Monday, November 7, 2011

October Review: Forwards

Top-10 Player in the NHL?

Anze Kopitar (6 G, 8 A, 14 PTS, +2, 0 PIM) Grade: A

Lady Byng? Selke? Hart?  The sky is the limit for Kopitar.  No one has benefited more from Mike Richards than Kopi.  Like Jim Fox enjoys pointing out every game, Kopi is looking to shoot from all over the ice more than he ever has in his career.  He’s playing like a true #1 center.  He’s leading the Kings forwards in PP, PK, ES, and overall ice-time right now.  His faceoff % is up too.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Gagne and Williams will stay relatively healthy all year, if so, Kopi should set career-high’s across the board.  The only thing holding him back from a perfect score from me is the blatant turnover he had against NJ at home that led directly to a goal.  Can’t get that one out of my head.

Trevor Lewis (0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS, +0, 2 PIM) Grade: B

I really like what I’ve seen from Lewis this season especially on the penalty kill.  He’s seems stronger on his edges this season, last year, it seemed he’d always be falling down.   He’s never going to light it up but with his skating ability, Lewis should be able to chip in 10-12 goals as a bottom-six forward.  While his defensive awareness makes him valuable as a center his 39% in the faceoff circle again this season may mean an eventual move to the wing (wrote this before his move to RW tonight vs SJ).

Mike Richards (2 G, 8 A, 10 PTS, -1, 7 PIM) Grade: A

As good as advertised.  His on-ice vision and playmaking ability brings me off the couch every night.  His presence on the man-advantage may be the sole reason for the huge improvement this season.  His combination of grit, toughness, and pure skill seem to compliment Dustin Brown’s similar game.  Still not really sure what Philadelphia was thinking trading this guy but thank you so much for the gift.  At a $5.75 million cap hit, he’s worth every penny.

Brad Richardson (0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS, +/- 0, 4 PIM) Grade: B

Richie had himself a breakout performance in last year’s playoff series vs. San Jose, registering 5 points in the six-game series.  And while he hasn’t come close to those numbers in October, he’s become a nice bottom-six forward who provides some speed and grit.  He seems to have a lot more confidence this season carrying the puck and isn’t afraid to try and create on his own.

Jarret Stoll (1 G, 2 A, 3 PTS, +/- 0, 4 PIM) Grade: B

The acquisition of Mike Richards sent Stoll down to the third line and good on him for stepping aside.  Third line center is a much better spot for Stoll.  He can focus on keeping the game simple by winning faceoffs  and playing a strong defensive game.  Hopefully in time, he can find chemistry with Penner as #25 continues to freefall down the depth chart.

Dustin Brown (3 G, 6 A, 9 PTS, +/-0, 10 PIM) Grade: B

Brownie is being more careful this year than he’s ever been out on the ice.  Whether he’s afraid of getting fined or suspending, Brownie isn’t throwing his weight around like in year’s past.  His 22 hits in October were third among Kings forwards.  Even with Brownie pulling back on the hitting, he clicked early with Mike Richards who really makes all of his linemates better.  Hopefully, Brown can find a compromise and ratchet up the physical play in November.

Trent Hunter (0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS, -1, 0 PIM) Grade: C

I predicted Hunter would make this team and beat Scott Parse out of a job.  Hunter appeared in 5 of the 11 October games.  It’s doubtful that he’ll ever reach the 20-25 goal mark like he did on the Isle playing 4th line minutes this season.  He and Brad Richardson actually lead the team in Relative Corsi at +19. A nice complimentary bottom-six forward, I’d really like to see Hunter use his big frame and play the physical game more.

Scott Parse (2 G, 0 A, 2 PTS, +1, 12 PIM) Grade: C

Call me crazy but I think this is Teddy Purcell all over again.  The Kings are giving him every opportunity to prove himself even after failing to grab his spot in training camp but I just don’t see what all the hype is about.  I think he’s waived/traded before the New Year.  He’s got two goals in five games and that’s great but he’s got six minor penalties (the hat-trick in Dallas).   He looks to be a one-dimensional player that doesn’t have enough grit to play a bottom-six role and doesn’t create enough offense to play a top-six role.  His Relative Corsi is 2nd worse to Westgarth at a -10.9.  This is Parse’s last real opportunity to show something (he was drafted all the way back in 2004!) before he’s passed up by the depth of the Kings farm system.  If Oscar Moller were given this many second chances…don’t get me started…

Kevin Westgarth (0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS, -1, 19 PIM) Grade: C+

I respect Westgarth for the job he has to do but I’m just not a fan of the guy that sits on the end of the bench and can’t contribute to the game other than with his fists.  He’s improved his skating and continues to improve all aspects of his game. His assist on Clifford’s goal in Phoenix was a thing of beauty but his Relative Corsi of -30.4 is 20 points lower than anybody on the roster.  For a team looking for offense, sitting Westgarth and starting anyon else would be a start.

Justin Williams (3 G, 5 A, 8 PTS, +2, 0 PIM) Grade: A-

I really enjoy watching J-Dub play.  His finesse with the puck on his stick is unmatched on this team.  I’m glad TM was smart enough to start Kopi off with Gagne and Williams because they all compliment eachother’s games nicely.  Hopefully (knock on wood) this is the year that Williams can stay healthy.  I’d consider another 73 games a healthy season for Williams.

Kyle Clifford (1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS, -1, 5 PIM) Grade: C

Whether it’s the pressure ‘The Colonel’ is putting on himself to fill the void left by Wayne Simmonds departure or the fact that he wasn’t playing to make the team this year, Clifford’s game has been missing that bite that we saw from him last season.  Expectations were high for Clifford after his breakout performance in last year’s postseason in which he had five points (3 G, 2 A).  We forget that he’s only 20 years old so there’s still some growing pains to go thru with Clifford.  I’d really like to see TM use Clifford on the man-advantage every once in a while and be that front of the net presence.  I really think he would thrive in that role. 

Simon Gagne (3 G, 4 A, 7 PTS, +4, 8 PIM) Grade: A-

My choice for surprise player of the year, Gagne has been everything I expected.  Crafty in the offensive zone, strong defensively, and bound to miss a few games because of maintenance.  You hope like Williams, Gagne can stay relatively healthy this season and if that means missing a few games here and there to keep the legs fresh so be it.  Gagne is the first left wing that could keep up with Kopitar since Michael Cammalleri back in Kopi’s first two NHL seasons; these two should play together all season long. 

Ethan Moreau (0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS, +/- 0, 6 PIM) Grade: B+

I really like Moreau’s game.  At 36, I thought he’d be hesitant to throw his body around.  Boy, was I wrong.  28 hits in October were only 2nd to defenseman Matt Greene.  I don’t know about all the off-ice politics but on-the-ice he’s the perfect bottom-six forward.  Great skater who sacrifices his body on every shift.  He welcomed Colten Teubert to the NHL with a nice cheapshot in his NHL debut…I love it!

Dustin Penner (0 G, 1 A, -1, +/-1, 21 PIM) Grade: D+ (+ for that fight he had in Philly)

It’s hard to feel bad for anyone who makes millions of dollars playing sports but I’m really starting to feel bad for Penner.  He’s become the whipping boy for everything that’s wrong in the world.  Unemployment, Earthquakes, Traffic…all Dustin Penner’s fault.  I blame TM and DL for making this guy out to be a top-line player.  Yes, he’s being paid like one but there’s a reason everyone called Kevin Lowe crazy for giving up that much to acquire Penner and then paying him that much money.  Fans need to temper their expectations a bit. 

The guy worked hard this offseason so you can’t question his work ethic anymore.  He’s throwing his body around and while some say he doesn’t look like he’s trying; please checkout his highlights from Anaheim and Edmonton; he looks exactly the same. 

He wants this to work more than anyone else and I think it wll.  Right now, Penner is stationary for too long during his shifts.  It takes him twice as long to get his feet moving so he should always be skating.  He was never known to create much offense on his own so don’t expect him to carry guys on his back to the net like Jason Allison use to.  He needs to play with a guy willing to do work in the corners to get him the puck.  And Penner needs to work harder to get open in the slot.  If you watch his goals in Edmonton, 90% of his goals are scored from 15 feet and in around the slot. Pairing him with Mike Richards, who can win puck battles in the corner and dish out front to Penner might just get this guy going.  Or hell, go trade for Ales Hemsky who always seemed to find chemistry playing alongside Penner in Edmonton.  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

October Review: Goaltenders & Defense

The $56-million man?!?!

Terry Murray (6-3-2, 2.36 GF/G, 1.91 GA/G, 22.5 PP%, 86.1 PK%) Grade: C
I only grade TM because I hated his decision to start Bernier vs. New Jersey.  I heard his explanation and still disagree.  I understand that he wanted Quick against the two division rivals but Quick and the Kings were on an absolute roll.  I’m a big believer in momentum and without a doubt the Kings had it.  The Kings played their worst game of the season in front of Bernier and got shutout by New Jersey.

Jonathan Quick (6-1-2, 1.52 GAA, .947 SV%, 3 SO) Grade: A
Quick has been outstanding for the Kings in the first month of the season.  Three consecutive shutouts earned him a Player of The Week honor already.  But don’t get too excited yet because Quick started off hot last October (7-1-0, 1.84 GAA, .936) only to never reach those numbers again for the rest of the season. 

Jonathan Bernier (0-2-0, 3.55 GAA, .857 SV%, 0 SO) Grade: C
I thought Bernier looked shaky during training camp but how much can you rely on practice drills.  The defense hasn’t done much to help Bernier in his two losses but there’s really no excuse for giving up seven goals on 49 shots. 

Drew Doughty (0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS, -2, 4 PIM) Grade: C-
The $56-million man was my pick for this season’s whippingboy.  When I saw him get hit by Zac Rinaldo in the open-ice, I immediately said that Doughty rolls/spins off that check in the past.  He sat out all of training camp and the pre-season and his timing hasn’t been there and he got hammered.  No doubt he's playing big minutes for the Kings but for $7-million a season I want to see a Bobby Orr like performance every night.  I can only cross my fingers and hope Doughty catches up sooner than later.

Davis Drewiske (0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS, +0, 0 PIM) Grade: Inc.
Drewiske dressed for one game this season vs. Philadelphia.  A nice fit as a 7th depth defenseman, there’s no doubt he was feeling the heat during Voynov’s brief stint.

Matt Greene (0 G, 0 A, 2 PTS, -3, 10 PIM) Grade: B+
Greener trails only Mitchell in penalty kill ice-time.  He continues to play the tough and physical game that’s made him a fan-favorite in L.A.  With that said, I always hold my breath when he steps up on a forward who’s dumped the puck in but surprisingly, Greener has been yet to be called for interference this season.  Oh and he took another puck to the face.  Warrior!

Jack Johnson (3 G, 2 A, 5 PTS, +2, 4 PIM) Grade: A-
Nobody was tougher on JJ than me last season.  But at 24, his game is still evolving.  While he’s made some blatant turnovers this season, Quick has bailed him out.  What excites me the most about the JJ this season is his play on the man-advantage.  His insistence on going to the net on the man-advantage is something I’ve been asking for ever since our power play went into the dumps.  His three game winning goals is a nice reward for a strong start.

Alec Martinez (0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS, -4, 0 PIM) Grade: B-
Alec was a pleasant surprise last season mostly for his ability to get shots to the net.  His 19 shots on goal this season are tied with JJ for most from the blueline through the first month of the season.  With that said, his defensive zone play has struggled at times this season.  The emergence of Voynov could bump Martinez down into a depth role sooner rather than later.

Willie Mitchell (0 G, 3 A, 3 PTS, +2, 2 PIM) Grade: B
Mitchell has been steady again this season.  Nothing flashy but continues to play tough minutes against other team’s top lines.  Once again, he leads the team in ice-time on the penalty kill, averaging 3:24 a game.

Rob Scuderi (0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS, +4, 2 PIM) Grade: B
I tend to write the same thing about Scuds.  He doesn’t do anything that stands out but he’s about as consistent as they come.  The ideal stay-at-home defenseman, Scuds is absolutely no threat on offense.

Slava Voynov ( 2 G, 1 A, 3 PTS, +3, 0 PIM) Grade: A
Voynov’s status with the Kings has been of the most debated topics over the past couple of seasons.  After two all-star seasons in the AHL, the looming threat of Voynov heading for the KHL, Voynov finally got his chance in the NHL.  Terry Murray gave him every chance to succeed, VV averaging over 20 minutes of ice-time and over three minutes on the man-advantage during his five games.  A very special-talent, it’s a guarantee we’ll be seeing more of him before the season’s over.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Prediction Time

Plan The Parade Now...Kings Are Winning The Cup

With the season only a few hours away, here are my predictions for the 2011-12 season...

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (Atlantic, 1st): Malkin wins the Art Ross.
2. Washington Capitals (Southeast, 1st): Ovechkin scores 53 goals.
3. Boston Bruins (Northeast, 1st): Tuuka Rask is starting by January.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (Southeast, 2nd): Roloson's wheels fall off.
5. Philadelph Flyers (Atlantic, 2nd): Giroux makes fans forget about Richards/Carter.
6. N.Y. Rangers (Atlantic, 3rd): Richards flops on Broadway.
7. Buffalo Sabres (Northeast, 2nd): Miller wins the Vezina.
8. New Jersey Devils (Atlantic, 4th): Kovalchuk scores 50 and Parise stays.

9. Montreal Canadiens (Northeast, 3rd)
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (Northeast, 4th)
11. Carolina Hurricanes (Southeast, 3rd)
12. Winnipeg Jets (Southeast, 4th)
13. New York Islanders (Atlantic, 5th)
14. Ottawa Senators (Northeast, 5th)
15. Florida Panthers (Southeast, 5th)

1. Vancouver Canucks (Northwest, 1st): Luongo dominates the regular season only to fail in the postseason.
2. Detroit Red Wings (Central, 1st): Wings transition from Rafalski to White goes without a hitch.
3. Los Angeles Kings (Pacific, 1st): Doughty wins the Norris.
4. San Jose Sharks (Pacific, 2nd): Havlat misses 40+ games.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (Central, 2nd): Crawford stumbles Emery takes over the net.
6. Anaheim Ducks (Pacific, 3rd): Selanne is finally slowed by injuries and misses 40+ games.
7. St. Louis Blues (Central, 3rd): Halak finds his game and the Blues young forwards all mature.
8. Colorado Avalanche (Northwest, 2nd): Avs get average defense and outstanding goaltending from Varlamov to sneak into the postseason.

9. Columbus Blue Jackets (Central, 4th)
10. Nashville Predators (Central, 5th)
11. Calgary Flames (Northwest, 3rd)
12. Edmonton Oilers (Northwest, 4th)
13. Minnesota Wild (Northwest, 5th)
14. Dallas Stars (Pacific, 4th)
15. Phoenix Coyotes (Pacific, 5th)

Eastern Conference Finals
Washington Capitals over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Seven Games
The Caps have added some much needed grit by acquiring forwards Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer.  Tomas Vokoun will thrive being back in the spotlight of the postseason.  And stars Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green will take the necessary steps in the postseason to push the Caps over the top and into the Cup Finals.  
Western Conference Finals
Los Angeles Kings over the Vancouver Canucks in Six Games
Over the past few seasons the Kings have built their identity on goaltending and strong defensive play while ignoring their offensive deficiencies.  DL finally acknowledged the team's anemic offense by acquiring two top-six forwards in Mike Richards and Simon Gagne.  If the Kings forwards can stay healthy, they'll give Vancouver all they can handle and may just run Roberto Luongo out of town.
Stanley Cup Finals
Los Angeles Kings over the Washington Capitals in Seven Games
I like the Caps to win the Cup in this matchup but if I've got the Kings advancing all the way to the Cup; they've got to win it all, right?  If the Kings can acquire Zach Parise like many 'experts' are already speculating then the Kings would have to be heavy favorites.  I think the Kings and Caps matchup well.  The Kings defense first system will stifle the Caps dynamic forwards.  The Kopitar-Richards combination will outplay Backstrom-Laich.  And Drew Doughty will show everyone that he was worth every penny by winning the Conn Smythe Award for shutting down Ovechkin all series long.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Season Preview Time!

Drew Doughty
My #1 Whipping Boy For the 2011-12 Season

If you haven't read it yet, check out The Royal Half's season preview.  A blogger roundtable of sorts on the upcoming season.  I submitted my answers to Chris Kontos about a month ago so I'm going to update a few of my answers regarding the team...

Who will be the leading scorer for the Kings this season and why?

Mike Richards.  I’m not convinced that Kopi is 100% recovered from his broken right ankle.  Richards is more than capable of putting together another 75-80 point campaign. Pairing Richards with Simon Gagne should be a no-brainer for TM and hopefully both players can regain their 2008-09 form, which saw them combine for 64 goals, 90 assists, a +42 rating and 58 points on the man-advantage. 

UPDATE: After actually catching a couple exhibition games, I think Kopitar is fine and he will indeed lead the Kings in scoring.  Putting up career-high's across the board.  I'm thinking 90+ points this season.

Who will be the whipping boy for the Kings this season and why?
Drew Doughty.  Regardless of whether he signs tomorrow, sits out the first week of camp, or the first month of the season.  I don’t care if he’s pissed that DL traded his bosom buddy away or whether he thinks he’s the next Bobby Orr.  Bottom line: He followed up his Norris-candidate/Olympic Gold Medal performance season with a very mediocre 2010-11 season that shouldn’t merit half of what Kopitar’s making.  He’ll get his money eventually.  I just hope he’s training hard and not sitting on his couch playing NHL 12 on his XBOX.

UPDATE: Well, as you know Doughty is signed but I'm not changing my answer.  Missing all of training camp is a big deal regardless of what the players say.  At $7 million a season, Doughty is the third-highest paid defenseman in the league at 21 years old; 5 years younger than the highest-paid blueliner Shea Weber.  Let's keep our fingers crossed, he's more Weber than Brian Campbell.  

Who will you miss most... Michal Handzus, Wayne Simmonds or Brayden Schenn? And why?
As a fan, I’m going to miss Simmer.  I drove the Simmer bandwagon ever since his first development camp back in 2007.  I’ve got his Owen Sound Attack game-worn jersey collecting dust in my closet to prove it.  It’s tough to see one of Dean Lombardi first homegrown picks get dealt away but I’m sure I’ll get over it when I’m rioting on Chick Hearn Court after the Kings hoist the Cup this year.

If I’m Terry Murray or Jamie Kompon or the pet monkey that draws up the Kings power play, I think the Kings will miss Handzus and Smyth the most.  Zeus & Smitty were two of the only Kings willing to stand in front of the net and I’m not sure who will fill that role now.  Penner would be the obvious choice but he plays more like a 5’9 sniper than the 6’4 behemoth that he is.

Will Terry Murray be the coach of this team come December?

Yes. TM’s system works.  But I wouldn’t be opposed to John Stevens and Terry Murray switching roles at some point during the season. 

Who do you think will be the biggest surprise on the Kings team this season?

Simon Gagne.  It feels like he’s been playing forever but he’s still only 31 years old. After a slow start, there weren’t many players that had a better second-half than Gagne last season.  He posted 27 points (8 goals, 19 assists), a +7 rating, and 10 points on the man-advantage in 27 games after the All-Star break.  If he can stay healthy and play alongside Richards all season, he could easily reach 30+ goals and 70+ points.

UPDATE: My numbers may have been a bit generous considering that Gagne will have to play under Terry Murray's system which seems to put a wet blanket on top of any offensive creativity.  I'm sticking with Gagne but I'll temper expectations and say 25+ goals and 65+ points assuming he stay's healthy.

Quick or Bernier... who you got? And why?

Quick.  Read mygoaltender review blog post.  Call me crazy but I think Martin Jones might be the best of the bunch. 

Which player on the Kings would you most like to have a beer with and why?

I don’t drink but based on some photos floating around the interweb, it looks like Mike Richards knows how to have a good time.

What is the biggest misconception of the Los Angeles-Based Hockey Fan?

That we’re ‘fair weather fans’ like all other L.A.-based sports fans.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Just a few short years ago, Kings fans were spending their hard earned cash to watch a team contending for the first-pick overall, a Kings team that played 11 different goalies over two seasons: Garon, Burke, Cloutier, Brust, Fukufuji, LaBarbera, Ersberg, Aubin, Quick, Bernier, and Taylor.  We’re as passionate a fan base as they come. We’ve waited long enough.  Now’s our time.  It’s got to be!

Where are the Kings going to finish in the Pacific? In the Western Conference?

First in the Pacific.  Third in West.  With the acquisition of Mike Richards, the Kings are my favorites to win the division.  A team’s success can always be traced back to their top two centers and/or their goaltending. 

Here’s how I project the West based solely on top-two centers and goaltending:

1. Canucks: H. Sedin/Kesler – Luongo/Schneider
2. Red Wings: Datsyuk/Zetterberg – Howard/Conklin
3. Kings: Kopitar/Richards - Quick/Bernier
4. Sharks: Thornton/Pavelski – Niemi/Nittymaki
5. Blackhawks: Toews/Sharp – Crawford/Emery
6. Ducks: Getzlaf/Koivu - Hiller/Ellis
7. Blues: Backes/Berglund - Halak/Bishop
8. Avalanche: Duchene/Stastny – Varlamov/Giguere

9. Blue Jackets- Carter/Umberger - Mason/Sanford
10. Predators: Fisher/Legwand – Rinne/Lindback
11. Flames: Jokinen/Stajan - Kiprusoff/Karlsson
12. Oilers: Gagner/Eberle – Khabibulin/Dubnyk
13. Wild- Koivu/Cullen – Backstrom/Harding
14. Stars: Ribeiro/Ott - Lehtonen/Raycroft
15. Coyotes: Hanzal/Turris – LaBarbera/Smith

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ethan Moreau?...Sure Why Not

Ethan Moreau's So Excited To Be A King He Got A Haircut 
Ethan Moreau and the Kings will always be linked via Wayne Gretzky's trade to Los Angeles.  Moreau was the final link to "The Trade." You can break out your media guides or check out this link to follow all the transactions thru the years.

Ethan Moreau was one of the most heralded third-line checkers in the NHL after Edmonton's improbable run to the 2006 Cup Final (along with current Kings Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene).  But at 35 years old,  Moreau is a shadow of his former-self and a walking band-aid.  He missed 43 games last season with a laundry list of injuries: broken hand, rib injury, and bruised foot.  Moreau was plucked off of waivers by the Columbus Blue Jackets after the Oilers attempted to dump his $1.75 million salary on some unsuspecting victim.  The Jackets bit.

Jackets fans didn't have much to be excited about going into the 2010-11 season but they were confident that their third-line of Moreau, Sammy Pahlsson, and Chris Clark would be one of the best in the league.  Unfortunately, they were a huge disappointment.
With a price tag of $7.2 million, those three combined for 13 goals, 28 assists and a minus-25 rating. Moreau and Clark combined to miss 74 games because of injuries or as healthy scratches.
If Moreau can stay healthy, he'll be everything Terry Murray wants from a fourth-line player.  A good skater who plays defense first, will throw some big hits, and block some shots.  Expect some grit and toughness but don't expect him to generate much offense this season for the Kings.  His -18.78 CORSI rating was worst among Blue Jackets forwards last season.  To put that into perspective, Michal Handzus -6.75 CORSI rating was the lowest amongst Kings forwards.  Two years ago with the Oilers, Moreau also had a team worst -22.99 CORSI rating.

During his career, Moreau has always been lined up against other team's top lines but numbers show he's lost most of his effectiveness as a shutdown forward.  Last season, Moreau averaged 1.8 penalties taken per 60 minutes which led Columbus.  Kevin Westgarth led the Kings with 1.8 penalties/60 also.  Ironically enough, Moreau could be battling Westgarth for that fourth-line left wing spot all season long.

I was hoping Dwight King would get a shot on the Kings fourth-line this year but I like the signing of Moreau for $600,000.  There's no doubt he's a true professional (although, I really hope he regrets posing for this photo) who's going to bring another veteran presence to the locker room.  He'll help continue to develop some of the Kings young bottom-six forwards like Clifford, Lewis, and Richardson.  Whether or not he can play 60-70 games is a big question but Moreau's true value will come off-the-ice and in the locker room.  Now, let's sign Drew and get this season started.

Moreau's had his run-ins with the Kings over the years...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Don't Cry: Thanks For The Memories Smytty

I'm sad Smytty's gone
No tearful farewellJust a bunch of rumorsA denialSome awkward negotiationsAnd finally, #94 was gone.

Smytty put DL and the Kings in a tough spot.  Demanding a trade is hard enough for a GM.  Requesting a trade to only one team is nearly impossible.  Give DL credit for accommodating Smyth and his family.  Hopefully, players around the league take notice that the Kings organization does have some class after all.

Everyone was all smiles a couple years ago
I was ecstatic when the Kings acquired Ryan Smyth two years ago from Colorado.  I knew on July 3, 2009 that the Kings were beginning to transition from rebuilding to contending.  The fact, that DL was willing to absorb a $6.25 million cap hit for the next three seasons said alot.  Sure enough, Smyth was as-advertised if not better.  His veteran leadership and presence in front of the net was something that the Kings sorely needed.  His 45 goals over the last two seasons was third to only Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown (4th, if you include Dustin Penner's goals in EDM).  His 20 power-play goals over the past two seasons is tied for the team-high with Kopi.  Oh.  And don't forget the Kings made the playoffs for two consecutive seasons.

Then out of left field, Smytty wants out and word is that the Kings would be willing to move Smytty for 'mid-range draft pick'.  Smytty's $6.25 million cap hit is a tough contract for any team to take on but his value to the Kings was absolutely worth more than a draft pick (or so I thought).  Even if the Kings were to clear his contract off the books; there's not many UFA left wingers that could provide the type of production that Smyth has brought over the past two seasons. 

In the end, the Kings acquired Gilbert Brule and a fourth-round pick and I was genuinely excited.  I'm a sucker for young talent and prospects.  Still only 24, Brule has had an up-and-down pro career marred by injuries.  He showed signs of life in 2009-10 before completely falling flat on his face last season.  At a $1.85 million cap hit, the price was steep but the upside is still there.  If he were able to play 70 plus games; Brule could have been a productive third-line player with second-line upside.  Unfortunately, he's not healthy but he is a good person.  Although, it saddens me to read that the Kings had no intentions of keeping Mr. Brule.

Colin FraserSo instead, the Kings got a healthy Colin FraserWho by all accounts will probably be as much of an offensive threat as a concussed Gilbert Brule.  Fraser comes with a cap hit of $825K and the pick went from a 4th to a 7th.  So you could say the difference in value from a 4th to 7th round pick is roughly a million bucks.  While most Kings fans expected Fraser to be bought out, DL says Fraser will get an opportunity to compete for a spot, presumably a 4th-line role.  He's a defense-first forward and is serviceable in that role.
"...Colin Fraser was hardly a non-participant. That his best skill, shot blocking, is one that neutralizes the opposition as opposed to initiating something positive in and of itself, is something of a tell."
Don't get me wrong.  DL filled a huge hole acquiring Mike Richards as the Kings #2 center but the departure of Smyth now leaves a gaping hole on the left wing.  Colin Fraser won't be potting 20 goals anytime soon.  Or leading the Kings in power-play goals.  I don't know where the Kings look to fill the void left by Smyth.  The Kings will lean on players already on the roster.  Yes.  That means Dustin Penner.  Yes.  That means Scott Parse.  Unfortunately, I'm not sold on either.  Paul Kariya anyone?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

How The Heck Did We Get Mike Richards?!

Mike Richards Is A KING?!?! Yeah...I'll Drink To That

Remember when it was rumored that the Kings might be after Vinny Lecavalier back in February 2010?  I said this.
Take a look at recent Stanley Cup Winners.  In addition to great goaltending; every team's had a great 1A/1B center combination.  Penguins with Crosby/Malkin, Red Wings with Datsyuk/Zetterberg, Hurricanes with Brind'Amour/Staal, Lightning with Lecavalier/Richards.

As much as I love Jarret Stoll; he's not in the same-class as any of those players.  Some would argue that Brayden Schenn could be that player but I'm not sure the Kings are prepared to wait 3-4 years to find out. 
DL will wait for a full season of Brayden Schenn before he even considers making a move for an impact player.  Schenn will play next season as a 20-year old.  A lot of ‘experts’ compare Schenn to Philadelphia’s Mike Richards especially after his breakout performance at the 2011 WJC.  Keep this in mind, Richards also debuted for the Flyers as a 20 year old.  His breakout year came three years later when he scored 75 points in 73 games.  Just saying.  Four more years is a longtime to wait.
Well, I guess DL agreed that the Kings needed a legit #2 center and just couldn't wait those four years for Schenn to develop.  Instead, he dealt Schenn for the 26-year old Flyers captain.  I have to type that again.  Dean Lombardi traded prized prospect Brayden Schenn along with Wayne Simmonds and 2012 second-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Mike Richards.

My first reaction was, "We got Mike Richards?!"  My next reaction was, "Has Philly lost their mind?"

I was under the impression that Philly had signed Richards and Jeff Carter to long-term deals to watch them finish their careers in Philly.  Based on Flyers GM Paul Holmgren's reactions to the deal, I would say he was under the same impression as well.

Holmgren certainly didn't sound like a GM who was happy that he just dealt his team's captain and two players that he'd signed to a combined 23-years worth $127 million.  With that said, the pair of trades are directly linked to the Flyers acquisition of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.  The trio of moves seems to have the fingerprints of Flyers chairman Ed Snider all over it.  A man who witnessed Bernie Parent backstop his Flyers to consecutive Cups in 1974 and 1975.  Snider vowed the Flyers would fix their goaltending issues after being swept in the Conference Semi-finals by the Boston Bruins.  A series which saw the Flyers tie an NHL record with seven in-game goalie changes.  The Flyers goaltending carousel also failed to record a shutout all season.

Was Snider upset with his captain?  Perhaps.  Snider anointed Richards the 17th captain in franchise history for the start of the 2008-09 season.  Richards scored a career-high 80 points but has failed to reach 70 points in each of the last two seasons.  Mike Richards relationship with the Philadelphia media has been well-documented for years now.  As well as some of his antics off the ice.  It looks as though Snider got tired of the act and wanted a major shakeup.  Mission accomplished.  I would like to personally thank Mr. Snider for being one of the most proactive owners in hockey.  I would also like to thank the inabilities of Sergei Brobrovsky, Brian Boucher, and Michael Leighton to stop a puck in the postseason.  I would also like to thank Rich Winter, agent of Ilya Bryzgalov for getting his client a ridiculous 9-year, $51-million contract.  Without you, none of this would have been possible.  Welcome to L.A. Mike Richards!

Friday, June 17, 2011

2010-11 Season Review: Michal Handzus

Michal HandzusMichal Handzus
2010-11 Stats: 82 GP, 12 G, 18 A, 30 PTS, -5, 10 PPP, 20 PIM  
UFA this summer

Zeus is serious.  And experienced.  And this is undisputed.  Zeus may be one of the most overpaid players in the league at $4-million a season but he's been invaluable to the Kings over the past three seasons (he was pretty dreadful in his first year year).  About as reliable as your 1991 Honda Civic, Zeus has only missed ONE game during his four seasons in Los Angeles.  Considering the Kings history with signing oft-injured free-agent forwards, Zeus has been a huge success.

His ability to play up or down in the lineup and in all situations makes him extremely valuable.  Zeus didn an admirable job filling in for Kopitar down the stretch and in the playoffs.  He led all Kings in PK ice-time during the regular season with 2:24 which jumped up to 3:33 in the postseason.  His 10 points on the man-advantage ranked 6th amongst Kings forwards during the regular season.

Watching Zeus kill penalties is poetry in motion.  Maybe it's his lack of foot speed but watching him struggle to skate back and forth to cover the points and then poke the puck off a d-mans stick with his long reach or lay down and block a shot is pure awesomeness.  It's no wonder Zeus has led all Kings forwards in blocked shots in each of the last four seasons.  There's no question the guy is giving it his all every single night.

Alot of fans feel ike Zeus's time in L.A. is over and it may very well be.  With Brayden Schenn looking to center the second line next season.  Trevor Lewis may be ready to replace Zeus as a jack of all trades although his 39.2% in the faceoff circle is a far cry from Handzus's 51.7%.  Having Zeus around to mentor Lewis and Schenn for another season or two might not be such a bad thing.

FINAL GRADE: B+; Yes.  Zeus looks like he skates with cement blocks tied to his skates.  Yes.  $4-million a year for a guy that's averaged only 14 goals a season during his tenure as a King was way too rich.  Yes.  Zeus has some of the best hair in the NHL.  Yes.  Zeus's ability to win faceoffs leaves alot to be desired.  With all that said...The Kings need to seriously consider bringing Zeus back for at least one more season.  If the Kings can lock up Zeus on a one or two year deal at $2 million per; DL needs to consider it.  Otherwise, thanks for the memories Zeus.  Your hair will be missed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

2010-11 Season Review: Rob Scuderi

Rob ScuderiRob Scuderi
2010-11 Stats: 82 GP, 2 G, 13 A, 15 PTS, +1, 0 PPP, 16 PIM  
Signed thru 2012-13; $3.4 million

 What a year for Rob Scuderi.  He set a career-high in goals with...two.  All kidding aside, Scuderi had himself a solid second year in L.A.  Scuds and JJ were the only two Kings defenseman to appear in all 82 games this season.  Here's what I wrote about Scuds in the 2009-10 season review...
Scuds is an interesting one; $3.4 million for 0 goals and 11 assists sounds crazy but that’s the price the market dictated last July.  Scuds was as-advertised.  A solid stay-at-home defenseman.  Nothing more. Nothing Less.  He's just a hard-working minutes cruncher that won’t put your team in danger.
In a nutshell, that pretty much sums up Scuderi's 2010-11 season also.  He doesn't do anything flashy but plays a simple game based on positioning that makes him invaluable to the Kings.  Adding Mitchell to the fold helped take some of the pressure of Scuderi to constantly play the big minutes against other team's top lines and power play units.

A bit alarming to some was Scuderi's +/- rating dip from a +16 to +1.  A significant drop off considering that the Kings goal differential stayed relatively the same from last season.  Scuderi's ice-time increased from just over 19 minutes to 20 minutes per game, his penalty-kill time increase slightly, and his quality of competition rating rose slightly.  It appears that two factors played a role in his +/- rating drop.  The first seems to be Scuderi's increase in giveaways this season which rose from 33 to 59 (his takeaways dropped from 23 to 22).  His giveaway to takeaway ratio rose from 1.43 to 2.6, the only Kings defenseman that saw a significant increase.

Another difference this season appears to be Scuderi's quality of teammates.  His QUALTEAM rating dropped from .163 which to -.088 this past season.  For a player like Scuderi who isn't much of a threat to create offense on his own, his +/- rating relies heavily on the production of his linemates.  Last year's +16 rating was likely a product of Drew Doughty's career year.

FINAL GRADE: B; I'd love to see Scuds play more physical but even more than that...I want to see Scuds shoot the puck.  His insistence on sending the puck around the boards and not even fake a shot is frustrating to watch sometimes.  A dominant cycle for 20 seconds will lead to a pass to the point where Scuds will pass up the shot to flip the puck back into a corner.  Scuderi does so many things well in the defensive zone it's hard to fault his lack of offense.

2010-11 Season Review: Willie Mitchell

Willie Mitchell
Willie Mitchell
2010-11 Stats: 57 GP, 5 G, 5 A, 10 PTS, +4, 0 PPP, 21 PIM
Signed thru 2011-12; $3.5 million

Leave it to Dean Lombardi and the Kings to sign a player who missed the last 34 regular season games and all 12 playoff games of the 2009-10 season because of a concussion to a two-year contract.  The pessimist that lives in all Kings fans thought this signing could easily follow in the footsteps of such blockbuster flops as Valeri Bure and Alyn McCauley.  The Kings may have been the only team to offer Willie Mitchell a two-year contract and I don't think DL could be any happier with how his big free-agent acquisition worked out this past season.

I loved Willie Mitchell's game but had some reservations about his health going into training camp.  After watching a full-season of Willie, I'm convinced that Mitchell is indeed a 33-year old version of Sean O'Donnell.  He brings nearly all the same tools: leadership, grit, toughness, and an inability to handle the puck with any confidence.  Mitchell doesn't hit much but positions himself well to make the simple play in his own zone.

Much in the same way Rob Scuderi helped the blueline last year, Mitchell provided more of the same.  A veteran presence who focuses on defense first, keeps the game simple, and does all the little things that help win hockey games.  Mitchell and Scuderi serve as the safety nets to Doughty and Johnson's high-risk, high-reward offensive games.  TM leaned on Mitchell to play big minutes against other team's top lines and easily became the Kings #1 penalty killer.  Mitchell averaged over 21 minutes of ice-time per game (and over 24 minutes in the playoffs) and led the team averaging 3:24 of ice-time on the penalty kill.  Mitchell's quality of competition rating of .086 led the team, which reiterates the thought that Michell played against other team's top players on a nightly basis.

FINAL GRADE: B+; Mitchell's concussion looks to be a thing of the past but a broken wrist and lower-body injury still cost him 25 games this season.  While DL has struck out with most of his forward free agent acquisitions during his tenure in Los Angeles; he's done well adding Scuderi and Mitchell to the blueline over the past two summers.  Mitchell is another solid veteran added to a young group still trying to find it's identity.  It's no coincidence that the Kings saw their goals allowed per game drop (2.57 GA/G to 2.39 GA/G) and their penalty kill percentage rise (80.3% to 85.5%) this past season.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2010-11 Season Review: Alec Martinez

Alec MartinezAlec Martinez 
2010-11 Stats: 60 GP, 5 G, 11 A, 16 PTS, +11, 5 PPP, 18 PIM  
RFA this summer

While Dean Lombardi may have blown the 2007 NHL Draft by selecting Thomas Hickey #4 overall; he grabbed another puck-moving defenseman in the 4th round that has already had an impact in the NHL.  Alec Martinez started the 2009-10 season with the Kings but looked so uncomfortable in his first four NHL games that the Kings were forced to send him down.  The pace and speed of the game seemed to overwhelm the 22-year old defenseman.

Fast forward a year later, Alec Martinez got the call in late-November and didn't look back.  He quickly became the third puck-moving defenseman on the Kings blueline and became a reliable contributor on the Kings second power-play unit.  Martinez's knack for getting shots thru to the net is what made him so valuable this season.  He attempted 112 shots on net with 74 of them reaching target.  Of the Kings six regular blueliners; Martinez's 66% was the highest.  His five power play points in 60 games was the third highest total behind Doughty and Johnson (whether that's an accomplishment or warning...i'll let you decide).

When you see Martinez skate with his somewhat upright stride and head always up; you can see a bit of Scott Niedermayer/Brian Rafalski.  You can tell that three years at Miami University (Ohio) and two years in the AHL have helped develop his game.  His decision making in the defensive zone and knowledge of when to make the simple play is already light years ahead of Jack Johnson.  With that said, Martinez's ceiling isn't nearly as high but his consistency is already there.

FINAL GRADE: B+; For the pessimist in all of us: Martinez serves as a reminder that Hickey has been a bust and the Kings don't trust Voynov who's already a two-time AHL All-Star.  Considering no one really expected to see Martinez up again after his disaster of a debut in 2009; Alec was a nice surprise this year.  Although his play tapered off towards the end of the season and the pace of the playoffs seemed to be a bit too quick for him.  Martinez's 2010 season has sent a message to prospects like Hickey, Voynov, and Muzzin that it's his spot to take going into training camp next season.  Resigning him is an absolute no-brainer.  An extension similar to what Drewiske received would be ideal.  My guess: 3-years, around $2.5 million total.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

2010-11 Season Review: Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson & Mattias Ritola
Jack Johnson
2010-11 Stats: 82 GP, 5 G, 37 A, 42 PTS, -21, 28 PPP, 44 PIM 
Signed through 2017-18; $4.35 million

On the surface, Jack Johnson had himself a career year.  He appeared in all 82 games for the first time.  His 42 points were a career-high.  His 28 points on the man-advantage put him in the top-5 among blueliners.  But just a little bit of digging and you realize that Jack Johnson was absolutely brutal this year.  Fans calling Drew Doughty the biggest disappointment of the season are letting JJ off the hook way too easy.  JJ recorded a career low and team worst +/- rating of -21 following seasons of: -19, -18, -15.  Among Kings blueliners Rob Scuderi had the next worst +/- rating +1.  Only SIX NHL defenseman out of the 303 that qualified had a worse +/- and three of those defenseman were from the Ottawa Senators.

Now, for those fans that don't believe in the +/- statistic; let's take a look at JJ's CORSI # of -2.39 and a REL CORSI # of -8.7.  CORSI is a fairly simple formula: On-Ice Shot Differential (goals + saves + missed shots + blocks).  The idea is simple: more shots attempted on the opposition's net equals greater offensive output.  The most disturbing stat here are JJ's shot and missed shot totals.  He recorded a career-high 153 shots but also missed the net a career-high 105 times (3rd most in the NHL among defenseman) for a total of 258 shot attempts at the net.  Simple division tells us that JJ hit the net only 59% of the time.  During the previous three seasons JJ recorded percentages of: 61% (212 shot attempts), 75% (67 shot attempts), 72% (113 shot attempts).  Alec Martinez led all Kings blueliners getting the puck thru 66% of the time on his shot attempts.

To put these numbers into a bit of perspective, only Dustin Byfuglien and Shea Weber missed the net more among defensemen.  Byfuglien missed the net 144 times but led all defensemen with 347 shots for 71%.  Shea Weber missed the net 120 times but hit the net with 254 shots (3rd) for 68%.  Byfuglien scored 20 goals.  Weber scored 16 goals.  Johnson scored 5.

At first glance, JJ's defensive counting stats lead us to believe that he's improved his positioning in the defensive zone.  His hits dropped from 144 to 84 but his blocked shots rose from 86 to 133.  But his end-to-end offense affected his giveaway totals which also rose from 42 to 59.  Johnson's 2010-11 stats look very similar to his first full season in L.A: 84 hits, 136 blocked shots, 62 giveaways.  Which has me asking the question: Is Jack Johnson is the same player defensively that he was four years ago?

FINAL GRADE: C; Don't let the career-high point total fool you.  His -21 rating in addition to his disappearing act in the second half of the season made for a disappointing 2010-11 season.  His 33 points (4G, 29A, -6, 21 power play points) in the first 50 games prior to the All-Star break were great.  He emerged as the only consistent threat on the man-advantage but his 9 points (1G, 8A, -15, 7 power play points) in the final 32 games down the stretch were pitiful.  Why hasn't anyone started questioning his conditioning yet?

At 24, Johnson is still young.  But with each season that passes, Kings fans still wonder when JMFJ is going to show up.  Where's the high-octane player that dominates both sides of the puck?  Will he ever live up to the hype?  Johnson signed a massive seven-year contract early in the season that will take him into the 2017-18 season at a cap hit of $4.35 million.  With blueline prospects like Muzzin, Voynov, and Hickey all considered offensive defensemen; JJ will need to improve all aspects of his game because with each ill-timed pinch in the offensive zone, JJ's name and 'cap-friendly' $4.35M are inching closer and closer to the rumor mill.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

2010-11 Season Review: Peter Harrold

Peter Harrold
Peter Harrold
2010-11 Stats: 19 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 PTS, +3, 0 PPP, 4 PIM
Unrestricted Free Agent

There were only a few guarantees from the Kings in the new calendar year: If the Kings went to a shootout; they were going to win.  If the Kings scored first; they'd give up a goal within the next three minutes.  And Peter Harrold was probably going to be a healthy scratch.  By no fault of his own; Harrold just couldn't crack TM's lineup whether it be as 6th defenseman or the 4th line right-wing.  He ended up being the Kings utility player all season long.

Stats obviously don't tell the whole story but if you're a stat geek and know what CORSI isPeter Harrold led all Kings defenseman with a Relative CORSI number of 14.2.  Now obviously, Harrold's sample size is smaller than any other Kings blueliner this season and his numbers could be skewed a bit by his time as a Kings 4th line winger but he did still appear in 19 games.  Much like Drewiske, Harrold's role on the team was effected by the emergence of Alec Martinez and the current makeup of the blueline.

Listed at 6'0, he looks smaller on the ice and lacks the strength to win battles against most NHL forwards.  At 27, he still has a chance to develop that part of his game much in the same way Mike Weaver has since leaving the Kings but I keep thinking an undersized d-man with offensive upside...he may be the next Kevin Dallman.

FINAL GRADE: B-; I really should have grouped Harrold and Drewiske together but I give a slight nod to Harrold because he showed more versatility as a forward than DD did.  Harrold made his season debut on October 21st vs. Phoenix playing over 20 minutes in all situations while filling in for Doughty.  His season went down hill from there; only appearing in 18 games after that.  Harry will be a UFA in the summer and won't be back.

2010-11 Season Review: Matt Greene

Matt Greene
Matt Greene
2010-11 Stats: 71 GP, 2 G, 9 A, 11 PTS, +3, 0 PPP, 70 PIM 
Signed through 2012-13; $2.95M

I love Matt Greene.  One of the only Kings that plays a truly physical game.  He's well aware of his responsibilities on the ice: play physical, play strong defensively, and protect teammates.  He knows his game well and is aware of his limitations and makes the most of his skill set.  He's not the best skater but makes up for it with sound positioning.  The arrival of veterans Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell have helped Greene more than anything.  When he arrived in L.A., Greene played nearly 20 minutes a night but over the past two seasons, his time-on-ice has dropped to 17:29 (2009-10) to 16:59 (2010-11).  The decrease in ice-time has actually helped Greener's effectiveness on most nights not always having to face a team's top-line or power play unit.  Always among the NHL's hit leaders; Greene laid out 243 hits on the season. 

FINAL GRADE: B; Greene is signed to a relatively friendly cap-hit of $2.95M thru 2013-14.  His role on the team goes beyond his production on the ice.  While his aggressiveness and physical play often toe the line of what's a penalty; Greener's heart and effort will never be questioned.  The Kings have alot of defensive prospects in the system but almost all of them are considered offensive defensemen; Greene should be here for the long haul.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

2010-11 Season Review: Davis Drewiske

Davis Drewiske & Marek Svatos

Davis Drewiske 
2010-11 Stats: 38 GP, 0 G, 5 A, 5 PTS, -1, 0 PPP, 18 PIM 
Signed through 2012-13; $616,667

Davis Drewiske's 2011 season went much the same way his 2010 season did.  Drewiske appeared in 36 of the first 38 games last season  then suffered an upper-body injury in January and failed to claim his spot in the top-6 back; only appearing in two games for the rest of the season.  In 2011, Drewiske played in 33 of the first 37 games of the season but only appeared in 5 games for the rest of the season and was a healthy scratch for the last two months.  He had an opportunity to fill-in for Willie Mitchell but was passed on the depth chart by the emerging Alec Martinez.  

Drewiske's role on the blueline is a bit undefined and in a sense he is the perfect 'extra' d-man to have on a roster.  The Kings have three defined puck-moving defenseman: Doughty, Johnson, and Martinez.  Those puck-movers are each paired with a stay-at-home presence: Mitchell, Scuderi, and Greene.  Drewiske's game has always been low-risk and making the safe play.  DD possesses good size at 6'2 and TM would love to see him get more physical but that part of his game hasn't developed.  TM was so desperate to get DD into the lineup that he tried him as a 4th line right wing in December but that didn't work out for anyone involved.

FINAL GRADE: B-; My expectations for Drewiske were as the Kings 6th/7th defenseman.  In that sense, he's done fine.  He's been passed on the depth chart by Martinez but in a sense it comes down to what each defenseman brings to the backend.  TM and DL love the traditional 3 puck-movers and 3 stay-at-home defensemen on the blueline.  Unfortunately, Drewiske's offensive game is limited and he'll always be buried behind Mitchell, Scuderi, and Greene as a defensive-defenseman.  He'll return next year in a similar role as the team's extra d-man but will probably be facing stiff competition from Jake Muzzin, Viatcheslav Voynov, and Thomas Hickey (hopefully). 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

2010-11 Season Review: Drew Doughty

Drew Doughty
Drew Doughty
2010-11 Stats: 76 GP, 11 G, 29 A, 40 PTS, +13, 15 PPP, 68 PIM
RFA this Summer

Plain & Simple: Drew Doughty letdown this year.  Following a breakout campaign last season that included a 59 point regular season, Olympic Gold medal, and Norris Trophy nomination; expectations couldn't have been any higher for the 21-year old.  After his sluggish start, his work ethic and off-season conditioning were called into question.  The explosiveness and puck control that drew comparisons to Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey last season seemed to abandon Doughty at times.

His production was down across the board.  He put up 40 points following a 59-point campaign last season.  Whether Doughty's struggles were indicative of the power play's struggles or vice versa; his numbers were cut in half.  From 31 points (9G, 22A) on the man-advantage to just 15 points (5G,10A) this season.

2010-11 Season Review: Goaltending

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Quick Is A #1 Whether You Like It Or Not
 About a year ago to the day, I wrote the following in my 2009-10 Season Review: Goaltending post.
The Kings may start out with a Nashville-type split in goal to start next season but it’ll be Bernier’s net by the All-Star break. 
So that didn't quite happen.  Jonathan Quick proved that last year was no fluke.  Jonathan Bernier finally stepped into the NHL full-time as Quick's backup.  The tandem provided the most solid goaltending the franchise has seen in decades.  They combined for another 46 wins, .914 SV % (10th), 2.39 GAA (6th), and 9 shutouts on the season.

2010-11 Stats: 61 GP, 35 Wins, 2.24 GAA, .918 SV%, 6 Shutouts
Signed thru 2012-13; $1.8M

Whether it was the embarrassment of his performance down the stretch and in the first round against Vancouver last season or the footsteps of Jonathan Bernier behind him; Jonathan Quick arrived to training camp on a mission.  Quick came into this season in the best shape of his life. TM finally had a backup he could trust in Bernier and was able to cut Quick's games 'down' to 61 from a ridiculous 72 games last season.

The results were astounding.  Quick improved his regular season SV% from .907 to .918 and his GAA from 2.54 to 2.24 (5th NHL) while recording six shutouts (6th NHL).  And Quick was easily the Kings MVP in the first-round of the playoffs.  After the Kings defensive system left Quick out to dry in Games 3 & 4 at Staples Center; he single-handedly won Game with a 51-save performance to give the Kings a fighting chance in the series.  

FINAL GRADE: A-; There should be no doubt who the Kings #1 goaltender is going forward but you can almost bet that TM will have to answer all the same questions regarding which goaltender will be the Kings #1 next season.  While Quick's stickhandling is still suspect and he is still susceptible to giving up a 'soft' goal every once in a while, his improved conditioning has allowed his athleticism to really shine through.  If he continues to improve, 40 wins aren't out of the question next season.

Jonathan Bernier
2010-11 Stats: 25 GP, 11 Wins, 2.48 GAA, .913 SV%, 3 Shutouts
Signed thru 2012-13; $1.25M

After absolutely dominating the AHL last season, Bernier finally arrived in the NHL full-time for the 2010-11 season.  Whether it was TM learning from last season that he needed to trust his backup more or just Bernier getting accustomed to the NHL grind; Bernier's game improved as the season progressed.  His splits tell the story.

Pre All-Star: 14 GP, 5 Wins, .893 SV%, 3.08 GAA, 0 Shutouts
Post All-Star: 11 GP, 6 Wins, .939 SV%, 1.70 GAA, 3 Shutouts

In 23 starts, Bernier posted an 11-8-3 record with a 2.43 GAA and .912 SV%.  Funny stat line: In the seven games that last year's backup Erik Ersberg started: 3-3-1 record with a 2.43 GAA and .911 SV%.  Obviously the sample sizes differ and the similarities in numbers may be more a reflection of the Kings defensive system than anything elise but it's interesting none the less.  It's all relative...I guess.  Two goaltenders in completely different stages of their careers.  Bernier still only 21 years old has his best years ahead of him and is regarded as one of the top goaltending prospects in the world.  Erik Ersberg, a 27-year old NHL backup that garnered no interest around the league when he was placed on waivers by the Kings went to the KHL's Salvat Yulaev.  EE backstopped Yulaev to the KHL Championship posting a 1.93 GAA, 93.3 SV%, and 3 Shutouts.

FINAL GRADE: B; Bernier provided a backup option that TM trusted which allowed Quick some much needed rest during the regular season.  Had Quick suffered through any prolonged slumps Bernier may have had a chance to run with the job but it just didn't happen.  Bernier will continue to knock on the door next season and may eventually become the Kings #1 option.  But with Martin Jones impressive debut season with the Monarchs and Quick's improving game; don't be surprised if you hear Bernier's name discussed in possible trades going forward.  Anyway you slice it, having two proven NHL goaltenders now and possibly a third on the way is a good problem to have.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Curious Case Of Dustin Penner

Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Penner shares a word with Anaheim Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa prior to a first period faceoff on April 8, 2011 at Honda Center in Anaheim, CA.  The Ducks beat the Kings 2-1 to clinch a playoff spot.  (Inside Hockey/Chasen
Dustin Penner: L.A.'s Newest Whipping Boy
Dustin Penner isn't the devil but he has quickly become the newest whipping boy amongst Los Angeles Kings fans.  His lack of production, intensity, and perceived lack of caring on the ice are just a few of the reasons why the Kings faithful have turned on Dean Lombardi's most recent acquisition.  He joins the likes of Randy Jones, Denis Gauthier, Dan Cloutier, and countless others who have faced the wrath of Kings fans' venom.  But let's take a closer look at who Dustin Penner really is...

Penner never played major junior hockey.  He was cut three times by his local junior team.  He nearly gave up on playing hockey and then decided to continue his playing career for a junior college team in North Dakota.  Spotted at an evaluation camp, Penner was offered a scholarship to the University of Maine, where he helped lead the Black Bears to the National Championship Game.  After one year of college, he signed as a free-agent with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.  He spent two years in the AHL and then was a member of the Ducks 2007 Stanley Cup squad.

In the offseason following the Cup win, Penner signed a 5-year, $21.25 million offer sheet with the Edmonton Oilers that went unmatched by Anaheim.  Penner instantly became the whipping boy of then Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish.
"When we signed Dustin we thought he'd be a top-two-line player.  We thought the contract ($4.25 million average for five years) was a starting point for him but he views it as a finish line. I can't watch it, certainly not for another 21/2 years."
Now, it's early on but can't you see Terry Murray and Dean Lombardi saying those same words right about now.  2 goals in 22 games for the Kings. 

Penner's response to MacT's criticism back in 2008.
"It's time for me to bring that part of my game (competitiveness) up ... that's a part of my game that's always been harder for me to attain.."
Three years later, Penner hasn't been able to 'attain' it.  Fans want to remember Dustin Penner as the emerging power forward that complimented the finesse and skill of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on 'The Kid Line' for the Ducks.  He played his best hockey then.  His most well-rounded game.  He was getting 13:59 of ice-time in the regular season and 14:05 of ice-time in the playoffs.  Eight other Ducks forwards averaged more ice-time than Penner in the postseason.

That's just about right for Penner.  He's a solid third-line player that needs good playmaking forwards around him to produce.  If Kings fans expected anything more from Penner...well shame on us.

He's not your classic big body forward.  He shys away from the physical game but has a gifted set of hands when he has the puck on his tape.  The problem for him is getting the puck.  You'd think a guy that's 6'4, 245 would dominate along the boards.  Protecting the puck.  Driving the net.  Sort of like...Alexander Frolov.

But Penner stays away from the boards.  He does his best work from the hash-marks in.  Watch him.  He'll coast into the offensive zone and then just camp out about 15-20 feet in front of the net hoping a teammate finds him in the slot for a one-timer.

His biggest issue is his lack of foot speed and skating ability.  He's been extremely exposed in this series by San Jose's transition game and the speed of their forwards.  He can't keep up.  He can't even hustle to the bench to get a change.  His lack of foot speed was none more evident than on Devin Setoguchi's OT Winner in Game Three.  The puck is in the net and the Sharks are in the locker room celebrating by the time Penner even enters the zone.

The fans and media continue to blame his conditioning for the reason he looks so lackadaisical out on the ice.  At first, I wasn't buying it but after watching numerous Youtube clips; I think Penner is definitely out of shape (even by Penner standards).  The Dustin Penner Kings fans are seeing this season is the same player that debuted in Edmonton after signing his 5-year deal.

Watch these highlights from the 2009-10 season when Penner netted a career-high 32 goals and you won't recognize him.  A season ago Penner was driving the net, parking his big frame in front of the net, deflecting shots, engaging in physical play, etc.

What's the immediate solution?  Drop Penner down into the bottom six.  His best performance came in Game Two when he saw 14:35 of ice-time; his worst performance obviously came last night when he played 19:36.  Move Alexei Ponikarovsky up to the top line.  Poni's game has improved over the last month.  He uses his big frame.  He plays the body, drives the net, and skates well.  Everything Penner is lacking from his game right now.