When the Los Angeles Kings take the ice Saturday night in Newark for Game 5, they have a chance to win their first ever Stanley Cup. If they can’t wrap it up then, they’ll have two more cracks at it. As a No. 8 seed, some may say the Kings are a fluke. They aren’t – far from it. In fact, this could be the start of something special for years to come.
Since the salary cap was instituted in 2005, the word ‘dynasty’ hasn’t been relevant in the NHL. You could say that there really hasn’t been anything that equates to a dynasty since the 1980’s Edmonton Oilers teams that featured the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
This is not to say these Kings, who boast an impressive 15-3 playoff record, are going to become a dynasty. When the Pittsburgh Penguins made back-to-back Cup Final appearances in 2008 and 2009, there was talk of a dynasty then. Injuries and bad luck have kept the Penguins from advancing past the second round in the three postseasons since.
The same could happen to the Kings in the coming years. The future is impossible to predict. Yet, they have many building blocks in place that could make them a contender for a very long time.
Before we look at some of the moves GM Dean Lombardi has made, remember that most of the Kings’ current core was built through the draft. Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty – four current Conn Smythe Trophy candidates – were all drafted by the Kings. They all broke into the NHL at different times, yet they’ve grown together on the ice in recent years.
The scariest part is that they are all still young and have yet to reach their prime.
Brown is 27 years old, Quick is 26, Kopitar is 24 and Doughty is 22. Kopitar and Doughty are signed for the long haul, while Quick will earn a raise next summer. As for Brown: there were trade rumors in February, but if the captain continues to play like he has over the last two months, there’s no reason for the Kings not to keep him in the fold.
In total, 12 players on the current Kings roster were drafted by them; other than Brown, all of them are 26 years old or younger.
Aside from those that started their careers with the Kings, Lombardi has done a fantastic job of bringing in even more young talent from the outside.
Less than eight months apart, Lombardi boldly parted with a lot of assets to acquire Philadelphia castoffs (and friends) Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Though they have yet to have a big impact production wise as Kings, they will be stars in Los Angeles like they were with the Flyers. Both are 27 years old and under contract through at least 2020. They currently make up two-thirds of the best second line hockey has to offer right now.
To reiterate: this Kings core is young, maturing and locked up for the foreseen future.
Wait, there’s more.
The Kings have received important contributions from their role players all postseason long. Guys like Dwight King, Slava Voynov and Trevor Lewis have all been able to make a name for themselves – and they are all 25 or younger.
When you look at the backup to Quick, Jonathan Bernier is also young. Bernier, 24 and roadblocked by a Vezina Trophy finalist, won’t be staying around in Los Angeles much longer. However, that’s not to say Lombardi can’t absorb another future asset in exchange for Bernier this off-season.
Also, prospects Andrei Loktionov, Tyler Toffoli and Derek Forbort are all expected to make an impact at the NHL level at some point in the not-too-distant future.
According to Cap Geek, the Kings have $54.2 million tied up in 20 players next season. If the salary cap rises to nearly $70 million, Lombardi will have a lot of cap room to work with and could be active in the free agent market (if he feels there’s a need).
Lombardi hasn’t received many breaks over the years. He had an up-and-down tenure in San Jose and was assumedly on the hot seat in Los Angeles before a second-half surge acted as a prelude to this remarkable postseason run that has them one win from the Stanley Cup.
Since taking over in 2006, perhaps the wisest thing Lombardi has done with the Kings is hiring Darryl Sutter to replace Terry Murray back in December.
Sutter, who was with Lombardi in San Jose, has fit like a glove with the Kings. The team is fully bought-in to Sutter’s system, which didn’t seem to be the case before where they never lived up to their potential under Murray. Further, the Kings have exhibited Sutter’s laid-back demeanor on the ice en route to beating all three Western Conference division winners semi-effortlessly before facing New Jersey in the Cup Final.
The Kings only have four unrestricted free agents this summer. Jarret Stoll and Dustin Penner are among them and would be attractive on the open market; Scott Parse and Colin Fraser, if unsigned, are replaceable.
But it’s not like these Kings are anything like the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks, who had to blow up their Cup-winning roster just days after snapping their 49-year title drought.
San Jose is on their way down, Anaheim is annually inconsistent and Phoenix’s future is in doubt. The Pacific Division (scratch that, Western Conference!) could belong to the Kings for a long time, just like it has to the Sharks over the past decade.
The Kings have something special going on right now that should be able to continue in the future.
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