With a road loss at the hands of the Calgary Flames on Thursday night, the Los Angeles Kings found themselves in fourth place in the Western Conference’s Pacific division. Because only the weekend’s games remained, they will not be participating in the postseason race to the Stanley Cup, meaning that a new NHL team will takeover as champion.
It would have been hard to imagine at the start of the season that a team as solid as the Kings would be on the outside looking in. All of the team’s core players are locked up long-term, and this past summer, the club was able sign goal scorer Marian Gaborik to a long-term deal that was well below what he could’ve commanded on the open market due to the simple fact that he wanted to come back to Los Angeles and continue competing for championships.
Throughout the season it seemed like almost a given that the Kings would be poised for another deep run into the playoffs. No doubt the Western Conference has its share of juggernaut clubs (the Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks to name a few), but the Kings were supposed to be one of those juggernauts.
Even from a fantasy standpoint, there was plenty of talent to be had on one’s roster. There were the team’s proven stars like Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Gaborik and Jonathan Quick, and the young guns, like Tyler Toffoli, Jake Muzzin and at least early in the season Tanner Pearson. But while the year got off to a promising start and the Kings were one of the best teams at home, fantasy owners and hockey experts alike should have seen this coming from a mile away.
For one thing the Calgary Flames, who were projected to be one of the worst teams in the league, ended up surprising many opponents in the first half thanks to acquisitions like goaltender Jonas Hiller, who has been lights out for the team, and Johnny Gudreau, who although he’s one of the smallest players in the league has shown that he’s a big-time NHL talent.
A similar storyline could accompany the Winnipeg Jets in their journey towards clinching a spot. The midseason trade of Evander Kane to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Drew Stafford and Tyler Myers gave the team the last bit of energy needed to clinch a postseason berth.
Juxtapose those two young upstart clubs with a team in Los Angeles that has played way too much playoff hockey over the last few seasons and it’s easy to see why the it ran out of gas and now finds itself heading home early for the summer. Combine that with the fact that teams generally get more pumped up to take on the defending Stanley Cup champions than they do anybody else and perhaps it should have been evident that the writing was on the wall for the Kings.
Of course all of these factors relate to reality and not fantasy.
To understand the cause of a fantasy season lost in Los Angeles, all one has to do is consider some of the numbers. While Carter did finish with a respectable 28 goals on the year, he also went through a 23-game stretch that saw him find the net just twice. His buddy Mike Richards (who some people probably took a chance on late in the draft), scored just five goals on the year and saw time in the minors. And although Quick did have a solid year with 35 wins, it simply wasn’t enough to save the Kings.
Nonetheless all of the stats and the effects of being a drained team may not have won or lost fantasy leagues for owners, except for those few diehards who only draft players from their favorite teams. The truth is that dynasties in both fantasy and reality are rare, and it appears the Kings days may be done, at least for now.
Then again, had the team managed just one or two more wins in the standings, the team’s outlook could be totally different, just like the guys who just finished out of the money in the pool or going to contend all summer long.