THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 3rd in Pacfic
Stanley Cup odds: 15-1
Key additions: Teddy Purcell, LW; Jeff Zatkoff, G; Tom Gilbert, D
Key departures: Milan Lucic, LW; Kris Versteeg, RW; Vincent Lecavalier, C; Luke Schenn, D; Jamie McBain, D
-Is this really Dustin Brown's final year with the Kings? The longest-serving captain in the 50 years of the Kings is still an important face in the room, but his production has fallen off a cliff. Can a team up against the salary cap afford to pay a bottom-six forward a $5.88-million AAV the next six seasons?
Once a lock for 50 points (six straight seasons, prorated), Brown has slipped to 27, 27 and 28 the past three years – despite missing just three games total. With Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson due big raises in 2017, the Kings may have no choice but to peddle the soon-to-be 32-year-old Brown.
-Can the Kings become a modern-day NHL dynasty? It used to be you had to win at least three Cups in a row to be called a dynasty. But with massive expansion, the bar has been lowered to multiple Cups in a five- or six-year window. Detroit won three Cups in six seasons (1997 to ’02), yet many people don’t call that a dynasty. Chicago won three in six seasons (2010 to ’15) and many call that a dynasty. The Kings have two in five seasons. A third would get them there, and most experts consider L.A. among the top eight contenders.
-Is Anze Kopitar worth $10 large until 36? Make a list of the top 10 players and chances are you won’t see Kopitar’s name until the final one or two, if at all. So does he deserve to be the No. 3 paid player ($10 million AAV), behind two Hawks? The short answer is probably not, but Kopitar does a lot of things well, and the Kings weren’t in a position to let him walk as a UFA or trade him for prospects and picks. Kopitar, 29, is a central figure in L.A.’s run and will be for several seasons. But the back half of his eight-year deal is not going to be pretty.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
When you have two of the best players in the world, being a contender is pretty much a given. Having Anze Kopitar as your No. 1 center and Drew Doughty as your No. 1 defenseman means the Kings will be right there to challenge for a Cup again. A team needs secondary stars, too, and the Kings have that in Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter and Jake Muzzin. It’s after those guys where things get a little murky.
Most contenders have very good depth, but the Kings are an exception to that rule. At forward they have two replacement level forwards in the mix, although that’s partly because of the injury to Marian Gaborik. Above them are three fourth liners, meaning five of their bottom six guys are bottom line players, or worse. Luckily they have four first line players to boost them up, otherwise this group wouldn’t be anywhere near the top ten. This team has as clear a divide between top and bottom six as you’ll see in the league.
On defense is the same issue. A very solid and capable top four followed by a downright ugly bottom pairing. The top two D-men are extremely strong, so that boosts the overall group up near the top of the league, but if you’re a Kings fan you should be a little concerned anytime the bottom pairing guys are on the ice, especially if it’s with one of their weaker forwards.
In net is the Kings real achilles heel. That may seem odd given all the lore that surrounds Jonathan Quick, but he’s only slightly above average for his career while being treated as a top three goalie in the league (and if your argument is his “clutchness” ask yourself where that was in last year’s playoffs and this year’s World Cup). He gets lauded because he wins a lot (because his team is very good) and his low GAA (his team gives up very few shots), but his save percentage has rarely been anything special.
The depth issues are obviously concerning, but this team thrives on incredible systems play that should alleviate those issues. Darryl Sutter is a masterful coach that’s led the team to the top of the shot rate leaderboards for pretty much every season he’s been on board. With him behind the bench, even bad or average players will generally look better than they are. So while the Kings may not look as great as usual, something many are suggesting, they probably still will be.
Up next: Florida Panthers
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