This is one part of a multi-part series profiling the 2018-19 Pacific Division.
The Los Angeles Kings enjoyed a return to the playoffs in 2018 thanks to incredibly strong seasons from Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick. They’ve bounced in and out of the playoffs the past few years. Will they suffer another dip on their rollercoaster ride or are they here to stay?
45-29-8 – 98 points (4th in Pacific)
239 goals for (17th in the NHL)
203 goals against (1st in NHL)
The Kings have been up and down since winning their second Stanley Cup in 2014. They missed the playoffs in 2014-15, returned in 2015-16, missed again in 2016-17, and ended up cleaning house after that second miss. They fired head coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi and replaced them with John Stevens and Rob Blake. The team enjoyed a return to the playoffs in 2017-18 with the new leadership group in place.
Kopitar had an MVP-calibre season, putting up 92 points and winning the Selke Trophy. It was a massive bounce back from the previous year in which he scored just 52 points. Dustin Brown had a shocking renaissance season, scoring a career-high 61 points. He also cracked the 20-goal plateau for the first time since 2011-12 which was massive considering Jeff Carter missed a good chunk of the season with an injury.
The key for L.A., though, was an ability to keep the puck out of the net. They allowed the fewest goals against in the league which helped compensate for the fact they only had about three offensive weapons. Doughty had another Norris-calibre season alongside the perennially-underrated Jake Muzzin, midseason acquisition Dion Phaneuf gave the team added depth, and sophomore Derek Forbort proved he could thrive in a defensive role. Quick also had a rebound year, posting a .921 save percentage in 64 games after missing the majority of the 2016-17 season.
The Kings would get swept in the first round by the Vegas Golden Knights, but a return to the playoffs that manifested due to comeback seasons from old and expensive players was a good sign.
Notable additions: Ilya Kovalchuk, Peter Budaj.
Notable subtractions: Tobias Rieder, Andy Andreoff, Kevin Gravel, Scott Wedgewood.
The Kings’ biggest offseason move was signing Ilya Kovalchuk, who will finally make his return to the NHL after spending five seasons in Russia. Kovalchuk is 35 years old now, but he was excellent in the KHL for SKA St. Petersburg and for Russia in the Olympics.
Kovalchuk said he wanted to return to the NHL on a Stanley Cup contender, so it’s a little odd he ultimately opted to sign with the Kings. L.A. is a team good enough to make the playoffs, but they seem to be pretty far from being a legitimate championship contender. The Kings are exceptional at keeping the puck out of the net and they boast a core of very good players with Kopitar and Doughty, but this is an old team who doesn’t have a lot of contingency plans if things go wrong.
The addition of Kovalchuk and a full season of Carter will give the Kings a major boost offensively, but a lot of things went right for them last year and they just scraped into the playoffs. The team doesn’t have much offensive depth, they rely heavily on a small group of players, and it’s hard to imagine Brown, now 34 years old, having another season in which he finds the fountain of youth.
The Kings are still good enough to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they aren’t a shoe-in, let alone a Cup contender.