Monday, May 21, 2018

Pool Outlook for Los Angeles

Proving to everyone that despite your team trending downwards, you and your teammates have to show a lot of grit and ability to win games at the top level, which is no easy task, to say the least.  The Los Angeles Kings, who had an awful 2017 season, did just that and they did so on the shoulders of their core players.

The Kings returned to the playoff picture in the Western Conference, thanks to the return of Jonathan Quick from injury, a Hart & Selke Trophy finalist season from Anze Kopitar and a Norris Trophy finalist season from Drew Doughty.  After a season like that, you have the argument that the trend line for the Kings may have certainly improved, but the realists may ask... "but for how long?"

Most of those naysayers will arm their argument with the opening round playoffs series loss to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, where they were absolutely dominated through four games and swept right out of the playoff picture by a team that was built from the ground up and had a ridiculous amount of depth in their lineup, something that the top heavy Kings didn't have heading into these playoffs.

Still though, there's a lot of hope for this team still, but they're going to need all the help they can get in this off-season, if they are going to keep themselves competitive.

It was a career year for the 30-year old, Anze Kopitar, as he finished with 35 goals and 92 points in all 82 games for the Kings, which was good enough for 10th overall in hockey pool scoring, 7th among all forwards.  He quietly managed to put his name on the scoresheet more often than not and he put himself among the elite players that earned well over a point-per-game in the regular season.

The Kings depth was a sore spot, as they are now the first playoff team in these outlook posts to only have 10 players that were pool worthy, where the first few teams were starting with 12 players.  Dustin Brown, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and rookie Adrian Kempe were the only other forwards to get the nod this year, while Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Dion Phaneuf and Alec Martinez were good enough from the back end.  Goaltender Jonathan Quick appeared in 64 games, which limited any backups to their playing time, which meant that he was the only pool worthy goalie on the team in the year.

A lack of forward scoring certainly crept its way into the playoffs, where they couldn't find much for goals against Vegas and eventually saw them fizzle out.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

How far could Kopitar, Doughty and Quick carry this team, you ask? Probably a little bit further than you would expect three players to carry one team, but they are certainly good enough. Where the Kings will desperately fall short is in the depth department and with the way the summer is projecting so poorly for them, this would likely mean that there is going to be somewhat of a rebuild, more than a retool. The Kings have no assets to really build with, unlike the Avalanche, Coyotes or Canucks in the Western Conference, so they could find themselves around the bottom before too long.

If you asked me whether or not the top three would be able to carry the Kings into the playoffs, I would have probably said that all three had to have award worthy seasons in order to do that.  That they did.  Quick won the Jennings Award for the lowest goals against record, while the other two are awaiting the results of the voting, which will come at the end of the playoffs.  Their depth is still an issue, which doesn't offer a lot of hope, but they still have a year or two to tinker... maybe.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

Are you tired of Jonathan Quick in this post yet?  Whether or not he could bounce back from such a horrible injury-plagued season in 2017 made him the most intriguing player and he bounced back just fine in 2018.  He was 7th among goalies in points this year, finishing with 80 points in 64 appearances and the 32-year old should still have more than enough in the tank for another big season.  Will his team have the same drive though?

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Anze Kopitar 10.000 Drew Doughty 7.000 Jonathan Quick 5.800
Dustin Brown 5.875 Dion Phaneuf 5.250 Jack Campbell 0.675
Jeff Carter 5.273 Alec Martinez 4.000
Tyler Toffoli 4.600 Jake Muzzin 4.000
Tanner Pearson 3.750 Derek Forbort 2.525
Trevor Lewis 2.000 Daniel Brickley 0.925
Nate Thompson 1.650 Oscar Fantenberg 0.650
Kyle Clifford 1.600
Alex Iafallo 0.925
Gabriel Vilardi 0.925
Adrian Kempe 0.894
Michael Amadio 0.718
Jonny Brodzinski 0.650

On the plus side, the Los Angeles Kings have all 10 of their pool worthy players signed on and ready to go for next season.  That's a solid core group of 10, we could all be fairly confident that with all things being equal, that they could be back in the conversation, at varying capacities, and we'd all get some points from them.  The trick for the hockey pool next season will be sifting through the rest of this 22-man roster and whatever changes may happen, leaving no stone unturned for a sleeper, if possible.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Kings now rank the lowest among all the teams covered in these posts for remaining cap space and they still have an open spot on their 23-man roster today.  I am currently showing them with about $2.9 million in cap space against last season's ceiling, which will go up, but it will be limited in how much tinkering this team can really do.

Free agency won't give them a lot of flexibility, as non-pool forward Torrey Mitchell heads to unrestricted free agency with the biggest 2018 cap hit at only $1.2 million.  The Kings will need to put a lot of faith in what they have in their own system for a year or two, one would have to think.

Last year, Adrian Kempe was one of my ones to watch and his ice-time increased, as his game got better and better.  This year, I am looking towards NCAA free agent signing Daniel Brickley to be the guy that offers the Kings a few more solid minutes on the blueline.  Brickley played three seasons at Minnesota State and he was being touted as the top unsigned prospect out of this year's class, having 35 points in 40 games in his final NCAA season.  If anything, he'll have the right mentor program in Los Angeles, especially when you look at who is above him on the depth chart.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
What the Kings need dearly is scoring right now, but with the 20th overall selection, it does seem like a bit of a long shot for this side to get someone who is NHL ready.  Skill and playmaking ability may be what the Kings should be looking for, not to mention a kid that can play down the middle eventually.  Akil Thomas of the Niagara Ice Dogs fits the bill, as the scouting reports say he has all kinds of upside offensively, but in one report I've read, he may lack a little bit of that killer instinct.  Nevertheless, that's the sort of thing that could be worked on, so skill and scoring, that's what makes Thomas my pick for the Kings.

Where does this all lead us?  On the one hand, the Kings have shown us that they are a vulnerable team, back in the 2017 season.  The 2018 season, with all that talent in their core, they are a team that can get the job done in the regular season.  So much is truly dependent on the core group of players and one of the biggest concerns heading into the 2019 season is the contract status of Drew Doughty.  Will the Kings be able to extend him in July and if not, how much of a distraction will that be.  Spoiler alert... it will be huge!  There's a lot riding on this season for the Kings, management has to find depth to move forward again, their stars have to play that way and they have pin some hopes on their youth.  All things being equal, the Kings can make the playoffs again, success there will be hard to come by and any injuries or distractions could derail this team in a hurry.  Buyer beware.
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