Kings 2001-2002 Preview

By Tony Calfo

It will be an interesting season for the Kings and their organization. On the NHL level, the Kings will face a pivotal season- they need to show L.A. that they are not penny pinching, but rather building a strong, defensive team. They will need to replace fan favorite Luc Robitaille and his on-ice and community presence. They will also have to hope Felix Potvin can go into his bag of tricks for another season and that the first full season without Rob Blake looks more like the end of last season than what many experts are predicting. Here is a rundown of best and worse case scenarios:

Best Case- The Kings play defense like last season, Potvin sparkles in net again and Bednar and Heinze pick up some of the scoring slack. Ken Belanger patrols the ice to keep the skill forwards healthy and Josef Stumpel and Ziggy Palffy are healthy all season and are effective with Adam Deadmarsh. Eric Belanger takes the next step that the Kings think he can and Modry, Boucher, Lilja and Karalahti can fill in the final defensive pairing.

Worst Case- Potvin returns to the form that had him ticketed to the IHL last season. The defense is ineffective and lacks the hammer on the power play. Bednar turns into Tomas Vlasak. Karalahti and Lilja prove to be too slow and Boucher and Modry realize they are bottom-tier NHL defensemen. Ken Belanger suffers an early concussion and is unable to deter opposing players from running Ziggy Palffy and Josef Stumpel, who spend the majority of the season injured. Eric Belanger returns to the funk that kept him from the NHL before last season and Steve Heinze proves that he is a third line forward in this league.

So what will the results be? It’s hard to say. I think the Kings will struggle to score without Lucky and I think the Power Play will struggle with only two defensemen that should even be out there (Schneider and Visnovsky). The Kings need to get something out of Karalahti whose big shot would help the man advantage with that blue line cannon that Blake brought. I think Potvin will struggle a little bit, but will have a solid season and I think Eric Belanger is on the verge of becoming a potential two-way star. Bednar needs to score and I think Ken Belanger will be hurt for over half of the season. Ziggy is poised for a career season with a healthy Stumpel, but if he is pushed around due to a lack of an enforcer, he may be playing his final season in L.A.. I think the Kings will fall short of last season’s points by a win or two, but will grab the sixth playoff slot.

The system faces an interesting season as well. Alexander Frolov will make the Kings drool even more with a solid season, and management will realize they cannot sign him. They will use him in a trade and regret it for a long time.

Lehoux and Aulin will shine and make the jump to the NHL next season.

Kip Brennan will finally step in as the best enforcer in the AHL, if he can stay healthy.

Jason Crain will return to top prospect form.

Make Cammalleri will be the surprise of the system.

Tomas Zizka will end up in the NHL this season.

Finally, the Kings will let Ziggy go at the end of this contract, saying they offered him top dollar. Despite losing Blake and Robitaille already, Kings fans will again believe management who will still be able to draw fans and claim losses, and the Kings will continue to hover in the final 3 playoff positions for the next few seasons.

Let the season begin!