Sports

LA Kings are building another contender 8 years after lifting the Cup

EL SEGUNDO, California. – The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup for a second time in June 2014, underscoring a phenomenal three-year streak in which the longtime NHL thinkers won 10 playoff series as one of the most tenacious teams in hockey.

And then the Kings won just one playoff game in nearly eight years between that cup title and the series’ inaugural win Monday in Edmonton.

Getting to the top of the sport has been a long, arduous process for a second-six franchise that has won a conference title in its first 43 seasons. That three-year streak of success from 2012-14 was a solace to beleaguered LA fans long after their team slipped back into the NHL pack.

With a roster that has exceeded many expectations this season simply by making the playoffs, the Kings are beginning to believe it won’t take another decade to return to the top.

Coach Todd McLellan is pleased with the progress Los Angeles made in Game 3 on Friday night with a 1-1 draw against the star-studded Oilers in their first-round series. The Kings are still underdogs, but they’re confident they’re building something.

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“I think it gives us a marker on the developmental line, and the marker moves every year,” McLellan said of the Kings’ first-place playoff finish in four years.

“The marker on the line actually moved backwards for the first few years, and now it’s balanced again and is starting to move to where we need to put it,” McLellan added. “That reflects the plan, the resilience of the plan, the scouting team, the development team, everyone and everyone involved in the organization, including the players.”

The Kings slowly slipped from their peak while former general manager Dean Lombardi’s front office struggled mightily to maintain a championship culture. They issued huge contracts with amazing regularity, and ended up regretting many of them.

Caught between rebooting and rebuilding, the Kings were eventually forced to change almost every key component of their franchise over the past eight seasons. The team taking to the ice in downtown Los Angeles for Game 3 on Friday night have few in common with the champions who hoisted the two title banners hanging in the rafters.

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Still, the Kings managed to maintain a remarkable, almost unique foundation in the modern game.

Four players from their two championship teams remain in the roster. With star defenseman Drew Doughty out for the season after wrist surgery, only three will play against the Oilers — and with Dustin Brown’s imminent retirement, only three will be back next season.

What a quartet it is, though: Brown, Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick were designed and developed by the Kings between 2003 and 2008, and they’ve been together for the last 14 seasons.

Few teams in all sports can boast such continuity — and while the Kings overhauled their front office, made three coaching changes and replaced every other player on the roster since their championships, these four have stayed to give Los Angeles an identity, a ticket to it give. Sales focus and an institutional track record of success.

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“These four guys are taking the lead,” said General Manager Rob Blake. “That’s why this team is where it is. … That makes it a lot easier from our point of view because they were able to win. You often ask yourself, “Well, do we keep (the core)? Could they (win)?’ They succeeded.”

But the Kings stalled in a mediocre streak for several seasons, including after Blake took front office in 2017 and McLellan took over behind the bench in 2019. The current season emerged as a pivotal phase in the process, after the Kings finished seventh and sixth in the Pacific Division in McLellan’s first two years.

But the current Kings developed a clear identity that led to a 44-27-11 and 99-point regular season — the most since 2016.

Los Angeles wins by relentlessly plugging the neutral zone, tenaciously defending its opponents’ top players and doing enough offense to score 235 goals, fewer than any playoff team except Dallas. Their defense is bolstered by an incredible comeback from Quick, the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner whose LA career seemed to have come to an end almost a season ago.

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As Brown and captain Kopitar provide the lead and points, second generation talent is developing alongside Blake’s clever acquisitions of veterans Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson. Adrian Kempe had career bests of 35 goals and 54 points in his All-Star season, and Southern California native Trevor Moore contributed a career-best 48 points.

The Kings prevailed through a 1-5-1 start to the season and resulting injury woes to emerge as the third-best team in the Pacific Division. Even if they fail to upset the Oilers, Los Angeles is building a foundation for success for the next generation.

“Some of the young people have taken on (leadership) roles that maybe weren’t exactly expected of them just because we injured so many during the season,” said Kopitar. “They endured a little more pressure than perhaps we should have endured from the start, so I like where our team is.”

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https://www.local10.com/sports/2022/05/05/la-kings-build-another-contender-8-years-after-raising-cup/ LA Kings are building another contender 8 years after lifting the Cup

Nate Jones

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