Saturday, May 08, 2010

Pool Outlook for Los Angeles

A very good storybook season for the Los Angeles Kings came to a crashing stop when they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Vancouver Canucks, but the team made so many strides in the right direction that they should be back in the playoff conversation at this time in 2011.  The Kings surprised a lot of people with their high-end scoring and their reliable goaltending throughout the entire season, not to mention their Norris Trophy nominated defenseman playing like the budding superstar that he is.  The recipe for success is coming together in Los Angeles, it just needs to let the chemistry set.

The Kings had themselves a workhorse in Jonathan Quick in 2010 and he definitely made good on those minutes, when you look at his numbers.   Quick appeared in 72 games for Los Angeles, posting a record of 39-24-7 with 4 shutouts and an assist, which gave him 87 points in the pool this year, ranking him 16th in pool scoring, 7th among all goalies.  Believing in the Kings for 2011 may make Quick a very high 1st round pick, but the qualifier does leave a little to be desired, doesn't it?  He will go high, but he'll need another solid season of big minutes to cement his position as a number one goalie in the NHL, in my opinion.  I think that's more a product of what's coming behind him, more than the time in front of him.

At the beginning of the season, it was definitely the Anze Kopitar show, as he went on one hell of a tear to lead the NHL in scoring for about the first month.  Kopitar did finish strong with 81 points (34 goals & 47 assists) in 82 games for the Kings, ranking him 25th in pool scoring, 17th among forwards.  Kopitar had some good support on the team from his fellow forwards, with three more finishing in the top 100 in forwards scoring; Dustin Brown finished with 56 points in 82 games, Ryan Smyth had 53 points in 67 games and Alex Frolov had 51 points in 81 games.  The Kings were a tough team to defend against in the regular season because of their scoring depth and I would imagine that they will be again in 2011.  I would think that Jarret Stoll, Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds may get some consideration as well, since they all finished with 40-or more points this past season.

It's hard to believe that there is a star brighter than the two we've already covered in Los Angeles, but I don't think there is any question that the real franchise player on this team is Drew Doughty, who completed a whirlwind of a sophomore season, finishing with 59 points (16 goals and 43 assists) in 82 games for the Kings, which was good for the 3rd best defenseman total in points, not to mention being one of the best all-around defenders in the game, playing a lot of important minutes in all situations.  He will go higher than his point total may afford, but if he's only going to get better, the risk is certainly worth it.  The Kings were not a one-horse act on the blueline either, they had good contributions from Jack Johnson (36 points in 80 games), which makes it more of a two-horse act.  It's solid when your two younger defenders lead the way offensively, while the veterans are available to stay back and defend.

Besides Jonathan Quick, who took all of the reps in 2010, there were some small spots that other goaltenders were able to jump into.  Erik Ersberg was the back-up goaltender of record for the better part of the season, but when Quick had some minor injury issues before the playoffs, Jonathan Bernier (pictured) jumped into the fray and did well with his time.  So well, in fact, that he posted numbers that were just slightly better than Ersberg's, in order to get his picture posted on this Outlook. Bernier finished the year with 3 wins, a shutout and an assist for 9 points, while Ersberg finished with just 4 wins for 8 points.  Both are signed for next season, so I would imagine that Ersberg would be better suited to back-up, as Bernier continues to get big minutes in the AHL.

2011 Season Outlook
Kopitar, check! Doughty, check! Quick, check! Well, I think it might be a pretty good season again for the Kings, since they have three really solid pieces for their line-up next season already in place. Once you start building from these pieces, I don't think there could be too much that could wrong, if all things are considered equal and injuries are not the plight of the team.  The Kings have a rosy outlook and they could possibly make more moves to improve that stature further.

Anze KopitarDrew DoughtyJonathan Quick
Dustin BrownJack JohnsonErik Ersberg
Ryan SmythRob Scuderi
Jarret StollMatt Greene
Michal HandzusPeter Harrold
Justin Williams

There's a lot to be said about the quality of players that are signed on for 2011, especially for the approximate cap hit they are signed on for. The 13 players I have on the table above have an annual cap hit of $41.7 million, which leaves quite a bit of cap space left for 10 depth players.  The Kings already have what could be their top two lines signed on, a couple good defenseman pairings and both their goalies done up and they have space to kill with some more quality talent.  That's some pretty good management there, if you ask me.

I suppose with all this new space, there has to be a reason for it, no?  Free agency will be the largest contributor to the new space, as the Kings have a number of players eligible for new deals.  The list of unrestricted free agents is relatively short, but includes Alexander Frolov, Randy Jones, Jeff Halpern, Sean O'Donnell, Fredrik Modin and Raitis Ivanans.  I would imagine both Halpern and Modin will still be considered rentals and free to the market, while Frolov should get some consideration and Jones, O'Donnell and Ivanans seem likely for departure, as per my own personal speculation.

Restricted free agency will potentially have some speed bumps with Brad Richardson, Scott Parse and Richard Clune all up for new deals this Summer.  It doesn't look like the hardest group of players to re-sign, but you can never be too sure.

Without a doubt, the player causing the most buzz to me is Brayden Schenn, who even got to see a game with the Kings against the Canucks midway through the season.  Schenn has signed his entry-level deal with the Kings and has a lot of potential to make the Kings line-up for the 2011 season.  I would go as far as to say, I have him on my list for the Draft next year, at a reasonable level of points, until otherwise noted.  It's hard to tell whether or not either Colten Teubert or Thomas Hickey are going to be ready for the big show, from what I've read, their development won't be rushed, especially with five NHL-ready defenders already signed on to the club.  I'm sure both will get looks, but they'll have to have a great off-season by the sounds of things.

The Kings will be drafting around the 20th spot, the spot not determined at the time of the post, but it should be somewhere in that neighbourhood it looks like.  With some good goaltending in the pipeline and some scoring forwards coming, I get the feeling that they will try to shore up their defense a little bit more at the Entry Draft.  

What I said at this time last year: "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."

Well, I was pretty patient with the Kings at the Draft this year and I still managed to pick up Kopitar in the 5th round, so I was pretty tickled about that.  The Kings did show some real signs in the year and a few were picked at the Waiver Draft, so there is something to be said about that.  At the Draft in the Summer, they picked Brayden Schenn, who was pretty darn close to being NHL-ready at the time, but should be this coming season, so I'll call that close.  Patience with the Kings probably made you skip a couple picks, but if you gambled with them in the year, for some, it probably paid off in spades.  I did think the last playoff spots were a tad out of reach this year, but I would hardly say I wrote them off.

I think my 2011 Outlook says it all, really.  With the three main pieces of the puzzle already put together, mixed in with some good depth players, the Kings may be a team to be reckoned with in 2011.  I would say that there is a 25% chance that they have a slow enough start that they kind of fall back in their progress, much like the St. Louis Blues did between 2009 and 2010, but with the likes of Drew Doughty on their side, the chance does remain smaller.  Next year, I'll be looking to take the same sort of points across to my 2011 projections, with increases to only a few players, nothing major.  The Kings will be in the mix for a good playoff spot, maybe in line for the Pacific Division title, depending on the San Jose Sharks and their off-season.  They'll have a good year.

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