In case you hadn’t already noticed, the Kings are in fact the real deal. Sure it is easy to say this now that they have quaified for the Stanley Cup Finals and proven so many doubters wrong, but had you looked at the team on paper at the outset of the postseason, you could have come to this very same conclusion.Led by the big ball of joy that is Darryl Sutter, the Kings made easy work of everyone that dared get in their way since the regular season came to an end. Vancouver? No match. St. Louis? Too upstart. Phoenix? Lucky to be there. But how has a team that squeaked into the playoffs, just five points ahead of the dreary Flames, made so much noise in the second season? Well, the question should really be how did they not make more noise earlier.
The season did not start out on a high note for the Western Conference champions. After Doughty sat out most of camp, the team struggled out of the gate to a 13-12-4 record that cost coach Terry Murray his job. In came Sutter and they rattled off a record of 27-15-11 down the stretch. Sure looks like they benefited from the overtime rules, but rules are rules.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi has never been one to shy away from making a move. He acquired both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, who just a year ago would have been considered lifelong Flyers by many. He broke the bank for his franchise blueliner, knowing full well that he would need him at this time of year. He bought low on Dustin Penner at the deadline last year, who despite his affinity for pancakes, has found his stride this postseason playing alongside the party boys.
Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds were seen to be core pieces of the Kings future, but whent he possibility of acquiring Richards arose last summer, Lombardi could not pass up the offer. Then Scott Howson felt the need to rid himself of Carter before the deadline, so Jack Johnson and a first were sent the other way. Johnson was a cog in the Kings lineup, but youngster Slava Voynov was also waiting for his break, and this was it.
Nevermind the fact that Anze Kopitar is one of the most talented players in the league, or that captain Dustin Brown is one of the true power forwards left in the game. Doughty and Voynov excel in the offensive zone, but they are covered by the likes of Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi on the back end.
Not only is the high end talent on the Kings something to admire, but their ability to play a two way game is often overlooked. Defensive minded players like Jarrett Stoll and Colin Fraser are able to lock down opposing stars and allow the Kings talent to roam the offensive zone. The balance in the lineup is something that even the Flyers would be envious of.
Now they have a break until the Rangers and Devils can decide who plays a better trap, and they will be rested for the final series of the season. The league surely hopes that Torts and the blue shirts prevail so they can market a New York-LA finals, but whoever shows up, the Kings will be ready for.
Lombardi is in prime position to not only lock up a ring this year, but possibly put together a run of league dominance for a few seasons. The only UFA’s on the books this year are Penner and Stoll, and despite their solid postseasons, it is not out of the question that both will return to the team next year. Stoll loves the LA lifestyle, and Penner is happy to be close to as many IHOP’s as possible.
Even if one, or both, of them to jet town, backup tender Jonathan Bernier is likely to be shipped out this offseason with a nice haul expected in return. Jonathan Quick has supplanted himself as an elite goalie in the league, and with a contract extension on the horizon, it is time for Lombardi to maximize his assets and get some talent in return for the former first round pick in Bernier.
The team is not only rocking great beards, but they are genuinely happy to be where they are today. As you can see by the excitement of Drew Doughty, it is a joy for this group to be where they are today. Few could have expected that they would have knocked off two of the best regular season teams in Vancouver and St. Louis, and then to get by the Cinderella story of Phoenix makes it all the more special.
This team is not a flash in the pan, and now that they are under the tutelage of a Sutter, they are going to make a lot of doubters eat their words.