Let us take you back to the spring of 2014. It’s not a happy trip for those of us around here, but it’s necessary. The Kings and Blackhawks played perhaps the best playoff series since The Great ’05 Lockout. The Kings come out on top by a pubic hair. They go on to destroy the Rangers for their second Cup in three years.
You might think they would have taken a close look at how they did that. You might think they’d want to keep replicating what they actually did on the ice, not what they did in between their own ears. You’d be wrong. The Kings beat the Hawks that spring by playing the Hawks’ game better than the Hawks. They were fast. They were dynamic. They scored a ton. They simply overpowered the Hawks on most nights of that series. Corey Crawford was helpless (so was Jonathan Quick, to be fair) to do anything about it. You may not see a series of that raw power again…until the Jets-Sharks West Final this spring, obvi.
We can demonstrate it better. They averaged 2.78 xGF/60 in that playoff run of ’14. That was a boost from 2.37 from the regular season. They averaged more attempts and shots, as well. Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Marian Gaborik, et all were skating everywhere.
They haven’t been above that 2.37 mark in the four seasons since. First Darryl Sutter, and then John Stevens returned the Kings to their plodding, simplistic ways that their players hated. And in a league that gets faster and faster, the Kings are getting left behind.
Check out some of the acquisitions since that Cup win, both from Dean Lombardi and Rob Blake (or Robb Lake, if you prefer): Milan Lucic, Vinny Lecavalier, Kris Versteeg, Luke Schenn, bringing back Rob Scuderi, Dion Phaneuf, Nic Dowd, Jarome Iginla, Devin Setoguchi, and an aging Ilya Kovalchuk. What about any of these names suggest faster and skilled? Or even smarter? The Kings seem to be playing a game that’s from 2002.
Moreover, since the 2011 draft, here are the NHLers the Kings have produced: Andy Andreoff, Nick Shore, Colin Miller, Tanner Pearson, Paul LaDue, Adrian Kempe, and that’s it. Say what you want about where the Hawks are now, but they’ve produced actual prospects. They’ve traded most of them, but at least they exist.
The Kings mistake was falling in love with the idea of what people thought the Kings were. They won the ’12 Cup on the back of Jonathan Quick with a heavy roster. It also didn’t hurt that the entire Western Conference that year took a step back. The Hawks were still reloading, the Sharks fell off their peak, the Canucks were a paper tiger beating up on a horrid division, and the Wings were done. It was ripe for the Kings to run through, which they did.
They fell in love with this image of an atom-smashing, meat-off-the-bone, thundering herd of a team that hockey media was only too happy to play up. But they were only that once. 2013 saw them get rolled by the Hawks in the Conference Final, and realize they couldn’t be viking warriors if they were going to win. They set out to be the Hawks. And they did it. And then for some reason, forgot all about it.
And now they’re on the precipice of a great fall. Not only is their window shut, there isn’t a path to open a new one. Kyle Clague won’t by himself. By the time they can summon another good team, Kopitar and Doughty will be well into their 30s. Carter already is. How do you extricate yourself from this? Being so bad that Kopitar and Doughty ask out? Who wants those contracts? The Kings dinner for the next 10 years is going to be a lot of salary for players moved elsewhere.
But banners hang forever. It’s a trade most fanbases would make. Perhaps all. The crash doesn’t have to be so hard, though.
Game #20 Preview Suite