So how crazy would I be to pick the L.A. Kings to win the Stanley Cup? Nuts? Out of my head? Or maybe just smart.
Consider this if you will: the last two Stanley Cup champions have had a considerable amount of young players that were the main core of the team and provided most of the fireworks whether it be offensively or in the physical department, not to mention young goaltending that played at a high level to help its offense out.
The Pittsburgh Penguins of 2009 and the Chicago Blackhawks of this past year may have steered the direction of where the NHL is headed for the future. Teams with a young core that can play big when asked to and can win now and still be set for the future. When you look at Pittsburgh they are set for well into the middle portion of this decade and their best players haven’t even hit 25 yet.
Sidney Crosby is the captain at age 23 (made captain at 20), Geno Malkin is the number two guy at age 24, Marc-Andre Fleury just turned 25 in net, plus don’t forget about Jordan Staal and Alex Gogligosgi on defense. The Pens future is set in stone and they can acquire on the cheap to build around Crosby, Malkin and company like Pascal Dupuis, Mike Comrie and Matt Cooke.
Same goes for Chicago. Last year’s team featured Jonathan Toews as its 21 year old captain, with Patrick Kane as a 20 year old play maker that made all of his teammates better. Add in Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Dustin Byfuglien and company and the Hawks had the same nucleus to work with. Funny thing is that when people saw the Hawks dumping salary and trading away every key piece of their championship puzzle they figured this team was dead. What they forgot is guys like Toews, Kane, Patrick Sharp, Keith and company are still there to set the tone so guys like Fernando Pisani and Ed Belfour can come in an add to a already stable foundation and the Hawks won’t miss a beat (which they won’t).
Which brings us back to why I think Los Angeles has a good shot to win it all, or come close; the Kings match both the Penguins and the Blackhawks in the youth nucleus
factor. Captain: Dustin Brown, 25. Brown has seen the resurgence in L.A. first hand since being drafted in 2003 when the Kings were dreadful. Brown played on the 2010 Silver Medal team from the U.S. gaining valuable experience and playing at a level versus high competition and competing well. What he lacks in Toews leadership and Crosby’s offensive output he matches in the cool head department. Brown totaled only 41 minutes in penalties and had a -6 +/- rating, the lowest of his career.
Young playmakers: Anze Kopitar, 23, and Wayne Simmonds, 22. Kopitar, to many around the league, should compete for the points title sooner than later with his flash and great stick work. Kopitar has the ability to kill any defenseman in their zone with the way he moves but hasn’t seemed to conquer it yet. Like Kane and Malkin, Kopitar can pack a huge punch when it comes to offensive potency for this team. Simmonds was sort of a shock for this team last year. In his second season the 22 year old posted a +22 rating with his aggressive play and found himself on the second line for much of the second half of the season. If Simmonds can continue with this play for the whole 82 games then that gives the Kings a second huge scoring option besides Kopitar and makes them a formidable offensive opponent.
Defense: Drew Doughty, 20, Jack Johnson, 23. Talk to any GM in the league or analyst or fan and they’ll tell you that Doughty is the second coming of Bobby Orr… um, he might be. This is his third season and he might be the man to beat for the Norris trophy for top defenseman. On offense he’s slick with his passing and is the perfect power play quarterback. On defense his 6-1 211 pound frame can beat up any forward who comes in front of the net looking for a rebound. Johnson is a beast himself. Though not as polished as Doughty he is a workhorse. Johnson led the team in playoff points and plays as physical as any defenseman in the league. Put these guys together for 23 minutes a night and it’s a problem for anyone.
(Side note: I fell in love with Jack Johnson’s aggressiveness in the Olympics. There was nothing better than him beating up Canadian forwards as they flew into his zone and watching him talk smack back at em. If the Rangers didn’t have about 80 young talented defensemen that were amazing I would love for him to be a Ranger.)
(Side note two: have you looked around the league lately at all of these defensemen that are top notch d-liners? Sports Illustrated did a great story on the large amount of first class young defenders in the league in their preview and featured in particular Doughty, Zach Bogosian in Atlanta, Erik Johnson in St. Louis and Tyler Myers in Buffalo. That’s just scratching the surface. There’s still Keith, Marc Stall and Michael Del Zotto in New York and Dion Phaneuf in Toronto all skating around and punishing forwards every minute. It’s like the NHL scouting department had a master plan after the lockout; put all of the offensive guys out early and dominate, then let’s wait three years and unload a boatload of defensemen to clash with them. It’s a masterful mesh of talent that the league hasn’t seen in over 15 years, it’s a perfect way to gain interest in the game again… oh wait Gary Bettman would never do that, he’s too stupid to help improve hockey. What am I thinking?)
Goaltending: Jonathan Quick, 24. Played 72 games last year, won 39 and one heck of a workhorse. He was top ten in shots faced, and had a 2.54 GAA. Funny part is that he may not even be there best goalie. Jonathan Bernier is the French-Canadian wunderkind that maybe next in line if the Kings don’t want to pay Quick in the future (and if I know the new NHL they won’t).It’s a good problem to have if you’re L.A., however Quick should be the starter because of his experience and I wouldn’t be shocked if he contended for the Vezina this year.
So to that core you add guys like Rob Scuderi, Ryan Smyth and Alex Ponikarovsky and you have a team that’s ready to make a run for the cup and take down the vets like the Sharks and Wings who are getting a little long in the tooth and are retooling while trying to contend.
So why take Los Angeles over Pittsburgh or Washington or Chicago to repeat? I don’t know if Pittsburgh’s defense is strong enough to keep up with the offense or if Marc-Andre Fleury’s head can be in the game for a full season. I don’t know if Chicago can rebuild the chemistry that they perfectly began planning 5 years ago with this new roster. Washington…
Washington I couldn’t tell you about. They seem to match the Blackhawks and Pens plan. They got Alex Ovechkin, best player in the league at 25, Nick Backstrom at 22 who
might be the best Center in the league not named Crosby offensively, Alex Semin as a great secondary scorer at 26. Mike Green at 24 who is the best offensive defenseman in the league and a great young goalie in Semyon Varlamov. They ran through the Eastern Conference in the regular season and looked like they were going to breeze to the Stanley Cup finals (that never happens in the NHL by the way so shame on all of you for even thinking that). However, they can’t defend anyone. The Habs, who were not an offensive juggernaut, were able to penetrate their zone at will in the playoffs and it made Mike Camilleri look like Maurice Richard. Also this team doesn’t have a heart when faced with adversity. When they get down, they can’t seem to right the ship. It happened last year versus Pittsburgh in the playoffs, and this year versus Montreal. They’re a regular season champion that can’t get it done in the playoffs (see San Jose), could it happen this year? Yeah, maybe. We know Ovechkin could win MVP, we know they’ll score a ton of goals, we know they’ll blow away everyone in their division… but do you think that they can get it done in the postseason when it seems like they have one big mental block that they can’t overcome? Exactly.
I could see anyone coming out of the east (not Boston, not doing that to myself again), including Philadelphia. That was a team that was a 3 seed in a 7 seed’s place (lets not discuss how they got in the playoffs, I’m still salty). The only concern for Philadelphia is… brace yourself… goaltending (in other news ice is cold). However, if Mike Richards got by last year on depth and physicality, then it should work again this year. Especially when you have Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk backing him up.
(Side note three: in the NHL draft of 2006 the Rangers had the 21st pick of that draft, we took Bobby Sanguanetti with that pick, a big defenseman in the mold of Rob Blake. The Flyers took Giroux with the 22nd pick… if you watched the playoffs and saw Giroux play you would understand why I was banging my head against the Eddie George’s bar top. By the way, we just shipped Sanguanetti to Carolina. I really hate Glen Sather.)
Let’s hope I’m right about this L.A. thing. I wanted to pick Chicago last year but didn’t because I thought they were too young to win it right away, oops. Now I know, go with your gut and not common sense. This is the direction that the NHL is going in, win now and win young. If I’m right about this then the Kings will be raising Lord Stanley’s Cup in June of 2011 right before Kobe and the Lakers three peat in the same month. Whatever happens the Kings will contend for a long time after this season, and their main competition might follow their blueprint. Hey it worked for Chicago and Pittsburgh, why not everyone else?
PLAYOFFS- PENS, RANGERS, BRUINS, CANADIENS, LIGHTNING (trust me, Stevie Y will get it done quick… well if Vinny LeCavalier can get his head on straight.)
PACIFIC- LOS ANGELES
PLAYOFFS- DETROIT, ST. LOUIS, COLORADO, SAN JOSE, ANAHEIM
HART- STEVEN STAMKOS
ART ROSS- SIDNEY CROSBY
NORRIS- DREW DOUGHTY
VEZINA- HENRIK LUNDQVIST
CALDER- P.K. SUBBAN
JACK ADAMS- TERRY MURRAY
ECF- PHILADELPHIA VS. WASHINGTON
WCF- LOS ANGELES VS. CHICAGO