Last season, the Los Angeles Kings wrote a new chapter in the handbook on how not to defend a Stanley Cup title. They missed the playoffs altogether, saw three of their players arrested and they're no longer anyone's darlings. The Kings have plenty to make amends for, on and off the ice, and missing the playoffs stung deeply. "It was frustrating as can be, and it was embarrassing,'' said defenseman Drew Doughty. The Kings are rested and motivated, so watch out, hockey world.
BEST NEW FACES
The Kings added winger Milan Lucic, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth. In Lucic, the Kings add a formidable presence on the top line who can give Anze Kopitar the kind of room he hasn't always found. The training camp line of Lucic, Kopitar and Marian Gaborik showed promise. It's not as much about the new faces, though, as the new-found energy the team returns with. Say what you want, but playing 64 playoff games over three years is an incredible grind. "It's not just the physical aspect, but with the type of hockey we were playing, a lot of it was mental," said captain Dustin Brown. "You never want to be in that situation [missing the playoffs], but at the same time, when it's all said and done, you have a great opportunity make strides and get better.''
The player arrests cannot be ignored in terms of how the Kings respond this season. The organization has taken measures to address off-ice issues, but now it's up to the players. Their general manager believes in them. "You don't come back in series like we did for the second Cup [in 2014] without having a culture. No chance," said Dean Lombardi. "No team could go through that. So it's there. Again, maybe it's failure to handle success, the failure of the GM to be on top of [off-ice issues]. However, we're all going to attack it.'' The departures of Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll, as well as "Mr. Clutch" Justin Williams and the retired Robyn Regehr, leave a leadership void Doughty and Kopitar will be expected to help fill.
No matter where the Kings stand in the league's hierarchy, it's always good to have one of the best goalies in the world in Jonathan Quick, one of the very top blue-liners in Doughty and a couple of world-class centers in Kopitar and Jeff Carter. As Lombardi put it, "The core of this team is entering its prime.'' Doughty is the man, though. He was the Norris Trophy runner-up last season, and his play in two Olympics for Canada and two Stanley Cup runs for L.A. underlines his all-world capacity. He has gotten better on the defensive side of things. "I think I definitely focus more on that, whether it's through video or my D-coach or my D-partner, I focus a lot of attention on that," Doughty said "My main goal every night is that if Steven Stamkos or Jonathan Toews are coming to town, I don't want anything from them on the score sheet."
WORLD CUP CANDIDATES
In many ways, Kopitar is the poster boy for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Creating Team Europe -- for countries outside Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic -- allows the native of Slovenia to take part in a tournament he would otherwise have been shut out of given his country's lower ranking. He's fired up. "It's going to be very exciting to have these teams play on the biggest stage in hockey," said Kopitar. "To be a part of that is very exciting. It's going to be different for us, because we're going to be put together from different parts of Europe. I don't want to say it's going to be weird, but it might be, because you know the guys but don't really know them. It'll be interesting the first few days of camp. But after that I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun.'' Gaborik (Slovakia) and Ehrhoff (Germany) could join Kopitar as Euro teammates. Doughty is beyond a lock for Team Canada, while Carter has a very good chance of returning, too. Lucic could be in the mix for Canada as well, and Quick should be Team USA's starting goalie with a bounce-back season.
PENDING FREE AGENTS
Kopitar and Lucic are both pending unrestricted free agents, and the Kings will do all they can to keep them in the fold. The urgency to get Kopitar signed is paramount, because you just don't replace world-class centers in the prime of their careers. The longer things go without a new deal, the more it becomes a story. Kopitar hoped to have his extension taken care of before the regular season began, but he isn't putting any hard deadlines on it. Ehrhoff and Trevor Lewis will also need new deals before next season.
A rested Kings team will rebound and, provided they deal properly with what's transpired off the ice, the two-time Cup champions will challenge Anaheim for first place in the division. They will also give themselves a shot at a third Stanley Cup. Second in the Pacific Division.