final road game of the season, but also their chance to be the first repeat Stanley Cup winner since 1998. The 3-1 loss to the Flames was their 3rd in a row on this season-ending Western Canadian road swing. The Kings pretty much needed to win every game on the trip but instead they lost them all, and in the process became the 3rd team since Expansion to win the Cup one year and miss the playoffs the next, joining the 1970 Montreal Canadiens, 1996 New Jersey Devils, and 2007 Carolina Hurricanes in a pretty infamous club. (Although, it should be noted, the Habs and Devils went on to win the Cup again within the next five years!)

So what happens now to a team that despite having been outside the playoff bubble most of the season was all along considered a Stanley Cup favorite by many?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Clinching Playoff Berths

I'm so tired of talking heads on TV saying how the Kings haven't clinched a playoff spot until so late in the season the last 3 years.

In 2012, they clinched their spot during their 81st game out of 82, but they also finished the season 5 points clear of the 9th place Flames, so it's not like they were really in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. They were always in the hunt for the division crown and it was always teams chasing them for a playoff spot, not vice versa.

In 2013, they clinched with 4 games left (albeit in a shortened season, so if you extrapolate out, that's like 7 games left). They finished that season 5th in the West, but only 4 points clear of the 9th place Columbus Blue Jackets.

Last season they finished a full 11 points ahead of the top team who missed the playoffs, the Coyotes. They still didn't clinch their spot until April 2, the day of their 77th game.

Here's why I'm sick of this bullshit drivel from mostly NBC Sports (and probably to a lesser extent Puck Daddy): NOBODY CLINCHES UNTIL THE LAST FEW GAMES!!!

The New York Rangers clinched a playoff spot today. They're the first team to do so in 2015. And there are 8 games left. There simply isn't enough separation between the top teams and the 9th place team (Obviously, in order to clinch you have to have a point differential that doubles the number of games the 9th place team has left. And also hold an advantage in the tiebreakers that can't be matched by that team.)

And it's not like you get to stop playing hard and rest once you've clinched. The Rangers, for instance, want to get 1st place in the Metro division. They want the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They want to win the President's Trophy and establish home ice advantage in every round of the playoffs.

Pretty much every team that clinches is still jockeying for playoff seeding. All that matters is that at some point, you do clinch that playoff spot.

(Oh, and just fyi, the Kings clinched in their 81st game in 2011 [7th seed, 3 points ahead of 9th place Dallas] and with 4 games left in 2010 [6th seed, 11 points ahead of 9th place St. Louis].)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Admiring the Detroit Red Wings

When the Kings won their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons last June, talk of a dynasty was not far behind. Along with the Blackhawks, also winners of two championships this decade, the Kings were the NHL's model franchise.

Investigating the Kings' 1st Round Draft Picks in the Lombardi Era

Dean Lombardi was hired in April 2006 to resurrect the Los Angeles Kings from the scrap heap into which Dave Taylor had led the franchise. Under Taylor, the team had failed to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs (but of did they ever come close in 2001) and to even make the playoffs since 2002. Despite spending heaps of money coming out of the lockout in acquiring players like Jeremy Roenick and Pavol Demitra, the Kings collapsed down the stretch, losing 11 of their last 17 games (even that free fall was not as epic as the end of the previous season before the lockout when they dropped a franchise record 11 consecutive games to finish the year, in the process falling from the playoffs and going into the lockout season in the worst fashion possible).

Saturday, January 3, 2015


Today's 7-6 loss to Nashville was one of the more exciting losses I've ever seen. 3 goals to tie it in the last 2 minutes salvaged a point from an otherwise dreadful performance.

It raised this question from Kings blogger and podcaster The Royal Half:

" jon what’s the kings record in 7-6 games?"

So I looked it up. The answer is that the Kings have played 17 games in their history that have ended 7-6. They've won 6 and lost 11. The first was in 1982 and most of them came in that offense-fueled decade, 9 in fact.

4 of them came during the Gretzky era, only one was a victory.

2 came a week apart in 1988, a loss to the Habs and a win over the Blues, and another 2 came 3 weeks apart in the year 2000, both losses to the Rangers and Thrashers, and they were followed by a 3rd that same season, a win over Ottawa.

7 of them have been overtime games and 1 a shootout. The Kings have won only two of the overtime 7-6 games. They also won the shootout.

The Oilers have been the Kings most frequent 7-6 opponents, with the score ending a touchdown to 2 field goals 3 times between them. The Oilers won two of them. The score's ended that way twice against both Penguins and Thrashers with the teams splitting them 1-1.

Here are all of the Kings' 7-6 games in their history:
March 7, 1982, a loss in Hartford
March 14, 1984, a win at the Forum over Pittsburgh
March 17, 1986, a loss in Toronto
October 19, 1986, a win at the Forum over Edmonton
December 1, 1987, a loss in overtime at the Forum to Winnipeg
March 5, 1988, another loss in overtime at the Great Western Forum to Montreal
March 13, 1988, a win over St. Louis at the Forum
February 10, 1989, an overtime win over Washington at the Forum (the Kings were 4-4 all-time in these games at this point, the last time they would be .500 in 7-6 games)
November 30, 1989, a loss at the Forum to Edmonton
January 25, 1990, the second 7-6 loss at the Forum to Edmonton that season
February 10, 1990, a loss at the Forum to Pittsburgh (Gretzky and Lemieux had only 1 assist each. Seriously)
October 6, 1996, an overime loss at the Forum to San Jose
November 28, 2000, a loss in Madison Square Garden to the Rangers
December 19, 2000, an overtime loss at Staples Center to the Thrashers (two 7-6 games in 3 weeks and the King made the playoffs that season!)
January 16, 2001, an overtime win in Ottawa (the only time the Kings have ever won a 7-6 game on the road)
February 16, 2009, a shootout win over Atlanta at Staples Center
January 3, 2015, an amazingly thrilling overtime loss to Nashville at Staples Center

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What Would Be the Implications for the Kings If the Cap Doesn't Go Up in 2015-16?

There are rumors that the NHL’s salary cap will stay put at $69 million for the 2015-16 season (see Puck Daddy). As any Kings fan who has been paying attention this season knows, they’ve been having some cap troubles in the early going thanks to injuries and the Slava Voynov suspension. But the primary reason is that as two-time Stanley Cup champions and now annual contenders they are right up against the cap as it is, so I want to examine what might be the implications for them should this rumor prove true.

For the 2015 season, the Kings’ payroll is $68,491,894 (per Capgeek), of a possible $68,950,000. They have already committed $56,164,394 to 13 players for next year, including Voynov, as for the time being I am going to assume that Bettman will not be voiding his contract. That leaves the Kings about $13 million to sign 10 players. Can they do it?

The Kings have 10 pending free agents at the end of this season, 4 UFAs and 6 RFAs. Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Robyn Regehr, and Alec Martinez are to be UFAs. Kyle Clifford, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Jordan Nolan, Andy Andreoff, and Martin Jones are all pending RFAs.

Of the 10, Pearson and Toffoli are clearly the most important. This season their cap hits are $735,833 and $716,667 respectively. As two of the team’s leading scorers, with Toffoli challenging for the Art Ross and Pearson for the Calder in the early-going, they are going to command raises. The question is how big those raises will be. If they continue to put up numbers like they have early, it’s probably not out of the question that they could get Ryan Johansen-type second contract money, i.e., in the range of $4 million per year. It’s possible they will come in a little lower, assuming they want to remain part of a championship-caliber team, so while it might be a stretch, I’m going to assume it’s $3 million apiece for each. That probably is a stretch based on how much Jake Muzzin recently signed for. It’s hard to argue that either Toffoli or Pearson is not as valuable to the team as Muzzin, but if word comes down that the cap isn’t going up, they might have to sacrifice a few sheckles.

That’s $6 million of the 13 available gone to 2 players. We’re clearly in some trouble.

You have to have a backup goalie, and Martin Jones is signed for $550,000 this year, and can probably be kept around at the same price because while he’s a good backup, I don’t see any team signing him to be a starter so the only thing he could look forward to is more ice time elsewhere. Maybe he takes the money and runs, but he seems to like it in L.A. Even if he goes, the Kings can find another backup goalie to play for the league minimum, so there’s another half million gone.

$6.5 million left and 7 players to split it.

Alec Martinez has supposedly already been negotiating with the Kings to sign a new contract. Word is that Lombardi wants to keep it around $3.5 million while Alec wants Muzzin money. Let’s say they split the difference and Marty gets $3.75 million a year. He’s a versatile and offensively gifted d-man who scored the WCF and Cup-winning goals. No way the Kings are cutting ties with him.

Only $2.75 million to go.

Nolan can stay if he’s willing to make the same amount of money he currently does, and since he’s a borderline NHLer, he should be willing to. Either way, like Jones, he’s replaceable at the same price, which is near league minimum. Same goes for Andreoff and his league minimum deal.

So we just spent another $1.25 million on those two, leaving the Kings with a scant 1.5 mill to go.

So who’s left?

Justin Williams ($3.65 million cap hit). Jarret Stoll ($3.25 million). Robyn Regehr ($3 million). Kyle Clifford ($1.075).

Bye Regehr. Derek Forbort and his $863,333 cap hit get your job.

Bye Clifford. Not sure who’s replacing you, but there are plenty of young forwards in the system making under a million a year who can be just as effective.

Bye Stoll. Your leadership will be missed, as well as your abilities in the face-off circle, but for under a mill a year, Nick Shore is going to get his chance in 2015.

I can’t say good-bye to Justin Williams. He stays with a cap hit at $3.5 million. His 2014 playoffs earned it.

So that’s $6 million, putting the Kings $4.5 over the cap.

Somehow they have to trim about $5-6 million in salary then. So the question is, who from the current lineup is gone? And it’s very tough.

Mike Richards: His $5.75 million cap hit is basically enough to cover what’s needed. Trading him could bring back valuable assets in the form of draft picks (the Kings really wouldn’t be able to take on salary). But Lombardi did not get rid of him this past summer when he could have bought him out and freed himself from his contract, and Kramer has made good on Lombardi’s commitment to him, coming out strong this season, currently 4th on the team with 2 goals and 7 points in 15 games, averaging over 15 minutes a game, and excelling at both ends of the ice. Perhaps this mini-renaissance in his career would be the best time to move him, while his stock is high, especially when he still has 5 years left on his contract after this season. But maybe he is the kind of veteran leader the team would be best not to part with. There is no question that his best years offensively are behind him, but he is still a premier defensive forward and great at the dot.

Dustin Brown: Maybe it’s sacrilege at this point to suggest trading the captain who has twice now raised the Cup as the team’s leader. But Brown carries a $5.875 million cap hit for another 7 years. That is a very long time to remain shackled to a player who has been providing diminishing returns for a few years now. Through 15 games, Brown has scored 2 goals. I’m well aware that Kopitar only has 3, Kramer 2, and Williams 1, but they all also have some assists. Brown has none. He’s also -2 and shooting 5.4%.  Before you suggest a small sample size, he finished last year with only 15 goals and 12 assists in 79 games, with a shooting percentage of 7.7. We all expected a bounce back from him, but it just isn’t happening. The only way to justify that contract was if the cap went up significantly. Now, if that doesn’t happen, his contract is an albatross on the Kings for the better part of the next decade. Don’t forget that Anze Kopitar is a UFA next year and may well command $9-10 million a season.

Matt Greene: Lombardi might be wishing he hadn’t signed Greene to an extension that (over-)pays him $2.5 million a year until 2018. Without question he provides leadership in the Kings dressing room, but his on-ice performance is hardly worth that kind of money. Perhaps if Lombardi is willing to have two rookie d-men on the team at the same time, Greene can be traded for a pick, and his spot can be up for grabs among Gravel, Miller, Leslie, Bodnarchuk, LoVerde, Ebert, Roach, MacDermid, and I guess Forbort as it’s not like he’s guaranteed Regehr’s spot.

There’s really nobody else the Kings can part with as Kopitar, Doughty, Quick, and Carter are all much much too valuable to even consider letting go.

So if these rumors prove true and the salary cap doesn’t rise next year, Dean Lombardi is going to have some seriously difficult decisions to make. What would you do? Who’s more valuable, the electric young combination of Toffoli and Pearson or the aging and diminishing (though somewhat legendary for the franchise) Richards or Brown, and if you vote for the former, which of the two vets would you jettison? Because in the end that’s what it might come down to.

Hey, at least they're in a better position than the Blackhawks, who already have almost $66 million committed to only 15 players next season!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dragon Slayers

I was thinking about the road the Kings took to win the Stanley Cup last season and the quality of competition they faced in the process.
  • The defending Cup champion Blackhawks. 
  • The Western Conference regular season champion Ducks. 
  • The perennially contending Sharks. 
  • Oh, and the Rangers too, I guess.

I got to wondering, has any team faced such difficult competition on their journey to hoisting the big mug or was this the toughest row ever hoed?