Welcome to the NHL FanHouse 2008-09 season preview. While other sites are previewing "30 teams in 30 days," we decided to take advantage of the extra time off before the start of the season to bring you all 30 previews over the next three weeks. We're counting down in reverse order of finish from last season in each conference every weekday from now until October 3. Look for an Eastern Conference preview every morning and a Western Conference preview every afternoon. Click here to read them all.
Who's In: Jarrett Stoll, C (Trade-EDM); Matt Greene, D (Trade-EDM); Denis Gauthier, D (Trade-PHI); Brad Richardson, W (Trade-COL).
Who's Out: Michael Cammalleri, C/W (Trade-CGY); Lubomir Visnovsky, D (Trade-EDM); Rob Blake, D (FA-SJS); Ladislav Nagy, W (FA-Russia); Brian Willsie, W (FA-COL); Jon Klemm, D (FA-Germany); Dan Clouter, G (Buyout).
What's Changed: Not enough to make the playoffs, likely. The Kings, who finished last in the west, have gone younger and cheaper while the rest of Pacific Division has gotten better around them. Realistically, this figures to be another rough season for Kings fans, who haven't enjoyed a playoff appearance since 2002. But there is a new head coach in town, and at the very least supermodel Rachel Hunter figures to attend some home games this year.This summer, the Kings booted Marc Crawford and hired Terry Murray as head coach. The firing of Crawford wasn't unwarranted, as Los Angeles had the Pacific Division's worst record since the lockout, a combined 101-119-26 in three seasons. However, the timing was a little suspect; GM Dean Lombardi waited two months after the season was over to make the coaching change after several coaching candidates were already hired elsewhere. Murray is a veteran bench boss, having coached 737 regular season games between the Panthers, Flyers, and Capitals, though all his head coaching experience came before the lockout.
In terms of major roster shakeups, most of the changes to the Kings' roster happened on the blueline, where the team lost significant experience. The Kings traded 7-year veteran Lubomir Visnovsky to Edmonton for Stoll and Greene, just days before Visnovsky's no-trade clause set in on a five-year contract, then watched as longtime King legend Rob Blake signed with their divisional rival San Jose Sharks. Blake and Visnovsky combine for 1,626 regular season games' worth of experience and were offensive fixtures on the Kings' power play and at even strength. My BoC blog-buddy Rudy Kelly, in his brilliant Kings preview at the Pensblog, listed the resulting top-six defensemen that the Kings figure to dress:
It's not a very recognizable group, that's for sure. What compounds the blueline issue is the Kings' instability in net. While finally removing Dan Cloutier from the roster was a definite plus, L.A. still lacks a top-flight netminder. Last season the Kings dressed seven different goalies, and this season figures to rely on Jason Labarbera or Erik Ersberg to cope with any defensive mistakes. While both those goaltenders have shown a capability of short-term brilliance, neither is in the class of the rest of the Pacific Division starting netminders.
Jack Johnson-Tom Preissing
Matt Greene-Peter Harrold
Denis Gauthier-Drew Doughty
What's somewhat stunning about the weaknesses that the Kings have on their defensive end is that they seem to be the simple result of not spending money. The Kings started the summer with the claim that they have been losing more money than they were before the lockout, and even though the team used that excuse to raise ticket prices, Lombardi has tightened the pursestrings. Even with raises for RFAs Stoll and O'Sullivan (still un-signed), the Kings still figure to have a payroll total below the cap floor in the last bargain years for Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson. While it's likely that summer activity isn't over in L.A., it still seems that they are effectively sitting out this season with the hopes of competing sometime later in the future.
I can't say for sure how well Kings fans will tolerate this "stay patient, we'll spend money someday" approach, especially after watching the nearby Anaheim Ducks claim California's first Stanley Cup in 2007. There's certainly plenty of young players the Kings have assembled who figure to improve within a few years; perhaps they can provide enough long-term potential to keep Kings fans from getting too depressed by this year's standings. Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov, Dustin Brown, Patrick O'Sullivan, Jarrett Stoll, Brian Boyle, Ted Purcell, and Matt Moulson form a young core of talent among the forward lines, and if the Kings can keep most of this group together and effectively build around them, the future could be bright for the Kings. At the very least, it's near-impossible that it gets darker.
But hey, it's not all rotten. They could always combine forces with the Vancouver Canucks to form a dangerous lineup, and even if that doesn't work you can still catch them on the November 5th episode of The Price is Right.
Who's on the hook: Expectations seem sufficiently low that there doesn't seem to be anybody whose job is on the line, but you never quite know with the Kings. The more appropriate question might be "who will the Kings acquire before the season starts?" Still, as Rudy Kelly noted in his Stoll contract post, Lombardi has made a pattern of investing money in players coming off of injury, and it will be interesting to see whether Michal Handzus or Jarrett Stoll can return to pre-injury form.
Where they'll finish: I'll be writing up previews for the rest of the Pacific Division teams in the coming weeks, but between the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, and Phoenix Coyotes, the Kings find themselves in a mix of excellent and improving teams. As the top cartoon implies, the Kings are likely too young and inexperienced to effectively compete with their division rivals. There's enough young talent and a new enough coaching staff that they might finish out of the western cellar, but it seems unlikely that they'll finish anywhere above fifth in the Pacific.
Blogs To Watch: Inside the Kings, Battle of California, A Queen Among Kings, Life in Hockeywood, Purple Crushed Velvet, Frozen Royalty
Gratuitous YouTube Embed: The Kings might have had a miserable season, but they did have the best comeback game of all last year. "Here's the best part. With 7:15 left in the 3rd period and the score at 4-0, Marty Turco made his 28th straight save of the night. Incredibly, he didn't make another save the rest of the night; the next six Kings shots on goal went in." Enjoy it, Kings fans.