The Los Angeles Kings season has to be regarded as a big step forward. The Kings posted one of their highest point totals in their history and developed two solid scoring lines and two effective defensive lines. Rob Blake had an outstanding season and the Kings played well despite some shaky goaltending. Then the Kings seemingly erased all those positives by relying on one scoring line and going 0 for the playoffs on the power play. So where do the Kings go from here?
The first order of business is the goaltending situation. This has been an issue the entire season and now the Kings are entering the expansion draft with their proverbial pants around their ankles. The Kings are going to get screwed one way or another. They are resigned to keeping both goaltenders and this will come at a great expense. They will either have to trade a player of some level to acquire a goaltender they can expose, or they will have to protect two goalies and expose additional defenseman or forwards. Either way, it seems like a big price to pay to keep two goalies and an unsure rotation in the pipes. The biggest loss would be a trade involving Alexey Volkov to get a goalie they can expose. Their vantage point says that Storr and Fiset are both better than Volkov. Another view is that one of the Kings’ only true prospects will be used to Band-Aid a situation that has drawn out too long. The only positive is that once these expansion drafts are completed, goaltender value will return to its proper level because teams will not have to keep looking at protecting netminders at the cost of position players.
The second is the power play. The Kings started out like gangbusters on the man advantage. then injuries and the trade of Frankie Kaberle lead to Garry Galley taking the point and the results eventually cost the Kings a playoff run. Make no mistake, the trade of Kaberle to Atlanta was a great trade, but the fact is that he was rock solid at the point and replacing him with a loose gun like Galley who only seems to exert himself when the spotlight is on him is not something the Kings single point power play can handle. That is why the Kings’ gave up the most shorthanded goals. It is Galley’s fault- the Kings just needed a more responsible pointman who could complement a free-wheeling Blake. Blake’s ability to roam while Kaberle manned the point is what made the power play thrive.
The third is the youth factor. While Bucky and Nelson Emerson gave the Kings a couple more years, they need to develop some young talent at forward. It seems that Justin Papineau will not sign with the Kings and Rosa could be an expansion casualty. This leaves the Kings with zero forwards with NHL potential in their system. Unless Eric Belanger can continue the late season surge he is enjoying, the Kings will face the total rebuilding of their future forwards. The defense could undergo a new look next year. With Aki Berg destined to hold out, the Kings could inject some youth on the blue line by giving some guys like Richard Seeley, Rich Brennan or Joe Rullier a crack at the big club. Phillippe Boucher also showed promise but he is a free agent. Garry Galley will likely be re-signed, but I think the King would be better served to hurry along the development of their young talent. I think Rich Brennan could play in the NHL next season, but it may be in Columbus or St. Paul. They have a solid core in Blake, the underrated Norstrom, the serviceable O’Donnell and the promising Karalahti. The development of a youngster would really complete a solid blue line.
The final area is taking a few steps to rebuild the system. Whether it’s trading the rights of a player like Berg or a goaltender to pick up some prospects or just stocking up in the draft, the Kings have about two years to get some players who can contribute.
All in all, the sour taste of the playoffs made the success of the regular season a memory. However, if Andy Murray doesn’t burn the team out with motivational ploys, the King should have a solid season in 2000 behind a bigger year from Ziggy Palffy and an entire season from Kelly Buchberger whose leadership for an entire season can only help.