Every NHL General Manager is constantly trying to tinker with their roster to find that right mix that will bring their team a Stanley Cup. When L.A. Kings GM Dean Lombardi assembled some of his most recent teams, it brought him what is the envy of every fan, owner and GM: a championship window that brought Los Angeles five consecutive postseason appearances, two Stanley Cups and another trip to the Western Conference Final.
Considering how dominant the Kings were down the stretch the past few seasons, it was a sad footnote in 2014-15 when they were eliminated from playoff contention with just days to go in the campaign. Many said it was the end of an era, but was it? Has the Kings’ championship window closed?
The Kings wemt into a December 29 game in Calgary carrying a record of 18-11-7, and were having visions of yet another Stanley Cup run. But that loss to the division rival Flames sparked a 3-7-5 skid that took L.A. all the way into early February.
Coming into a February 7 tilt in Tampa Bay with a 21-18-12 mark, the Kings would scratch out a victory against the Lightning and then proceed to win eight consecutive contests and post a record of 12-3-1 over a 16 game span, leaving many to wonder if the Kings had “flipped the switch” just as they had around the same time of year in previous seasons.
During the midst of that 16-game stretch, Lombardi attempted to shore up his roster by acquiring defenseman Andrej Sekera from Carolina. Lombardi’s hope was that the Sekera trade would fit the mold of other deals he had done leading up to the deadline in recent seasons when he acquired players like Marian Gaborik and Robyn Regehr who would become important components to their postseason run in some shape or form.
Down the stretch, the Kings would not flip the switch and the team would go 10-8-4 from March 1 on, a record that wasn’t enough to break through in the ultra-competitive West as the Kings missed the postseason for the first time in five seasons.
As of July 31, the Kings sit $8.3 million under the salary cap. Regehr has retired from the game, last season’s trade deadline acquisition Sekera signed as a free agent in Edmonton, and defenseman Slava Voynov remains suspended for a domestic violence incident and there’s questions about whether he will or should return to the NHL. Forward Jarret Stoll will also likely not be resigned by L.A. after he had his own legal troubles in Las Vegas at the end of the regular season.
Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll pleads guilty to misdemeanors in cocaine case http://t.co/HtGlHe2W4o #NHL
— AP Sports (@AP_Sports) June 25, 2015
What the Kings have opted to do instead is bring in forward Milan Lucic. The native of Vancouver was acquired via a trade from Boston on June 26 and is a continuation of Lombardi’s effort to keep the large, gritty presence on the roster that was so instrumental in bringing two Stanley Cups to Los Angeles.
But will it work?
The veteran leadership like Regehr that played a key role in the dressing room aged to the point where it didn’t make sense to bring them back, while younger players like Tanner Pearson and Brayden McNabb will need to fill the voids left by other players who have left L.A. either by trade or free agency in recent seasons.
But the one key reason why the Kings’ “Cup window” could still be open is because the nucleus of their roster from the last few seasons is still largely intact. Lucic certainly fits the mold of the roster, Jonathan Quick is still one of the top goaltenders in the game, while Gaborik’s numbers have seen a small decline in L.A., but his role with the Kings has been crucial.
Ultimately, whether the Kings return to the postseason or the lottery this season will depend largely on whether the rest of the Western Conference has caught up to them, much like Calgary and Winnipeg did last season.