2016-17 season preview: Los Angeles Kings

When Anze Kopitar is on the ice, the Kings can count on him shutting down the opposing center. Juan Ocampo/NHLI/Getty Images

It hasn't been all that long since teams were patterning themselves after the Los Angeles Kings. The St. Louis Blues were basically a Missouri version of the Kings. The Washington Capitals became the Eastern Conference version.

But that was so 2014. Speed is the thing now and the Kings suddenly look a little slow.

Well, not to everybody.

"We have four or five world-class skaters," said Kings GM Dean Lombardi. "You think Jeff Carter can't skate? You think Anze Kopitar can't skate? Drew Doughty can't skate? Trevor Lewis is a world-class skater. We're not slow. We're big ... Because we're big and physical, that's all people look at."

And we hadn't even told him yet that we're concerned the Kings are getting old too.

That's the Kings in 2016 in a nutshell. There is still greatness there. Doughty and Kopitar are in the top three in their respective positions in the NHL. Jonathan Quick is on the short list of goalies most would be thrilled to start a Game 7.

There's a championship DNA.

But boy, are there questions. Have the players tired of coach Darryl Sutter? Is there enough speed to keep up with the next-generation Calgary Flames, Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers? When did the San Jose Sharks pass them as the better team?

This will either be the season that the Kings squeeze another chance at glory out of their Stanley Cup roster or the season it becomes apparent it needs to do a San Jose- and Boston-like rebuild to pump young talent into the roster.

There are too many proven winners to take the Kings lightly this season -- but too many real concerns about depth, durability and depreciation to feel great about them.

Best new faces

If the Kings are to return to glory, it's the old faces who will get them there. Last year, Lombardi made a splash in acquiring Milan Lucic but couldn't make the finances work to keep him around long term. Finances were a big reason that Lombardi couldn't aggressively improve his team from last year. Los Angeles locked up its core, along with many of the depth players from the Stanley Cup teams, and is betting they can keep it going moving forward.

Teddy Purcell was a nice depth signing and has shown an ability to play up and down the lineup in his career. He's probably best suited on a third line but has played with high-end talent like Connor McDavid and Steven Stamkos in the past and is capable of filling a spot in the top six if necessary.

Lombardi continued his value shopping by adding depth on defense with the signing of Tom Gilbert. A knee injury shortened Gilbert's 2015-16 season, but if he can stay healthy and return to form, the 33-year-old could be a nice addition. At Gilbert's age though, those are big ifs.

Biggest unknowns

What made the Kings great in the past is you knew exactly what you were getting. This was a big, heavy team that played a demanding but effective brand of hockey that resulted in them dominating possession for long stretches. They were relentless, and by the third period, they usually wore the opposition down. That also takes a toll on the players.

Dustin Brown's game has fallen off a cliff. He has now scored just 11 goals in consecutive seasons and it's clear his production won't match his contract. Marian Gaborik isn't healthy -- again. His speed changes the dynamic of the Kings' lineup, and it's a huge unknown how many games he'll play during the course of the season. The Kings lean heavily on Quick, who has settled in as a goalie who can be expected to produce a .917 save percentage each year. For a guy considered one of the best in the world, that's underwhelming.

Sure things

The Kings have two sure things, and they're what makes this a team that you can never count out: Doughty and Kopitar. It's such an advantage to have a world-class No. 1 defenseman and No. 1 center on the roster. Good teams have one. Only the lucky few have two and those are the teams usually playing well into the spring.

Despite all the questions surrounding the Kings, Sutter can count on getting nearly half a game out of Doughty each night -- and that the Kings will control play during his shifts.

And in Kopitar, the Kings have a premier two-way center who stacks up with Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews as the best in the world.

When Kopitar is on the ice, the Kings can count on him shutting down the opposing center and that's invaluable.

"He always focuses on the defensive game," said Canucks center Henrik Sedin. "He's a terrific player. It's a tough matchup for anyone who goes against him."


These are no longer the powerhouse Kings you could comfortably pencil in as a Western Conference finalist, but as long as Doughty and Kopitar are around, they're going to be competitive. Third place in the Pacific.