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.


Kings player preview - Twitter style

You have to love Twitter. Basically, you have 140 characters or less to explain your point, your thought or your question.

Technology is great.

Let's apply it to a player preview for this year's #LAKings team and see what kind of fun we can have:

2 Matt Greene - once thought 2b a "throw in" in the Lubo deal, u were so huge for the Kings, u earned that A...keep blocking shots, just protect ur face

3 Jack Johnson - players r taught 2block stuff out, so last yr is over, lets move on & c the return of JMFJ...time 2elevate ur game - other kids may be knocking

5 Peter Harrold - always a fan of BC guys, still unsure of your spot, until then keep the versatility, both D & Fwd, just don't become a turnover machine

6 Sean O'Donnell - so glad ur back, last year's mentoring was great, now its time 2push #8 out of the nest...ever so gently

7 Rob Scuderi - solid signing, Kings fans will love only request - be sure 2show ur ring to the team EVERY week, remind them what they're playing for

8 Drew Doughty - no kid your age should be playing in the NHL, let alone be as good as u sophomore jinx here, just rinse & repeat

9 Oscar Moller - sorry kid, u didn't make the team (yet), don't sulk though...things happen, you'll be up at some point...learn to love the corners

11 Anze Kopitar - read carefully, WE NEED U, need u 2play big every night, need u 2become my Bruce Buffer voice "IT'S TIME..."

14 Justin Williams - Dean's latest time 4a warm up year (like Zues), need u now...last guy 2 wear #14 in LA was a warrior (& the "C"), make him proud

17 Wayne Simmonds - last yr is over, continue 2 develop...bring the same passion & hustle u had last yr &this season will be another step fwd (the next Lappy?)

23 Dustin Brown - this is your team, this is your life, like U2, just keep the hits Ryhno and the other vets and keep growing and maturing...take charge

24 Alexander Frolov - contract yr, need I say like it...bring ur A game every night, then sign the extension...c u in the playoffs, in a KINGS uniform

26 Michal Handzus - 3rd line doesn't mean 3rd rate...25 goals from u & keep ur linemates involved...yr 2 was better than yr 1, third years the charm

28 Jarret Stoll - head up, heart in the game...write me a blog about the 5 reasons you love hockey...then re-read it before every game this year

31 Erik Ersberg - be on standby if Quick stumbles

32 Jonathan Quick - counting on you to take the reigns and become the #1 guy...last year gives fans reason 2b excited heading into this season

33 Kevin Westgarth - love the energy...hope to see you in LA most of the year...its up to u, can u earn the spot...yes u can scrap, but do u deserve minutes? TBD

41 Ratis Ivanans - big guy, big hands...heavy hands...yet, if people wont fight you, what role do u play...hmmm...just don't want to c u on ice with <8 left

44 Davis Drewiske - the less we talk about you this year probably = the better the season ur having

54 Teddy Purcell - can you play at this level (especially on 2nd line), jury is still out...see my blog a few days ago w/ comments from the Captain

94 Ryan Smyth - should enjoy coming through home team tunnel w/ same intensity u always brought to Staples & we'll be fine (27 goals this yr)

I had nothing of importance for:

15 Brad Richardson -

53 Alec Martinez -

61 Trevor Lewis -

Leave a comment with your thoughts on one of those three...or disagree with my notes above.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Warming Up the Leftovers from Vegas

We're a little over 24 hours away from the love affair beginning all over again. The pucks, the sticks, the jerseys, the wins, the losses...82 games of pure enjoyment. Well, that's not true, is it? Some nights you want to scream and then hide your head in shame. You still love it though. At least enough to come back for one more game. And when that game goes better than the last, you're hooked all over again. It's hockey. We love it.

Before turning the page and starting with a fresh, empty sheet tomorrow, I'm cleaning out my notebook from this year's Frozen Fury. Another great weekend in Vegas, punctuated with a solid win over a rebuilding Avalanche team.

Here are some highlights and comments from the pre-skate EARLY Saturday morning (note: I twittered some of these live that morning...if you're not following me, you should be).

Kevin Westgarth
  • The biggest difference coming into camp this year is the confidence from being here last year. Things are going well, but I'm still battling for a position, so that's tough.
  • All the guys in the room are super excited about this season and are (eager) to get things going.
  • The two acquisitions are proven winners. Smittie and Scuds are a perfect fit for LA.
  • HIGH from camp - playing my brother in Kansas City
  • LOW from camp - getting up so early...but that's really not a big deal, I try to stay positive
Sean O'Donnell
  • Camp is going better this year because it's basically the same group as last year. That makes things a lot easier.
  • The biggest change for the team this year is the goaltending. Last year it was a big question mark. This year, there is no question. Quick is the #1 guy. I think he has what it takes to be an elite goalie in this league.
  • HIGH - the system...there hasn't been any drop off from where we were last year...we just need to focus on the offensive side now...increase our shots per game
  • LOW - personally or team wise? (he laughs) The suspension for sure.
Dustin Brown
  • Keeping the camaraderie and communication going is the challenge. We all need to talk more. That's a big focus. Smyth and Scuderi were BIG additions for us. Its a huge help to our confidence. With most of the team being together for a season already, that's going to make a difference. We played so many close games last year. This all just helps us our confidence.
  • On Schenn - I'm not sure how much longer he'll be here. But, for an 18 year old kid he is very impressive.
  • On Purcell - He dominated at times in Manchester. He is physically and mentally prepared for the role he's being given. It's up to him to get it done every single night now.
  • The lockout was a blessing in disguise for me. I enjoyed my time in Manchester. It's where I learned how to be a pro.
  • HIGH - tonight will be my high! The Vegas game is fun every year. We look forward to it. And the line-up we have is close to our real line-up, so it will be a lot of fun.
  • LOW - testing day, for sure.
That's a wrap. Let's get on with the regular season!

The Mayor

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Eddie Joyal Award Winner announcement

Preseason does a lot of things - providing clarity isn't one of them. It does allow owners to make a little extra cash, as they charge regular season prices for glorified scrimmages. The NHL gets an opportunity to expand their fan base by staging exhibition games in new cities - like Kansas City and Seattle. Fans of former NHL cities, like Winnipeg and Quebec, even get a chance to reminisce for a few hours when the preseason caravan stops by their town.

However, even with sometimes exciting games filled with lots of toughness (read: fighting), some crazy officiating (blatantly missed offsides and penalty shots called) and kids throughout the league battling for spots on their respective teams with each 30 second shift...the one thing that isn't there when its all over is clarity.

Are the Red Wings going to finally slip this year? Will Tampa Bay really bad THAT bad AGAIN? And here in LA, we're wondering if Anze Kopitar's strong preseason was a precursor to an 80 point season or was it just another example of things that happen in preseason...well, they stay in preseason?

If they would have taken my bet in Vegas this past weekend, I'd have bet on the former, not the latter. One thing is clear though - after eight preseason games, Anze Kopitar is the winner of the inaugural Eddie Joyal Award, given to the Kings player that leads the team in scoring during the preseason.

As written about a few weeks ago (click here for the article), Joyal was a points machine during the Kings first two seasons back in the late sixties. he led the team in points during '67-68 and followed that up by leading the team in goals and points in '68-69. His knack for showing up on the score sheet was evident right from the start - during the very first Kings game ever, a preseason game on September 18, 1967, he notched two assists.

Forty something years later Kopitar led this year's squad during preseason with 8 points, coming on 5 goals and 3 assists. Perhaps even more impressive was that he did it while playing in just 5 games. The Slovenia native just edged out American Jack Johnson and Canadian Wayne Simmonds for the award. JJ, who totalled 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) in six games should see plenty of power time come regular season.

The other Wayne in the news this week had a very impressive preseason himself, tying Kopitar for the team lead in goals (5) after playing in 6 games. Not bad for a guy that netted just 9 goals during his rookie season, coming back and nearly averaging a goal a game during preseason. Will he keep up that pace during the real 82? Probably not. Correction, absolutely not. Yet, 20-25 isn't out of the question.

Finishing up on Anze...he looks ready to go. He's playing on the top line. More importantly, he is playing with two skilled guys that should also find the net often. The Kings haven't had a top line with this kind of potential in several seasons. Since...surprise...the last time they made the playoffs.

One thing is clear as we put the remnants of this preseason in a box and place it on the top shelf of some closet inside TSC, this isn't the same team as last year. The pieces seem to be in place. Offense, Defense, Goaltending - seems more than "good enough" to me. Is it enough though to finally make a return to playoff hockey?

Two points are available Saturday night. Two points that sure would be nice to already have come March and April of next year when the importance of clarity rears its ugly head again.

The Mayor

photo by Michael Zampelli of