Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pool Outlook for Los Angeles

The tough thing about rebuilding a franchise is that in the bulk of cases, it takes years, rather than an over-the-summer change, especially when you talk about a smaller budget team in a lake full of big fish. The Kings were a little more competitive in the Western Conference and they were able to produce a couple more names worthy of pool consideration through the year. Acquisitions through waivers and trades have started to firm up the base of competitive players down in Los Angeles and we may see a few more players picked than the six Kings picked through the Draft and one Waiver Draft. More players like that can translate into a better season in the NHL standings as well.

It should come as no surprise that the top player in the pools from Los Angeles was Anze Kopitar, who finished with 66 points in 82 GP. Kopitar's numbers fell slightly in 2009, but he managed to keep himself in the top 100, which he has done for the first three seasons of his career. With that sort of production, he had more than earned himself his 7-year contract extension that he had signed in October.

Also having a good year up front were Alex Frolov and Dustin Brown, who both finished in the top 125 in pool scoring, although they both dropped in their rankings from 2008 as well. The two, plus Kopitar, provide a great nucleus of players on the front lines, even if they don't play on the same line all the time. Getting a boost up front was Michal Handzus, who managed to play all 82 games this past year, which is a first in a while. The additions of Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams through 2009 could make for some good compliments in 2010, barring any injuries, of course.

On defense, the team looked brand new on the blueline, as injuries and inconsistencies were quite troublesome through the year. The Kings looked like geniuses when they claimed Kyle Quincey from the Red Wings in the Fall, as he could crack their line-up, but finished the season with 38 points in 72 GP, mostly with the Kings. the team again looked like geniuses when they inserted their number two overall pick in 2008, Drew Doughty, into their blueline corps and he picked up 27 points in 81 GP, not to mention all of the minutes he played. Doughty could be considered a Calder Trophy snub after the season that he had, but it's exceptionally hard to win the trophy from the blueline.

The Kings finished the year with a pair of regular goalies in Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg, with Quick taking over the number one spot down the stretch. Quick finished with 21 wins, 4 shutouts and an assist for 51 pool points, which was very respectable among the other goalies in the league/pool. That ranked him 24th among all goalies in pool points. Don't take these numbers too seriously going forward, as the outlook in goal remains cloudy and it's anyone's job to take in 2010.

2010 Season Outlook
It's exciting to see promise with this Kings team, but it may be a little far-fetched to look at the current batch of players (see below) and to say that they'll definitely be in the mix for the last playoff spot (or two) in the West in 2010. The prospect of growth is hopefully enough for Kings fans, as they should be happy with the direction that the team is heading in.
Anze KopitarKyle QuinceyJonathan Quick
Alex FrolovDrew DoughtyErik Ersberg
Dustin BrownMatt Greene
Michal HandzusPeter Harrold
Jarret StollSean O'Donnell
Wayne SimmondsTom Preissing
Oscar Moller
Justin Williams
Raitis Ivanans

The current batch of 17 players on the list comes at a very reasonable cap hit of approximately $39.1 million and they have plenty of room to move when it comes to adding in some of their blue-chip prospects like Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Hickey, if they so make the team out of camp this Fall. With that much play, they will have some reasonable arguments to maybe pass over their future UFA's for some better rated ones.

The Kings have a couple of key RFA's to take care of first, which I would imagine they have every intention of taking care of early, so they don't have to deal with them in the middle of UFA season. Both Jack Johnson and Teddy Purcell are up for new deals out of their entry-level agreements and despite seeing little time last season, they should be rewarded in advance for some good years ahead. Neither players is in a position to break the bank, so the Kings should keep themselves in great shape for the Free Agent Frenzy.

Kyle Calder, Derek Armstrong and Denis Gauthier will all likely hit the free agent pool, with Armstrong the most likely to see a return to the Staples Center. None of these three have very much fantasy value heading into the summer and a change in scenary doesn't even improve their potential for points, as they all haven't improved greatly in previous seasons.

One of my favourites, who I am excited to see if he improves is Wayne Simmonds, who improved greatly over the last couple weeks of the season and he was a lot of fun to watch, not to mention being somewhat productive. If Thomas Hickey and Jonathan Bernier can make the jump to the big team, they will both be worthy of some extra looks, thanks to an improving team that they are fitting into. Trevor Lewis, Colton Teubert and Justin Azevedo are all other names that can be thrown into the mix as well, but they may have a little less chance to make the jump, but they carry enough promise with them to do so, eventually.

When I prepare my list for my next hockey pool draft, I will have a long look at some more Kings, but it won't likely be until the Waiver Draft before I see where the real progress in the Kings' game, but the promise of progress is very apparent right now. The Kings currently hold the fifth overall pick in the Draft, where they could pick up an NHL-ready forward to help with their struggling offense, but also look for the Kings to deal some of their youthful talent for more NHL-ready talent right now. Hold off on making any big moves right away, if you have any summer transactions, rather waiting for July to roll over before making anything to bold happen.

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