LA Kings grateful to hit the ice after a rocky offseason
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) The Los Angeles Kings spent their extra-long summer consumed by troubles that had nothing to do with hockey.
When they finally hit the rinks at their training complex on Friday for the start of a new season, thoughts of gratitude and renewal ran through the building.
''I think guys are excited to get on the ice, because it gives us a chance to think about things other than (the trouble),'' captain Dustin Brown said. ''There's been a lot of questions and topics about this team that you don't normally have, and that's unfortunate.''
The Kings missed the playoffs as the defending Stanley Cup champions last spring, ending a remarkable three-year run of tenacious postseason hockey - and that wasn't the most disturbing development of their offseason.
The Kings' fresh start doesn't include Slava Voynov, Jarret Stoll or Mike Richards, three two-time Stanley Cup champions who got into legal trouble in the offseason. Stoll and Richards were arrested on drug-related accusations, while Voynov plans to head home to Russia after two months in jail and immigration trouble stemming from an ugly episode of spousal abuse.
''You don't ever expect stuff like that to happen, and then when one happens, and then another, and then a third, it gets hard to believe,'' Brown said.
The troubles shocked the Kings to their foundations, stunning a tight-knit team that prides itself on brotherhood and togetherness. Los Angeles hopes to restore its family feel this fall with new players and a resurgent season on the ice, but the lessons of the last year will linger.
''The energy was never bad,'' center Anze Kopitar said. ''Maybe it's a little bit different, because coming into camps the last three years, the roster was pretty much set. So it's tough maybe on the younger guys knowing that, but I'm sure they're eager and they want to prove themselves, and us older guys still have to show that we've got it. So it's a good mix.''
The Kings made more subtractions than additions in the offseason. Along with the departures of their three legally troubled players, Los Angeles lost Conn Smythe Trophy-winning forward Justin Williams to Washington, and veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr retired before backup goalie Martin Jones was traded.
The new additions include power forward Milan Lucic and veteran defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Lucic skated on a line with Kopitar and Marian Gaborik during his first official practice, providing an intriguing preview of a possible combination.
''We think it's a good fit, and we'll let it play out,'' Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said. ''That's why we're scrimmaging early in camp, and that's why guys are going to play a lot of exhibition games. We've got spots to fill, so the best way to find out is during the games.''
It's strange for a Kings roster to need game action. The Kings played an NHL-record 64 postseason games from 2012 to 2014, winning 10 playoff rounds and two Stanley Cup titles with their distinctively relentless style of play.
Although the players and coaches discounted the cumulative exhaustion all last season, the impact of three draining seasons was undeniable last spring. The Kings faded from postseason contention in the final two weeks, finishing two points out of third place in the Pacific Division.
For all of their offseason changes and depth questions, the Kings still have one of the NHL's most enviable cores. Defenseman Drew Doughty is surprising his teammates with his exceptional shape after barely missing out on the Norris Trophy last season, while Kopitar, Gaborik, Jeff Carter and goalie Jonathan Quick are all among the NHL's best at what they do.
They also have some uncertainty around Kopitar and Lucic, who are both heading into the final year of their contracts. Kopitar, the Kings' leading scorer for eight consecutive seasons, hasn't decided whether he would continue contract negotiations during the regular season after offseason talks were fruitless.
''It would be nice if it was done before the season,'' Kopitar said. ''But if not, it's really not that big of a deal. There's still plenty of time left in that regard.''