EL SEGUNDO, CA — If you ask National Hockey League players, they will usually tell you that each season, their goal is to win the Stanley Cup.
But during the first day on the ice at the Los Angeles Kings 2014 training camp, that was not the case at all.
“Make the playoffs first,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “That’s the first significant step.”
To be sure, that formula has worked for the Kings in two out of the last three seasons.
In 2011-12, the Kings qualified for the playoffs by the skins of their teeth as the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference.
In 2013-14, they ranked third in the Pacific Division and sixth in the Western Conference.
We all know what happened in both of those seasons.
“Everybody’s saying their goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” Sutter noted. “Thirty teams are saying that. [But] the first goal is to make the playoffs.”
Sutter already has his young charges reciting the same mantra.
“We’ve got to get to the playoffs first,” said center Anze Kopitar. “We know what we have to do, we know how we have to play. [We have to] stay consistent and get there first.”
“The plan is just to get off to a good start to the season, that’s it,” said defenseman Matt Greene. “We can’t worry about the end. You’ve got to worry about what’s going on right now, and that’s what our group is focused on.”
“You play in order to get into the post-season, [knowing] how tough it is,” said goaltender Jonathan Quick. “You have to be right around the 100-point mark and win close to or more than fifty games for some teams. So that’s a grind, just making it to the playoffs. Once you get there, you’re going to play four great teams in order to win it, so just getting into the playoffs—that’s our focus, to be one of [eight] teams, and then going from there.”
Despite that, the Kings know that repeating as Stanley Cup Champions is the ultimate goal, even though they are not focused on that…yet.
“Everybody knows that,” said left wing Marian Gaborik. “We don’t necessarily need to talk about it. That’s our goal, for sure. We just have to take it a game at a time, and day-by-day.”
Especially with the rest of the league gunning for them attaining that ultimate goal will be extremely difficult—no team has repeated as Stanley Cup Champions since the Detroit Red Wings did it in 1996-97 and 1997-98, and no team has won three Stanley Cup Championships in four years since the Edmonton Oilers did it in 1983-84, 1984-85 and 1986-87.
“Everybody who’s going to play against us, they’re going to pick it up a notch,” Gaborik noted. “Everybody’s going to try to beat us. We just have to be ready. We have to have a strong start and go from there.”
“The challenge is just maintaining the level of play that we played at last year,” Kopitar emphasized. “There will be targets on our back, just like there was two years ago, and just like it was with Chicago last year. But the confidence is there, definitely. We barely made any roster changes. Yeah, we lost [veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell], but Robyn [Regehr] was hurt quite a bit during the playoffs last year. We feel he can step into that slot. Up front, there [were] really no changes. Any time you can keep the roster together on a team that wins, it’s obviously a bonus.”
“I’ve always said that’s a big part of our success, the lack of turnover here,” said right wing Dustin Brown. “As we’ve progressed through the years here, we get more and more familiar with each other. It’s the first day of training camp, but for most guys here, but it doesn’t feel like the first day.”
With a number of Western Conference teams bolstering their rosters during the off-season, the challenge facing the Kings would seem to be even greater this season. Despite that, they are not really looking at that too much.
“Seems like the West is loading up, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s going to matter too much what the other teams are going to do,” said Kopitar. “It’s going to matter what we’re going to do. We feel confident enough that we have the squad that can do some damage again, but we’re going to have to play just like we did last year, and a couple of years ago.”
“It’s definitely not easy, but it’s also fun,” added Kopitar. “We know what we’re playing for. We’ve tasted it twice now, and we know how much fun it is. I don’t think it’s too hard to get motivated for another one.”
That motivation could have the Kings joining some elite company, not to mention that they could make history as the first team during the salary cap era to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.
But again, they are not looking at that at all.
“I don’t think we’re really thinking about making history,” said right wing Tyler Toffoli. “We just want to win. I think that’s the same throughout the entire dressing room. That’s what our goal is coming into this season—to win as many games as we can, get into the playoffs and just play hockey in the playoffs.”
“It’s the toughest trophy to win, so to do it back-to-back, especially in a salary cap-parity league—if we would’ve lost Game 7 to Chicago in the Conference Final, we wouldn’t be talking about this,” Sutter observed. “That tells you how close it is.”
2014 LA Kings Training Camp Coverage
- LA Kings 2014 Training Camp: Day 2 – The Hunger To Win It All Again, Or Just To Redeem Oneself
- Frozen Royalty Audio: LA Kings 2014 Training Camp – Day 2 Interviews
- LA Kings 2014 Training Camp: Quick Limited, But Skating; Greene Focused On Redemption
- Frozen Royalty Audio: LA Kings 2014 Training Camp – Day 1 Interviews
- LA Kings Open Their 2014 Training Camp – In Photos
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