The Los Angeles Kings’ training camp is just weeks away and they enter the season in a bit different of a position than the one they’ve been used to in recent seasons.
Instead of coming off of a season where they won the Stanley Cup or are expected to compete for a title, they’re reporting to camp as a team looking to prove that they can maintain their elite status.
And like any other team, they also have some key questions that hover over them as camp prepares to open up.
What will become of Dustin Brown?
It hasn’t been the best of times in Los Angeles for forward Dustin Brown. After notching 57 points (28-29–57) during the 2010-11 season, Brown has not been able to reach that plateau again and his drop in production was punctuated by him losing the captain’s “C” over the summer in favor of fellow forward Anze Kopitar.
The New York native was not happy about his demotion. “I feel like I’ve done a very good job of leading this team,” said Brown to the Associated Press. “The last couple of years have been really disappointing for all involved, and we all have a lot of work to do to get back where we want to be.”
In that same interview with the AP, Brown also expressed speculation that Kings management has tried to trade him and described his relationship with management as “not rosy.” He also admitted to having differences with head coach Darryl Sutter.
But it’s hard not to see why general manager Dean Lombardi would want to move Brown. According to capfriendly.com, he has six years left on his contract with an annual cap hit of $5.87 million–a tough pill to swallow for someone who has registered just 82 points over the span of the last three regular seasons for a team that has just $1.15 million in cap space.
Can Marian Gaborik stay healthy?
Since getting traded from Columbus to Los Angeles during the 2013-14 season, forward Marian Gaborik has been a positive for the Kings – when he’s healthy.
Since playing all 82 regular season games for the New York Rangers during the 2011-12 regular season, Gaborik has played in at least 60 regular season games in a single season just once and that was last year — his first full season in LA — when he scored 47 points (27-20—47), had an average ice time of 16:55 and a Corsi for percentage of 58.2 in 69 games.
Gaborik was producing for the Kings again last year but a knee injury in February ended his regular season and forced him to miss LA’s first playoff game. He wound up finishing the regular season with 22 points (12-10—22) in 54 games with an average ice time of 14:57 and a Corsi for percentage of 57.
He needs to justify his large cap hit ($4.87 million for five more years) on a team with not a lot of cap space by remaining healthy and productive.
Will there be a “World Cup hangover”?
The Kings are well represented at this month’s World Cup of Hockey, with some of their personnel projected to play key roles.
Kopitar will be the captain of Team Europe, while Drew Doughty is projected to be a key contributor to Team Canada’s defensive corps and Jonathan Quick could very well be Team USA’s starting goaltender. And this doesn’t even include other players like Jake Muzzin (Canada) and Gaborik (Europe).
While many of these players could be in midseason shape by the time the season starts because of the World Cup, could the long 82-game grind plus the wear and tear of the tournament wear the core of the Kings roster down as the season goes along?
In particular, what about Quick? He has likely eaten up more minutes than any other goaltender in the league over the last few seasons. And between last year’s regular season and postseason alone, the Connecticut native appeared in 73 games. This could open the door to the backup goaltender, who happens to be Jeff Zatkoff this season, playing a more prominent role.