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2008-09 Los Angeles Kings: Defense and Goaltending Will Be Key

SEASON PREVIEW: A comprehensive, detailed look at what might be for the 2008-09 Los Angeles Kings.

LOS ANGELES — Immediately upon being hired by the Los Angeles Kings as their new head coach on July 17, 2008, Terry Murray clearly stated that the top priority for his new team would be improving their defensive play, noting that the 2007-08 Kings gave up several boatloads of quality scoring chances and goals.

This new mandate could not have been made more clear on the first day of the Kings’ 2008-09 training camp. Indeed, when the players took to the ice for the first time, they saw five dots, a bit smaller than the face-off dots, painted on the ice in the slot, representing the “home plate” area Murray wants his players to focus on in terms of their defensive positioning.

Indeed, the Kings were atrocious in their own zone for the vast majority of the 2007-08 season and their goaltending was not much better. These two areas will certainly be keys to the success or failure of the 2008-09 Kings, who will have several young players, some of them rookies, in their lineup, raising serious doubt on the Kings’ ability to improve significantly upon their tied-for-last-place-in-the-league finish in 2007-08.

Talented Up Front

Even with the loss of skilled winger Michael Cammalleri, who was traded to the Calgary Flames in June, the Kings have skill up front and should not have a problem scoring goals, especially if they can resolve their contract stand-off with restricted free agent left wing Patrick O’Sullivan, who remains out of the Kings training camp pending a contract agreement.

“There’s a lot of skill, there’s a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net and make plays,” said center Jarret Stoll, who was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers, along with defenseman Matt Greene in exchange for defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky on June 29. “I don’t think scoring goals is going to be a problem.”

The Kings’ top line will feature third-year sensation Anze Kopitar, who led the team in scoring last season with 32 goals and 45 assists for 77 points in 82 games. On his right will be Dustin Brown, who led the league in hits (311) while scoring 33 goals with 27 assists for 60 points, setting career highs in goals and points.

But the left wing on the Kings’ first line is a question mark with O’Sullivan still unsigned and two candidates to fill that roster spot have performed well in training camp—24-year-old left wing Matt Moulson, who was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent on September 1, 2006, and 19-year-old phenom Oscar Moller, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (52nd overall) in the 2007 National Hockey League Entry Draft.

Moulson spent most of the last two seasons with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, scoring 25 goals with 32 assists for 57 points in 77 games in the 2006-07 season and 28 goals and 28 assists for 56 points in 57 games in the 2007-08 season.

Moulson also got a look with the big club last season, scoring five goals with four assists in 22 games.

In the pre-season, the 6-1, 210-pound native of North York, Ontario has performed well, scoring three goals in two games.

But all eyes have been on Moller, the 5-11, 197-pound native of Stockholm, Sweden. Although he is listed as a center, Moller has been playing left wing in the pre-season so far, and has been the most impressive of the Kings’ young prospects in training camp and in the Kings’ second pre-season game, a 6-4 win over the Phoenix Coyotes, Moller scored the game-winning goal, contributed two assists and was often the best player on the ice.

“Oscar Moller was playing like an NHL player at 18 or 19 years old,” said Murray following the game. “He’s one player, as far as a young player [is concerned], who has absorbed so much information from the start of training camp. His execution, his positioning, his reads—some is instinctive, but some, on the defensive part in particular, you just need to practice and become that kind of a player and when you see a play like the one he made at the end of the game on the winning goal, that’s a hockey player.”

“That’s taking the puck to the net in heavy traffic and making good things happen—attacking the seams,” added Murray. “I was very pleased with his performance.”

Although touted as a gifted offensive player, no one expected Moller to shine as bright as he has so far in camp, not even himself.

“I didn’t really know what to expect when I came out, but I just tried to play my game and go as hard as I could, he said. “It turned out pretty good. I just tried to have as much fun as I could out there and just enjoy the moment. It’s LA. This is a dream.”

But the one obstacle to Moller’s advancement to the NHL level might result in him being returned to his junior team, the Chilliwack Bruins of the Western Hockey League…his size, or lack thereof.

But to his credit, Moller has only been jostled around a few times in three pre-season games.

“I feel pretty good, I got knocked off [the puck] a few times, but now I know what it’s like,” he said. “You’re playing against men now as opposed to playing against boys and kids [in junior hockey]. The speed is higher and they’re stronger so I have to keep my head up and be strong out there. I just have to keep playing good and work my butt off every day.”

Despite his strong play, given the Kings current situation, the wise move is likely sending Moller back to Chilliwack for another year of seasoning and bulking up in the WHL.

The Kings’ second line will likely be centered by Stoll, with Alexander Frolov on the left side. Much of the Kings’ offensive success will rest squarely on Stoll’s shoulders because he will likely play the point on the power play and is the Kings’ best face-off man. And as the second-line center, he is going to have to find a way to improve significantly on his poor 2007-08 numbers, when he scored just 14 goals with 22 assists for 36 points in 81 games.

Stoll, 26, suffered a concussion during the 2006-07 season, limiting him to just 51 games in which he scored 13 goals with 26 assists for 39 points.

The 6-1, 210-pound native of Melville, Saskatchewan explained that he felt no after effects of the concussion last season.

“I didn’t feel any symptoms or any effects of that nature from the season before, so I’m not going to make any excuses there,” he stressed. “It was just that I didn’t perform to my abilities and the type of player that I think I should be. I’m confident that this year will be a different story.”

“It was a tough start to the year,” he elaborated. “I just never felt good with the puck or when getting the puck. It was a tough season to go through. I felt that I picked up my game in the latter stages of the season. As a team, we also finished pretty strong. It was just a tough year personally. You put that behind you and move forward.”

With all that in mind, Stoll trained very hard this summer to prepare for his first season with the Kings.

“Last year, I had a bad year,” said Stoll. “Things didn’t go very well for me personally, but I definitely felt good throughout the summer. I skated a lot this summer. I trained hard, I always train hard. I feel that’s an important part of the game, to make strides in the off-season.”

“I feel good,” added Stoll. “I just want to come in here and play a solid two-way game and help out offensively. I want to play in key situations and help the team win.”

The other new guy on the second line is expected to be right wing Teddy Purcell, who also got a look with the big club last season, scoring a goal with two assists in ten games.

The 6-3, 202-pound native of St. John’s, Newfoundland, who was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent on April 27, 2007, had a huge year with the Monarchs last season, scoring 25 goals with 58 assists for 83 points in 67 games.

Last season, Purcell was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team and was the AHL’s RBK/Edge Rookie of the Month for November. He was also named the Most Valuable Player in the 2008 AHL All-Star Game.

This season, he is one of the Kings’ young prospects, along with Moulson, center Brian Boyle and defenseman Peter Harrold, that President/General Manager Dean Lombardi said has a job to lose with the big club.

“It’s really encouraging after the year I had last year, putting some time in the minors and getting my feet wet at the NHL level,” said Purcell. “I think I’ve come a long way. I’m physically and mentally ready to take the next step. When management is telling you that [the job] is yours to lose, it’s even more encouragement to solidify that spot and make sure no one takes it from you.”

One of the obstacles to Purcell’s advancement to the NHL level has been his physical stature. When he was signed by the Kings, he weighed just 179 pounds. But after two summers of eating right and working out, he has bulked up considerably.

“I’ve put on a lot of weight, I’m up to 202 now,” Purcell explained. “When I signed I was about 179, so I’ve come a long way in a couple of years.”

“I’m not a physical player, I’m not going to run over everyone like [Dustin Brown] does,” Purcell elaborated. “But at the same time, I got my feet wet here last year and I think I handled myself pretty well. With an extra summer of conditioning and bulking up a little bit, and also being more confident and comfortable out there, I think I’ll be more than ready to go.”

Purcell has also worked to shore up his defensive game, an area of his game that was lacking prior to joining the Kings organization.

“Every hockey player can be better and I think I’ve come a long way defensively, being more responsible out there,” he said.

Purcell also had to make the adjustment to the pro game, being fresh out of the college game at the University of Maine.

“It’s a different game in college,” Purcell emphasized. “In pro, it’s more controlled. It’s everyone’s job. There’s not as many weak players. You’re not a student athlete anymore, you’re a professional. The lifestyle is different, on the ice is different, you have to treat your body different. It’s a totally different game.”

Purcell was discouraged when he was sent back to Manchester last season, but he did not let it get him down permanently.

“At the time, it was very discouraging to get sent back,” said Purcell. “The lifestyle here is so great and it’s a great organization to play for. You always want to play in the top league that you can. My goal was always to play in the NHL. But at the same time, looking back, I still have a lot to learn. It was only my first year. Dean and [assistant general manager] Ron [Hextall] sent me back for the right reasons, to learn how to win and develop in that environment.”

“Hopefully, the extra time that I spent down there paid off and I’ll be ready to be a full-timer here this year.”

The positions of third and fourth line center are up for grabs between Derek Armstrong, rookie Brian Boyle, Brad Richardson and veteran Michal Handzus.

As an experienced, vocal veteran, the 35-year-old Armstrong might have the edge.

“As a veteran, experienced guy, we need the experience,” Murray said. “We’re going to have several young guys and when you have a player who’s able to play in pretty much all situations, he’s important. Right now, with the experience Armstrong in particular brings, it’s an important part of our team.”

But one of the players in training camp who no one can miss is the 6-7, 248-pound Boyle, who has also been turning some heads, and not just because of his size. He has soft hands and better-than-average skating ability for a player of his size and could easily find himself centering the third line.

Last season, Boyle was another young prospect who got a look with the big club and he made the most of it, scoring four goals with an assist in eight games.

To be sure, Boyle did not look out of place in a Kings jersey during his brief stint at the NHL level.

“Physically, I felt pretty good throughout the year, I was getting better and getting called up was one of the highlights of my hockey career thus far,” said Boyle. “That’s something I’ve always wanted to do—play in the NHL. That was a blast.”

“That was a lot of fun,” added Boyle. “It was great. I wanted to go out and play and enjoy it. The goals were a bonus. Whereever I play, I always want to score goals, you always want to be able to do that. The way it worked out was great. It was a great time.”

This season, as stated earlier, Boyle has a job to lose with the big club but he knows that he cannot relax.

“It’s the same mindset going in,” he stressed. “I have something to prove. I want to be here. I have to show people that and I have to show the guys who are going to be here that as well. I’m not taking it lightly.”

“There are guys here who know what their job is and they can be a little more confident knowing that,” he added. “But there are several guys here who are competing for a few spots so it’s a challenge. It’s a battle, but it’s kind of what we play for. It’s good to have that competition before the season starts.”

Like Purcell, Boyle was very disappointed when he was sent back to Manchester after getting a taste of life in the NHL. But also like Purcell, he did not let it get to him.

“It’s always tough, you’re in the big time and you want to stay there,” said Boyle. “Fortunately for me, Manchester was close to home. It was probably as easy as it could have been—the transition back. Overall, you are disappointed at first, but it worked out great.”

“I do what I’m told,” added Boyle. “It did make me a better player, so I can’t say anything that way. I wanted to stay [here]. I tried to be kind of a leader down there. We had such a young team and we had a lot of guys step up and play well. That’s an aspect of the game you want to be good at too and you want to learn as you go along.”

“It was a good spot to be in because we had a challenge ahead of us [to get into the playoffs],” Boyle continued. “We had enough work to do down there. I had a role down there that was a bit different from up here. It was another challenge that I tried to work my best at and become a better player through it and I think I did.”

Unfortunately for Boyle, he did not gain any valuable playoff experience last season.

“We had a pretty exciting run in Manchester, getting into the playoffs,” said Boyle. “Unfortunately, I got hurt before the playoffs and I couldn’t play. But that’s the way it goes sometimes. Made a lot of great friends. It was a great season. I have no complaints.”

Despite missing out on the AHL playoffs, Boyle had a solid season, one that certainly impressed the Kings.

“I’ve been told that it’s made me a better player, the way we went through that playoff run, trying to get into the playoffs,” said Boyle. “Our playoff run started early. It started a month in advance, trying to get into the playoffs. It was a great experience.”

“[At the end of the 2006-07 season], I got to play in the Calder Cup Playoffs when I was out of college,” added Boyle. “That was a good experience but I was in over my head playing in the conference finals. Playing that whole year in the American league [in the 2007-08 season] made me a better player and if we were to get to the conference finals it would have been another challenge and it would have made me a better player all the more.”

“I learned a ton. I’m right where I’m supposed to be in this organization. It’s great the way it’s worked out thus far. I’m just looking forward to the rest of the way.”

And if he cannot cut it on the third line, the fourth line is just fine, too.

“I want to make this team and I want to be part of a winning team,” Boyle stressed. “Whatever my role is, that’s what I gotta do if we want to win and I have to do it better than anyone else in the league.”

“Whatever my role is, whatever’s thrown at me, it’s a competition night in and night out,” Boyle added. “If you’re a fourth-line center, you have to be better than their fourth-line center. You have to contribute, third line and all the way out, wherever you are. That’s my goal—to have a role and do it better than the guy on the other team.”

As for the 23-year-old Brad Richardson, who was acquired from Colorado on June 20, 2008 for a second round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft (Peter Delmas), he is unlikely to move ahead of Boyle on the depth chart and he might not be able to move ahead of Armstrong. He could see time on left wing, but right now, his fate is anyone’s guess. Michal Handzus, who needs to turn things around in a big way after a less than disappointing 2007-08 season, will also get a long, hard look as the third-line center.

Holding The Fort…Or Not?

Last season, the Kings defensive corps was arguably the weakest of the Kings’ weak points. They struggled all season long, finding themselves out of position and running around in their own zone frequently.

If Murray has his way, things will be very different for the Kings, who are focusing on their defensive coverage in training camp.

“Last year at times, we never seemed to be on the same page as far as what we were doing in our own end,” said Kings goaltender Jason LaBarbera. “This year, right from the get-go, the plan has been that our defensive zone [coverage] and the amount of chances we’ve given up last year has got to change.”

“We have to tighten up defensively,” said Stoll. “We’re going to have a young defense back there. Everybody has to come back to the net and playing together as a team and work it out from there. That’s what we learned the first day of training camp, so you can tell how important that is.”

As mentioned earlier, Murray had five dots painted on the ice in the slot to clearly illustrate the “home plate” area where he wants his players to use as a guide for their defensive positioning. And, at least during the pre-season game against the Phoenix Coyotes on September 22, the Kings defensive zone coverage looked light years better than at any point during the 2007-08 season.

Indeed, if the pre-season is any indication, Murray’s plan just might be working.

“Right back into our own end, we had some good things happening coming back into the home plate area, stopping, getting sticks on the ice, holding position,” Murray emphasized. “Pucks were on the outside of the dots and that’s something we talked about as far as being an OK play. Let it happen out there but make sure the front of the net is protected.”

“I thought there was a very conscious effort on the defensive part of the game in all the zones,” Murray elaborated. “The [third forward] in the offensive zone was very good. He got lost only two or three times. He was there tracking back. Our neutral zone part of it, at times, when it came right down to it at crunch time, was excellent. Our positioning to hold lines was very good.”

In addition to veterans Tom Preissing and newly-acquired veteran Denis Gauthier, unless the Kings acquire a veteran before opening night, the majority of the defensive corps will be quite young, including Jack Johnson, Peter Harrold and 2008 draft pick Drew Doughty.

Doughty has had people oohing and ahhing during the pre-season games so far and appears to be a lock to make the Kings opening night roster. He is a strong, speedy skater, and the 6-0, 219-pound native of London, Ontario can also take the body.

Doughty has been most noticeable for his ability to carry the puck end-to-end and generate an attack off the rush. But can he hold his own in the defensive zone? Only time will tell, but all indications are that he can.

Nevertheless, the Kings will not rush Doughty to the NHL. They will not hesitate to send him back to his junior team, the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League, before he plays in his tenth NHL game.

Because Doughty is under the age of twenty, he cannot be assigned to Manchester. If he is returned to Guelph, he must remain there until their season is over. If the Kings keep Doughty past the ten-game limit, he must remain with the Kings throughout the season.

“We’ll play it day-to-day,” Lombardi said. “It’s like Kopitar. Everybody knew he was a heck of a prospect. But you just let him come in, let him play through the rookie games and just keep evaluating. That’s what Kopitar did the second year. He just kept showing you ‘I’m ready’ and it’s up to him to show us he’s ready.”

“Does he have the potential? Yes. But there’s a lot of variables that go into that,” Lombardi emphasized. “Don’t forget that Kopitar went back [to play in Europe] for a year. Secondly, defense is way harder to break in and that’s always the issue—buliding a back end is a lot tougher than building the front end.”

“The one thing that gives him an edge for a young player is his hockey sense,” Lombardi elaborated. “If you can play smart, you’ve got a chance to break in sooner. Even guys like [Chris] Pronger, in terms of hockey sense, he was off the charts. But even he struggled in Hartford his first year and arguably, it was one of the reasons they traded him because they ruined him and he had to move somewhere else, so I’m very cognizant of the history.”

Not quite as young as Doughty or even Johnson is defenseman Matt Greene, who figures to play a bigger role with the youthful Kings than he did with the Oilers.

“I’m just a physical, stay-at-home guy, that’s it,” said Greene. “You’re not going to see me on the point sheet too much. My job is to complement the offense we have here on the back end. We have a lot of talent on the back end. My job is to stay back for them and give up the opportunity to jump in the play.”

“It’s a great opportunity to try new things and be used in a different light,” added Greene. “That’s what I’m hoping to do.”

So…the Kings have Preissing, Greene, Gauthier, Johnson, Harrold and Doughty. That leaves one defensive position wide open and young prospects, 5-11, 182-pound Thomas Hickey or even 6-1, 213-pound Alec Martinez could find themselves on the opening night roster. However, neither are truly NHL-ready at this time and would not be best served by sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch night after night as the seventh defenseman.

Instead, they should be playing a lot and they can only do that, in Hickey’s case, with his junior team, the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. Martinez’ likely destination would be Manchester.

Although Hickey, 18, and Martinez, 21, have shown in camp why they were drafted by the Kings, they both need more seasoning and bulking up. Indeed, the smart thing for the Kings to do is to acquire a veteran defenseman prior to the start of the season, depending on the cost (not just the player’s salary) so that Hickey and Martinez can continue their development properly at lower levels rather than rushing them to the NHL before they are ready.

Another player with an outside chance to make the Kings roster is 6-0, 190-pound defenseman Viatcheslav Voynov, 18, a native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2008 draft.

The Puck Stops Here?

Despite being victimized time and time again by horrid defensive coverage in front, goaltending was once again a major weakness, as Jason LaBarbera faltered far too often, sometimes because of the nagging effects of injuries, but just as often, by playing poorly.

“It was really my first crack at being a number one guy and I think confidence might have had something to do with it,” LaBarbera explained. “The first injury really set me back—I was feeling really good at the time. Then I missed that three or four-week period with the ribs and never seemed to get a good feel for that consistency again. And then I got hurt towards the end of the year.”

“The biggest thing is consistency, LaBarbera elaborated. “I’ve done it my whole life. That was frustrating for me, being up and down. As a group, we were all like that. That was tough.”

This year, LaBarbera came to camp twenty pounds lighter and in the best shape of his life due to exercise and diet during his recovery from sports hernia surgery.

“Everything went great,” said LaBarbera. “Getting hurt is never a great thing, but it might have been a blessing in disguise for me. It gave me a little time to recover and get in better shape. This summer was great. It was probably the best summer I’ve had in my whole career, really. This is definitely the best I’ve ever felt.”

“The biggest thing for me last year was that I didn’t gain a lot of weight,” added LaBarbera. “In past years, I’d always gain a lot of weight. [Because of that], I was able to train at a higher intensity this past summer. The other big thing was that I had a nutritional plan. I had someone making me food and it was all portioned. I would eat every two hours. I felt a million times better. I didn’t feel bloated and tired. It was good.”

LaBarbera said that he is feeling no ill effects from the sports hernia.

“It’s all good,” he said. “I don’t feel it on the ice at all, so I was able to do pretty much everything as far as my off-ice workouts were concerned and then everything on the ice. The surgery went well and our trainers did a great job with me.”

Suddenly, LaBarbera finds himself as the Kings’ elder statesman among the goaltenders.

“It’s nice to be known as an older guy, but I’m not even an older guy yet,” said LaBarbera. “I’m only 28 and I’m only two years older than the next goalie in this organization.”

“It’s exciting right now,” added LaBarbera. “It’s pretty fun coming to the rink. There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of enthusiastic energy around here.”

If LaBarbera, who has been anointed by Murray as the Kings’ number one goaltender to start the season, is unable to hold the fort, and his play in the pre-season has been anything but impressive, waiting in the wings is Erik Ersberg, a 5-11, 182-pound native of Sala, Sweden, who gave Kings fans a glimmer of hope at the end of last season, earning an impressive 2.48 goals-against average with a .927 save percentage in 14 games. Also in the mix for the backup role is 22-year-old Jonathan Quick, a 6-0, 180-pound native of Milford, Connecticut, who has been impressive in training camp.

And if you are wondering what happened to the Kings’ best hope in goal, goalie prospect Jonathan Bernier, he suffered a hip flexor injury in training camp and did not get into any of the pre-season games. He has since been assigned to Manchester, but do not be surprised if he returns to the Kings at any time during the season, as he is clearly the most skilled of the Kings current crop of goaltenders.

Too Young, Not Enough Skill?

Weeks before NHL training camps opened, pundits were predicting that the Kings will finish the season at the bottom of the standings and there is an excellent chance that they are correct. So many things have to come together for the Kings to improve—the perfect storm, so to speak—that one has to think that the odds of that happening are way too high, perhaps even as high as the 100-to-1 odds for the Kings to win the Stanley Cup this season that some Las Vegas sports books have listed.

Indeed, the Kings will need Brown, Kopitar, Frolov and O’Sullivan to improve on their 2007-08 production and they will need Stoll to turn his game around from his dismal 2007-07 season.

The Kings will also need Purcell, Moulson and Boyle to not just play well enough to remain with the big club, but they have to be offensive contributors.

On defense, the Kings must fully embrace Murray’s defensive scheme and improve dramatically in front of the net. That will place a lot of weight on the shoulders of their young defensemen, who could easily buckle under the pressure.

In goal, LaBarbera is all but certain to be in his last season with the Kings unless he makes a huge statement in goal. But given his history, the chances of that happening are not good. Ersberg shined brightly during his stint with the Kings, but that came in a very quick tour of duty when the Kings were already way, way out of playoff contention. In short, the games were meaningless. Can Ersberg play as well when the games mean something and carry the load over the long haul of a full NHL season? Certainly, there are more questions than answers in goal for the Kings once again.

Special teams will also be a major factor. Can Johnson, Doughty, Harrold and Preissing provide enough scoring from the blue line, especially on the power play? And with a young defense, will the Kings be able to dramatically improve from their league-worst 77.0% penalty-kill rating from last season?

In any case, don’t try telling the Kings about the negative expectations that are swirling around them.

“It’s a young team, that’s the bottom line here,” said Stoll. “It’s just a matter of everyone coming together and playing with confidence.”

“Confidence goes a long way,” added Stoll. “We play a lot of home games at the start. You never know. You get some wins under your belt early, you get some confidence going as a team and the work ethic here is not going to be a problem, not going to be an issue. With the skill level we have you never know.”

“Just the feeling around here right now is good—the energy we have,” said LaBarbera. “As long as everyone’s on the same page and everyone knows what each others role is I think we’ll be all right. Obviously, we’re young and everybody’s going to make mistakes. But as long as we trust each other in that group setting we’ll be all right.”

Even the rookies are thinking positively.

“I don’t think anyone who’s been skating here the last couple of days thinks they’re going to be part of a losing team,” said Boyle. “We’re going to do everything we can to throw all those expectations out the window.”

“Everyone thinks it’s going to be a young team,” added Boyle. “That’s fine, but we have some veterans here too. We have some guys who’ve played a few years who know what they’re doing. We have a first line that could be among the elite in the league, I think. I don’t have too much experience with it, but I’ve watched enough hockey to know that those guys are elite players.”

“People might be counting us out. That’s fine. But we know it might be tough some nights, but it’ll be tough for other teams, too because we’re going to outwork every team. That’s our goal.”

Frozen Royalty’s prediction: The Pacific Division is still the toughest division in the league. As such, the Kings are going to have major trouble getting out of the Western Conference basement. However, they will improve over their 29th place finish in the league standings last season—how much is the question. Needless to say, they will not make the playoffs.

Kings fans would do well to keep in mind that the team is still rebuilding, and it actually is the first time in franchise history that they have done so, despite claims to the contrary. It will take another year for the Kings to improve enough to qualify for the post-season and at least two or three more years before they could conceivably be a Stanley Cup contender. As such, winning is clearly not the priority this season.


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9 Responses to 2008-09 Los Angeles Kings: Defense and Goaltending Will Be Key

  1. Bob Bobson says:

    Great preview Gann. Based on what happened last year and the lack of positive roster movement this year no one expects this team to do more than challenge for Jonathon Tavares or Victor Hedman. I think this is great because setting the bar low for a team this young is important. They are not burdened by unrealistic expectations and this gives them a chance to grow as players and as a team.

    However, the important piece of the puzzle is that Dean is able to keep the team together. Based on his dealings with Patrick O’Sullivan I am growing more and more concerned with this. Talent-wise, I am not so worried. But I am worried that given Dean was supposedly let go in SJ for failing to sign Evgeni Nabokov and his struggles to sign O’Sullivan to a contract, keeping all these players will be difficult. What is the point of collecting all this skill if you cannot keep it ?

  2. triplcrown says:

    Excellent report!

  3. Sol (Sharky) says:

    Hey Gann, Great read as usual. I am curious… of the young kids that are expected to be on the roster…who do you think is/are going to make the biggest impact? Who would you consider as a sleeper or having a break out season? I know that you don’t think that we will make the playoffs this season, but has Jason LaBarbera shown anything in the pre-season showing us a glimmer of hope for the season? What about Ersberg? Thanks…Sol

  4. Pingback: LA Kings Defense & Goaltending Will Be The Key - Los Angeles Kings Hockey Fan Forum

  5. Gann Matsuda says:

    Clearly, Drew Doughty will have the biggest impact. The kid has the skills, speed and skating ability to not only be an impact player at 18 years of age, but he has star potential (note I said “potential”).

    If Oscar Moller can add some muscle to his frame, he has the offensive skills to have star potential as well. As I said in the story, it might be better for his development to go back to Chilliwack this season.

    Brian Boyle needs to develop the mean side of his game, but he has the skills to be an impact player, maybe even a second-line center someday.

    Teddy Purcell is going to have to develop his physical game a bit more. He has the offensive skills, but i fear that he might get outmuscled for too many loose pucks.

    LaBarbera looked really solid in his last pre-season game. His positioning was superb and when he had to make a difficult save (on shots he actually had a chance on), he made the save. Add to that the fact that he came into camp in great physical shape, maybe…just maybe, he’ll turn into a solid number one goalie this year.

    As for Ersberg, who knows. We know the kid has the skill, but he hasn’t been the best goalie in training camp. Keep in mind that at the end of last season when he came up, the games were meaningless, so that adds a touch of realism when you consider what he accomplished at the time. Is he capable of that when there’s actually something on the line? That remains to be seen.

  6. Nick says:

    Just casting out to you all in cyberspace: I didn’t know where I should post this question so I posted it here. Rumors seem to be flying all over the place that the Kings would be interested in acquiring Kyle McLaren from the Sharks. My three-part question is this: 1) Why would the Kings need McLaren? What does he bring to the table that is currently lacking from the organization? 2) If there is interest, why hasn’t a deal been done already? 3) What would it take to pry McLaren loose?

  7. Gann Matsuda says:

    The only reason these rumors exist is because people are thinking out loud…the Kings have a young, mostly inexperienced defense that could use more veteran experience and McLaren could fit that role. No other reason. McLaren cleared waivers and was assigned to San Jose’s AHL affiliate. It wouldn’t take much to acquire him from San Jose, but would it be worth it for the Kings to trade for him? Probably not. Now if they can claim him off of re-entry waivers…

  8. Nick says:

    I’d grab McLaren off re-entry waivers, but I suspect the Quincey acquisition pretty much puts an end to that.

  9. Gann Matsuda says:

    Yes, you can forget about Kyle McLaren now.

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