It was a wide-ranging conversation with a rival team's executive the other day, the preseason winding down, and at one point the subject of the Los Angeles Kings and how tough it is to repeat as Stanley Cup champions came up.
The executive jumped in before the question was even completed.
"I'm telling you, those guys look ready, Darryl [Sutter] has them dialed in from what I saw in preseason,'' said the veteran hockey man whose team resides in the Western Conference. "I know it's hard to repeat but if there's any team that has a chance, it's them. They look hungry.''
Well, that's because they are.
"We're motivated to keep that Cup," superstar Kings blue-liner Drew Doughty told ESPN.com as camp wrapped up. "Last time, when we lost the next year to Chicago, we were disappointed that we lost something that was ours. We want to keep it for two years if we can.''
There has not been a repeat NHL champ since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98, including since the salary cap era began in 2005. No coincidence there. The cap system has spread talent around the league more evenly and it erodes a team's ability to stash players like before. Still, the Kings are as deep as the cap system allows.
"We've got basically the same team minus one guy,'' observed Doughty.
Indeed, other than veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell leaving for Florida via free agency, the four-line machine that beat San Jose, Anaheim, Chicago and the New York Rangers en route to their second Cup in three years is back together.
Just as importantly, Grumpy remains behind the bench and the Mad Professor is still pulling the strings. Coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi may not be naturals on television, but their effectiveness at running a hockey club together is almost unmatched right now.
Lombardi is constantly seeking ways to get better, spending hours and hours after their first Cup in 2012 talking to people from other sports who had won consecutive titles, asking them what it took to repeat. He had more of those conversations again this summer, a source told ESPN.com, again trying to find out everything he can about the secret recipe to winning two in a row.
But know this: The current Kings are different than the side that won in 2012. The team that endured the lockout and then came back in January 2013 wasn't nearly as ready as this group. And perhaps the biggest difference? The 2012 championship team cake-walked to the title, going up 3-0 in all four playoff series. It was way too easy.
Last season? Try three seven-game series before a tougher-than-expected Rangers squad was beaten in five games in the Cup finals, three of them requiring overtime.
This Kings team has come back to camp with a different swagger, a sharper focus, and a better understanding of what it truly takes. Hence the answer we got from a rival Western Conference head coach about the Kings' repeat chances.
"They are good,'' he said via text message. "Very much still a prime-time team. Them and Chicago are hard nuts to crack.''
Ah, yes, those Blackhawks, the other outfit with two Cup titles over the past five years. Few will soon forget last spring's titanic, seven-game plus OT thriller between the two behemoth franchises. The Stanley Cup was basically won in Game 7 at the United Center when the Kings prevailed by a hair. It was revenge for losing to the same Hawks the previous year in the Western finals.
See a pattern here? Any chance of the Kings and Blackhawks meeting again next spring?
"Oh, yeah, I can sense that again, 100 percent," Doughty said. "Chicago is an unbelievable team, without a doubt that was the toughest series I think by far. We love playing those guys, they love playing us. It's a battle out there, it's war. Their team has so many high-end guys, so does our team.
"Personally, I would love to play them again in the playoffs this year if we're fortunate enough to make it again. I think it's a great series for the NHL and a great series for the fans as well.''
Toughest series by far, Doughty says. And he's talking about a Kings team that needed seven games to beat the cross-town rival Ducks, and of course erased a 3-0 series deficit in the opening round to beat the Sharks. Toughest series by far? That tells you the mutual respect that exists between the Kings and Blackhawks.
Because here's the other carrot that's dangling out there for the Kings and Blackhawks: win another Cup next June and that team will have won three Cups in a short time span. That's a dynasty in the cap era by any measure. The dynasty possibility intrigues Doughty.
"Because we are still young and we're going to get better as a team, it is a possibility that we can win more Cups, and hopefully back-to-back Cup here," said Doughty. "It's really hard to do, it's why not many teams have done it, but that's our goal. And when you talk about becoming a dynasty, we want to be one of those teams and it's something we want to work toward.''
OK, we know they want it. We know they crave it. But can their bodies allow it? We recall Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks telling us how he never fully recovered his energy level during the season after winning the 2010 Cup. The playoff run and the short offseason had drained him. He was still a very good player the next season, but just not quite 100 percent in terms of his energy levels.
That's the task here for the Kings, to find a way to fully recharge those batteries.
"Personally, I made sure to take more time off this summer than I usually would," Doughty said. "Because last season was long, especially with the Olympics, playing a lot of minutes ... I think other guys on the team were the same, you needed a break both mentally and physically. Obviously as the summer went on we had to get back in the gym, but I don't think many guys skated much before camp.
"Because mentally, it's grueling, it takes a lot out of you. It's good to just kind of get your mind off hockey sometimes. That way when you do come back, you're hungry again to play hockey and you're excited.''
Excited, that is, to pull off the first back-to-back titles in 17 years.