L.A. Kings Season In Review

By Tony Calfo

The Los Angeles Kings ended their season with a four-goal loss in a game 7 in Denver last night.

The Los Angeles Kings ended their season with a four-goal loss in a game 7 in Denver last night.

Seem repetitive? Just think how it feels for Kings’ fans, players and management. The same story as a season ago, but a round earlier. 95 points and a first round loss. Desperation time. Or is it?

A year ago, the Kings left Denver with the notion that one of their top goal scorers was likely gone, their goalie was unsigned, their top defenseman was unsigned, they were facing another season with a hole in the first line as Josef Stumpel battled through another injury plagued season. They had two bad back-up goaltenders in Jamie Storr and Stephane Fiset. There were more questions than answers as they left the Mile High City.

While the taste in the collective mouth of the Kings is certainly no sweeter, this offseason brings more solidity than in years past. The Kings have their elite center. Jason Allison is a powerful center who can dictate the pace of a game. Allison is the star center the Kings have been dreaming about and his effort in game 7 on an extremely suspect leg was astonishing. Mike Keenan often spoke of Allison’s leadership skills and the Kings got a glimpse of it in the Colorado series. Since his arrival, Allison was always the first to stand up for his teammates. He played hard every night, even as he was getting himself into the shape that a training camp gave everyone else.

Last season the Kings were also unsure of the direction of Ziggy Palffy. Palffy shook of knocks of soft play and a lack of passion to lead the Kings to the playoffs. Ziggy played inspired hockey and gained the respect of teammates who questioned his work ethic just a year ago. Ziggy, Allison and Adam Deadmarsh are a prototypical front line- power, skill, speed and grit. When they were clicking, their play was breathtaking. The fact that the Kings won two games in Deadmarsh’s absence was a feat in itself.

The Kings also saw the development of their defensive corps. Andreas Lilja’s play in the playoffs was encouraging. I have doubted Lilja’s footspeed, but his play was physical, solid and responsible. Lilja also has a heavy shot and some offensive instinct. Combine Lilja with the emerging defensemen in Manchester and the Kings are ready for their first test of the offseason, Phillipe Boucher.

Boucher turned himself into a top 4 defenseman. The evolution of his game from soft, offensive blueliner to punishing, physical defenseman has been amazing. The Kings will do everything to keep him, but if they lose him, they are deep at the position. The same can be said for Kelly Buchberger. His contributions cannot be questioned, but if he leaves, the development of Brad Chartrand, Mikko Eloranta, Kip Brennan, Ryan Flinn and Ken Belanger will all ease the potential loss. Late addition Cliff Ronning can also come back if the Kings decide they want to pick up his option. The jury is out of Ronning, but the Kings need to bring him back to see what he can do. Scoring is at a premium and that is something the Rat can do. His pricetag is reasonable enough for them to take whatever risks this may bring.

The Kings also enter the season with two very solid goaltenders. Jamie Storr made enormous strides this season. The Kings hold Potvin’s option. Both can be signed and the Kings netminding situation will be solid for another season. The Kings can also continue Storr’s gradual evolution as the #1 goaltender with Potvin showing the way.

The Kings hold the cards this season, unlike last. There is not a position they could face a loss in that they cannot answer with a solid replacement. The Kings also have the development of their farm system behind them. The signing of Jared Aulin is still the first priority. If Aulin gets away, the Kings will face yet another PR nightmare, particularly after a series in which Deadmarsh was hurt and Blake played well.

The sting of losing in the first round will stick around for a while. Comparisons to the previous years of futility will come around. Questions about the farm system will arise. Fans and media will jump off the ship that was so crowded just 24 hours ago. That is business- the most visible thing is usually the most recent thing you have done. Fans have every right to be angry and voice those opinsions. A step back though shows a different view of the proverbial coin than a year ago.

One side of the coin shows another playoff loss. The other side of that same coin shows a gritty, never say die effort that brought them to seven games without a top forward and a top defenseman.

One side of the coin shows another year of futility to add on the previous decades of hockey in Los Angeles. The other side of that coin is considerably shinier.