Kings poised to be Cup contenders for several years
The Los Angeles Kings are Stanley Cup champions for the second time in three seasons and have a collection of star players who are both signed to long-term contracts and young enough to remain at their current level for at least the next few seasons.
General manager Dean Lombardi has cultivated the closest thing the NHL has seen to a perfect roster in the salary-cap era. The Kings have built a champion through the NHL Draft and deft trades, molding the roster while relying on free agency as little as possible. There is little reason to believe the Kings won't be contenders for the Stanley Cup again in 2015 and beyond.
There has been plenty of discussion about the "D" word since the Kings moved into position to win the Cup a second time. Dynasties were once the norm in the League, but a lot of factors have made them harder to construct in the past 25 years.
The infusion of talent from around the globe has led to there being more great teams on a yearly basis. The evolution of goaltending and defensive systems has made it more likely for teams with inferior talent to upset potentially dynastic ones.
And of course there is the salary cap. That's part of what makes the job Lombardi and his staff have done so impressive. There are no cap-crippling contracts on the Kings roster, and given the cap ceiling is expected to rise for 2014-15 and continue going up, the Kings are well-positioned to possibly even improve before next season.
Mike Richards costs a lot of money for ostensibly a No. 4 center, but putting him in that role (while still carving out extra shifts/minutes for him throughout games) is part of why the Kings had the deepest roster in the League in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and were a matchup nightmare for other "deep" teams.
Jonathan Quick's contract is a potentially problematic one, but the issue is tied more to the length of the deal than the cap charge. He had a .915 save percentage in the regular season and .911 in the postseason, so he could certainly stand to improve in 2014-15, but at $5.8 million he's currently set to be the ninth-most expensive goaltender. There aren't nine goaltenders the Kings would rather have, regardless of the cost.
The Kings are going to have more than $10 million in cap space this offseason, with the final number still to be determined. If Marian Gaborik becomes more than a rental, he will eat up a large share of the space, but he was a perfect fit next to Anze Kopitar for Los Angeles.
Beyond Gaborik, Lombardi's top task will be sorting out the back end of the defense corps. Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene are unrestricted free agents. Mitchell came back from a muscle pull and played well for the Kings, slotting in next to Slava Voynov on the second pair.
Alec Martinez might be ready for top-four duty next season, but where Robyn Regehr fits in the last year of his contract, and whether or not someone like Brayden McNabb or Derek Forbort can help, is also part of the equation.
The Kings remain loaded up front, of course, and a full season for Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson could be a cure for their regular-season scoring issues. A full season of Jeff Carter at center will also help, as would Gaborik's return or a high-priced replacement.
Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll are one season from free agency, and Kopitar is two, but the rest of the group is under team control for a long time. Los Angeles has traded away two players who might be top-10 goalies next season in Jonathan Bernier and Ben Scrivens, and the Kings still have Martin Jones as an insurance policy for Quick.
The dynasty talk is premature, if only because the same was said and written about the Chicago Blackhawks at this point last year and they aren't going away. The Kings and Blackhawks have won the Cup four of the past five seasons and could spend the next four or five seasons as the two most likely candidates to win again.
Other contenders will emerge, and the Western Conference remains loaded with great teams. The Anaheim Ducks weren't quite as good as their record indicated this season, but they are the franchise currently outside the top two best positioned to chase down Los Angeles and Chicago. There is lots of precocious talent in Orange County, and those young players are going to make the Ducks better, either through their development or by fetching established talent in trades.
The San Jose Sharks were a win from ending this incredible Kings run before it ever got going, but what the 2014-15 edition will look like remains in question because of the collapse against Los Angeles. The Colorado Avalanche have plenty of young stars, and another year of development for Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz could be enough to push the St. Louis Blues closer to the Blackhawks and Kings.
What the Kings have established in the past three seasons is they are unique. Darryl Sutter's demanding style of play might not be feasible in other cities with different rosters, but the Kings have embraced it and are machine-like in their execution.
The Kings are the best team in the League at playing without the puck in the offensive zone and the neutral zone. They might be the best team in the League at exiting the defensive zone once they have control of it.
Both feed into Los Angeles' zest for possession, and the Kings were the best in the League at owning the puck this season, according to advanced-stats metrics.
Beyond that, there is the intangible stuff. The Kings don't spend much time talking about culture or identity or any of those other buzz words other teams sometimes spend their focus. They believe in what they're doing and how they play, and their uncanny ability to erase deficits in both games and series in this postseason was further proof.
There is a championship-quality combination of talent and chemistry in Los Angeles. Other NHL teams will spend the summer trying to catch up with more talent, and then hope the other part comes as organically as it has for the Kings.
The Kings didn't let the Blackhawks become the salary-cap version of an NHL dynasty in 2014. They will spend next season trying to do it themselves.
Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer