Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Pool Outlook for Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Kings didn't have a meteoric rise to the top of the table, a few setbacks and speed bumps in a number of key careers to this team may have levelled them off a little bit, but they were still able to jump into the playoffs, but then it was key injuries which really kept them from moving on much further.  I do believe that the Kings did enough to keep their hats in the ring, when we're talking about who will be an exciting team to watch in 2012, but I think you'll find more proof in that argument from their 2010 performance, more than their 2011.

There was a close eye on Jonathan Quick in 2011, watching and waiting to see if he was going to be the man for the team all season long and really, he was one of few players that didn't miss a beat on this team.  Quick finished the season with 35 wins, 6 shutouts and 2 assists, giving him 84 points in the pool, ranking 14th in the league in scoring and 7th among goaltenders.  If the Kings are going to find themselves in an upswing again in 2012, this could be a guy that does a lot of good for your pool team.

The offense was mildly inconsistent up front for the Kings in 2011, except for Anze Kopitar, who scored at nearly a point-per-game pace, before suffering a major knee injury, but before the playoffs started.  Kopitar finished the season with 73 points in 75 games, ranking him 35th in pool scoring, 20th among forwards.  He was supported by Dustin Brown (57 points in 82 games), Justin Williams (57 points in 73 games), Ryan Smyth (47 points in 82 games), Dustin Penner (45 points in 81 games between Edmonton and Los Angeles) and Jarret Stoll (43 points in 82 games).  It's a very talented group of players that lead the Kings and we should start to expect more from them soon.

The Kings' defense was an interesting group for the better part of the season, which held some surprises as well.  Jack Johnson led the way offensively for the Los Angeles blueline, finishing the season with 42 points in all 82 games, ranking 23rd among all NHL defenders.  Drew Doughty had a pretty big hiccup in his third season with the big club, finishing with 40 points in 76 games.  Then there was a severe drop off in blueline scoring, which may have led to some drop offs in special teams scoring as well for the Kings.

The only other goalie to hit the ice for the Kings was Jonathan Bernier, who earned the back-up spot at the tail end of last season, when he started getting some looks.  Bernier had a good season in the back-up role, winning 11 games, picking up 3 shutouts, giving him 28 points on the season, 39th among all goalies in the league.  It doesn't look like there is a chance that he'll usurp the starting position just yet, but he will be turning some heads, in case the Kings need some more big pieces on their roster and want him as trade bait.

2012 Pool Outlook
Minus a few key pieces at this very moment, the core group of the Kings has a very solid feel to it and those key pieces likely won't take too long to sort out, as the team likely cannot gamble on any of them even making it to restricted free agency.  Nevertheless, if this squad can stay healthy, they will be an excellent source of scoring for the hockey pool in 2012.

Anze KopitarJack JohnsonJonathan Quick
Dustin BrownRob ScuderiJonathan Bernier
Justin WilliamsMatt Greene
Ryan SmythWillie Mitchell
Dustin PennerDavis Drewiske
Jarret Stoll
Kyle Clifford
Scott Parse
Kevin Westgarth

Salary CapThe Kings are looking pretty tight on the books going into the off-season, having 16 players already signed on for the 2012 season, coming in with a projected annual cap value of $47.9 million, which should leave them with about $14 to $15 million in remaining cap space, assuming the cap ceiling goes up around the $62 million mark.  This is good news, especially with a good chunk of their core already signed and some key pieces still yet to ink new deals.

The biggest priority for the Kings going into the off-season will be signing Drew Doughty to his first deal outside of his entry-level deal.  Doughty is poised to become a restricted free agent in July, which gives the Kings plenty of security, especially since Doughty is a player that would command a large deal that not very many (if any) teams would go after with an offer sheet.  Wayne Simmonds, Brad Richardson, Alec Martinez, Trevor Lewis and Oscar Moller are also set to become RFAs this Summer as well.

Michal Handzus, Alex Ponikarovsky, Peter Harrold and John Zeiler are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this Summer and unless there is a real budget commitment from the players to sign on for less, I don't think many of them will be going back to the Kings this year.  Another year where youth will be served looks more likely.

With a couple of potential unrestricted free agents on the move from the forward ranks, I would imagine that there will be a pretty good push to get Brayden Schenn and Andrei Loktionov in the Kings line-up for opening night.  Schenn had an excellent season in the junior ranks and Loktionov impressed the brass down on the farm, so I am getting the feeling that both will likely see some action going into the 2012 season, although their roles may be somewhat hazy, with top six spots being hard to come by.   On the blueline, it is more likely that Vyacheslav Voynov will get a good look, as his numbers did a lot to impress down in Manchester and Voynov may have the right skill set to become another good offensive producer for the Kings on the back end.

As the Hockey News noted in their Future Watch for the Kings, Los Angeles is in need of some wingers in the draft this year, but unfortunately, they won't be able to draft from the top crop of the pool, trading away their 1st round pick to Edmonton in the Dustin Penner deal.  Unless the Kings make a splash for a 1st round pick from someone else, the Kings will have to wait until the 49th pick overall before they can make a splash in the draft.  Do look for the Kings to pick up some more offense, unless there is another can't miss defensive prospect.

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

I thought the Kings had a pretty good year considering some dips and dives in their overall production.  The Kings got off to a mediocre start, one that you may consider a bit slower, but really did pick up their socks when they needed to and I think a lot of that was because of the stellar goaltending they got all year long.  Doughty dropped off a bit, coming off an amazing year and the Kings did try for a division title push, but that wasn't really to be in the end.  Overall, I'm fairly pleased with my prediction from last year.

In 2012, I believe the Kings make that leap into the division title push.  I'm not necessarily saying that they will win the Pacific Division, I just believe that they will have the tools to make the race a lot more interesting. The Sharks and the Ducks still have to be favourites today, but with a bounce back year from Doughty, a hungry group of forwards in Kopitar, Brown and Smyth, the addition of a Calder favourite in Schenn and a solid goaltending tandem in Quick and Bernier, I think there will be some good improvements across the board.  I think the biggest worry for the Kings in 2012 will be patience, how long will it be before the team gets a tad frustrated with the teams around them still winning?  The Kings will be a good team for the hockey pool in 2012, I would probably project their numbers well.

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