It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: Los Angeles Kings
How they did last season: 48-28-6 (102 points); second in Pacific Division, fifth in the Western Conference. Ousted in the first round by the Sharks, 4-1.
Notable acquisitions: LW Teddy Purcell, D Tom Gilbert, G Jeff Zatkoff, D Zach Trotman and C Michael Latta.
Notable departures: LW Milan Lucic, C Vincent Lecavalier, RW Kris Versteeg, D Luke Schenn, D Jamie McBain, D Jeff Schultz and G Jhonas Enroth.
When they will play the Caps: Feb. 5 in Washington; March 11 in Los Angeles.
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Analysis: After a second consecutive disappointing end to the season, the Kings opted to shake up the locker room this summer.
Sure, there were a handful of roster moves (Lucic out, Purcell in, etc.). But the juiciest storyline of the offseason was management’s decision to strip Dustin Brown of the ‘C’ and hand the captaincy to Anze Kopitar.
Brown was the longest serving captain in franchise history, having been in that role since 2008. He hoisted two Cups in a span of three years. But his production had deteriorated in recent seasons (11 goals in each of the past two campaigns) and Coach Darryl Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi agreed it was time for a change—for both Brown’s sake and for the good of the group.
As you might imagine, Brown, 31, wasn’t a fan of the decision…or the fact that it was announced weeks after the news leaked out. “It was a tough pill to swallow,” Brown told the Associated Press in late June. “…This is a management decision, not the players voting or anything like that. To be quite honest, it would’ve been a lot harder had it been my teammates doing this.”
My two cents: This doesn’t have to be an problem. It happens from time to time and, as it relates to Brown, it had been rumored for a while. In fact, other than the way it was handled, I think it was the right move. I don’t suspect leadership, or a lack of it, was the reason for the Kings’ disappointment the past two years. But I do believe a boost in the leadership dept. could be a positive thing for a team that’s still got enough pieces to make some noise in the West.
And, oh yeah, Lucic—the Kings’ fourth leading scorer last season with 20 goals and 35 assists—signed with the Oilers.
Season prediction: In terms of adding new blood, this offseason was an underwhelming one for the cap-strapped Kings. The good news, though, is that the key holdovers—Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Jake Muzzin, Tyler Toffoli, Marian Gaborik and Co.—still form a solid core, and they’ve got a couple of prospects who are close to being ready.
They’ve also got a quality bench boss in Sutter.
The big question as camp begins is who replaces Lucic’s production? Can it be done by committee? Will Purcell help offset some of the loss? Perhaps. Purcell, who turns 31 next month, posted 43 points last season with the Oilers and Panthers and produced a 65-point season with the Bolts in 2011-12.
In the end, it’s hard to envision the Kings rising a whole lot, or sinking a significant amount, either. Smack dab in the middle of Western Conference playoff picture—once again—sounds about right to me.
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Other team previews:
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
— Florida Panthers
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming Aug. 30)