For the second time in three seasons the Los Angeles Kings will be the defending Stanley Cup champion and will start the campaign with nearly an identical roster to the title-winning one.
The Kings are loaded down the middle, could be even better on the wings with a full season of Marian Gaborik, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, and will have one of the best tandems in net with Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones.
Obviously it is championship or bust for the Kings. The best regular season they've had in the past three seasons was the one after the first title, but injuries in the Stanley Cup Playoffs stunted any chance of a repeat.
This could be the best team of the four, but will the same thing that helped them against the Chicago Blackhawks (revenge for the previous playoff defeat) be their undoing should the two superpowers meet again? The Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also will have some say about who gets out of the Pacific Division as well.
Here is the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Kings:
Gaborik returned on a long-term contract with a team-friendly salary-cap figure. Anze Kopitar is one of the best players in the world, and was even better when paired with Gaborik late last season.
A number of Kings would like to have bounce-back regular seasons, captain Dustin Brown chief among them. Jeff Carter was dynamite after coach Darryl Sutter moved him to center and there’s no reason to not expect a line with him flanked by Pearson and Toffoli won't continue to terrorize opponents.
Sutter is able to match Kopitar's line and Jarrett Stoll's line against top competition, and it often allowed Carter's group to run amok against inferior depth. Another player who expects to be better is Mike Richards, who might be the most overqualified No. 4 center in the League.
The Kings did add Adam Cracknell, who could be another rugged depth forward who fits the "sneaky-strong at puck possession" profile if he takes to Sutter's system well.
Toss in Slava Voynov and the Kings can match top-three defensemen with anyone. One interesting thing to monitor during training camp could be the role for Alec Martinez. He's a lot more famous now after overtime series winners against the Blackhawks and New York Rangers, but his play earlier in the postseason when the team was short on the blue line was just as important.
If Martinez is ready to see top-four minutes on a full-time basis, this could be one of the best defense corps in the League. While the Kings like Robyn Regehr and Matt Greene for their leadership and work on the penalty kill, they are two targets for opposing teams. Los Angeles is the best puck-possession team in NHL, but not necessarily when those two are involved.
Jonathan Quick did not have the postseason in 2014 that he had in 2012, but it's possible no one else ever will. Quick actually has been inconsistent since that first magical Cup run.
While many pundits will say he's one of the best goalies in the world, he hasn't been the past two seasons. If he is just a top-eight or top-10 goalie, the Kings have more than enough around him to win more titles.
Martin Jones was good enough to let Los Angeles trade Ben Scrivens, who might be an above-average starter. Jones could be one of the best backup options in the League, which likely will lead to speculation about his future just as it did for Jonathan Bernier and Scrivens before him.
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22
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2014-15 FANTASY PREVIEW: KINGS
Undervalued: Jeff Carter -- In the past six seasons, five players have more total goals than Carter's 189 (Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, Patrick Marleau and Phil Kessel), and three players have more shots on goal than his 1,569 (Ovechkin, Kessel and Eric Staal). Carter has found his niche in Los Angeles, and though his 46-goal, 84-point season of 2008-09 with the Philadelphia Flyers might be a distant memory, 30 goals, 65 points, a great plus/minus and 250-plus shots should be expected for the 29-year-old forward. Look to draft him in the top five rounds.
Overvalued: Slava Voynov -- Voynov did have a career-high 34 points last season to rank 36th among NHL defensemen, but he took a step back from his 25 points during the lockout-shortened season. A big reason for that is the Kings used Voynov in a more defensive role, pairing him with shutdown defender Robyn Regehr in the regular season and then Willie Mitchell during the Stanley Cup Playoffs when Regehr was injured. Voynov had 13 power-play points and received nearly three minutes of man-advantage time per game, but his goal total has fallen in three consecutive seasons. Voynov is a draftable defenseman in standard leagues, but there's a good chance teammate Jake Muzzin outproduces him, in large part because he plays alongside Drew Doughty.
Sleeper: Dustin Brown -- The Kings captain is coming off the worst statistical season of his career with 15 goals and 27 points in 79 games, but there's reason to expect a solid bounce-back season. En route to his second Stanley Cup title, the forward had six goals and eight assists with tremendous peripheral stats in 26 playoff games. The key factor for the 29-year-old is he should start the season on the top line with playmaker Anze Kopitar and sniper Marian Gaborik. Many fantasy drafters will be turned off by Brown's lack of production last season, but a return to his usual 25 goals, 55 points, 50-plus penalty minutes, solid power-play totals, a good rating, and at least 200 shots on goal should be anticipated.
-- Follow Matt Cubeta on Twitter: @NHLQubes
Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer
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