Saturday, October 3, 2009

2009-10 predictions - Has Dean Done Enough?

Yes, the Only Reason We're Here is clear. The entire Kings organization hasn't been shy about their intentions of returning to the postseason next Spring. Minus some pessimistic Kings fans scorned from years of heart breaking results, most fans agree too. The team is primed for a playoff push. Yet, are those realistic expectations from a team largely comprised of the same group that was here last year?

Let's get a few things straight right from the start. Although only a few months have passed since the curtain came down on last season, this is NOT the same team. Changes can be seen on several fronts, starting with the two most obvious. Dean Lombardi knew he needed to get more this summer - more skill, more grit, more scoring, more experience...more, more, more. At the post season meeting with season ticket holders he said he was targeting a top 6 forward and a defenseman. Of course, right?

So how is this group morphing into something drastically different than last season's team just by adding Ryan Smyth and Rob Scuderi? Well, its not that simple.

For example, Justin Williams was brought in during the second half of last year. He just feels like a new addition to the team, as he was limited to 12 games while rehabbing an injury. So, that gives the Kings a whole new top line of Smyth-Kopitar-Williams. With Brown and the emerging Purcell on the second line - plus, last year's best line of Frolov-Zues-Simmonds - there should be some serious goal scoring in store this year. Something sorely lacking last season!

On D, things look solid. Very solid. Sure, adding a recent Cup winner in Scuderi looks good. But, don't forget about the full time return of Jack Johnson. He's ready to go after missing nearly half the season last year. Plus, Doughty is only getting better.

Then, there's the biggest change of all. The attitude! Dustin Brown made it perfectly clear to anybody listening at opening night of Hockey Fest last month - this is a TEAM now.

You can see it in the way the guys are playing. Not just the fights. It's the confidence. Not to mention the smiles. They seem to really be enjoying what's brewing. Take the more balanced scoring attack and solid D...add in the grit of guys like Smyth and Simmonds, which seems to be contagious right now...then top it off with Quick in goal, who should hold things down and keep the Kings it games most nights. These guys seem poised and ready for October 3rd. fearless predictions for the upcoming season:

Western Conference
1. San Jose Sharks
2. Chicago Blackhawks
3. Calgary Flames
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Vancouver Canucks
6. Los Angeles Kings
7. St Louis Blues
8. Dallas Stars

9. Anaheim Ducks
10. Columbus Blue Jackets
11. Nashville Predators
12. Minnesota Wild
13. Phoenix Coyotes
14. Edmonton Oilers
15. Colorado Avalanche

I'll start by addressing the most obvious. No, I'm not just being a Kings homer when I predict Anaheim to fall short of making the playoffs. When I look at the additions and subtractions that took place at the Ponda this off season I see them having a tough time cracking the top eight in the ultra tough West. However, their playoff hopes are probably tied to Dallas. If the loss of Zubov hurts more than expected and/or Morrow needs a prolonged period to return to his former self (see Zues two years ago), then Dallas won't have enough points in the end and will loose out to probably Anaheim, if not Columbus.

Like Dallas and Anaheim being linked this year, there are several other teams than can be somewhat joined at the hip. At the top, San Jose and Chicago are probably interchangeable. Take your pick. Similarly, Calgary should best Vancouver in their division, locking up the three spot. This will be battle of offense (Vanc) vs. defense (Calg), with goal tending being a push. Again, take your pick.

Detroit will be right there as always. Thus, no matter how you flip flop any of those five teams, you're left with six teams - including the Kings - fighting for just three spots.

Put them in whatever slots you want, I see the three other playoff teams as LA, St. Louis and Dallas. Conversely, I see Anaheim, Columbus and Nashville as just barely missing out. But, does it really matter if you flip Columbus and Nashville? No, they still miss the dance.

As for the Kings, not only do I see them making the playoffs, they should finish HIGHER than 7th or 8th. Now I know that "hockey math" doesn't work this way, but just think about something for a second. Humor me...

Assume, Jason LaBarbara wasn't here last here (stop clapping, read on) and Jon Quick was given his 16 starts. If you apply Quick's winning percentage, the Kings would have had 9 wins in those games, four more than LaBab's 5). That's 8 more points to add to their 79 from last year, getting them to 87 points - good enough for the #11 spot (ignoring the fact that some of those wins might have come from teams above them - potentially pushing them even higher in the standings...lets not get that complicated).

Now think about how many one goal games the Kings lost last year. Then remember, the offense looks to be the most improved facet of this year's team - very balanced. So, how many of those games will be won this year? Just say 5, that's 10 more points. Now you're at 97 points. Good enough for the six seed last year. And...AND...just one point out of the five seed.

Again, I know its not that simple. And I didn't slot the Kings in the six hole because of this overly simple math.

Fact is, I definitely see them better than 8th. And when I look at the team versus what others around them in the West did, I see them taking a big step forward. I'm just not sure if they can get into the five seed. Do they have enough to leap frog over Vancouver or Calgary, who would probably sitting there above them? Today, probably not. Check back in with me in two months though...

Lets see if the Kings offense is doing its job, while maintaining the defensive numbers of last year. We'll also need to check the status of Frolov. Their entire season could hinge on this one player.

Although I don't see him being moved until January at the earliest, if Dean gets a deal he cant refuse and pulls the trigger early, that will impact (good or bad) the overall performance of the team. The right deal (which could include Frolov signing an extension and putting this mess behind everybody) may be just enough to push the team into the five seed.

So while the official prediction is six, I'm ready to see the DRIVE FOR FIVE. However, one step at a time. Let's put it on the back burner and come back to it in January.

When all is said in done In Dean We Trust (tm).

So there you have it. Fire away and post your comments now. Tell me how wrong I am. Tell me I must be 2/3s water weight from all the kool-aid I've been drinking the last few years.

Or, save this link so you can send me an email in April and tell me how right I was. My ego loves it.