Published On: Tue, Apr 24th, 2018

Better Luck Next Year: Los Angeles Kings edition

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As NHL teams are eliminated from Stanley Cup contention, theScore NHL freelance writer Katie Brown looks back at the highs and lows of their seasons, along with the biggest questions ahead of 2018-19. The 16th edition focuses on the Los Angeles Kings.

The Good

Career years from Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Drew Doughty. Kopitar was the Kings’ leading scorer during the regular season and playoffs. His 92 points were 40 better than his total in the 2016-17 season, and a career high. His 22:05 average ice time was also a career high, and helped him earn yet another Selke Trophy nomination. Brown established personal bests in assists (33) and points (61), while Doughty topped off a 60-point career year by being named a Norris Trophy finalist for a fourth time.

Jonathan Quick’s amazing season. Quick won his second Jennings Trophy by helping backstop the Kings to a 2.46 team goals-against average. Their penalty kill finished at an NHL-best 85 percent, thanks in large part to Quick. In the playoffs, he posted his best numbers since the Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup-winning campaign, with a 1.55 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage. He also set a franchise record by making 54 saves in Game 2’s double-overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Daniel Brickley’s dynamic debut. Brickley made his NHL debut for the Kings on April 5, a week after signing a two-year entry-level contract. The defenseman recorded his first NHL point that night against the Minnesota Wild; it was a fitting milestone for Brickley, who had just finished his junior year at Minnesota State and also played for the U.S. at the world championships. He scored 10 goals and 35 points last season and finished with 20 goals and 77 points in 107 career games with the Mavericks.

The Bad

A lack of postseason offense. The Kings scored just three goals in their four-game sweep at the hands of the Golden Knights. Two of those goals came in one game; they were shut out in Games 1 and 4. And the Kings’ most important players didn’t show up. Brown had just one point in the series. Doughty missed Game 2 with a suspension, but it didn’t really matter – he, Jeff Carter, Adrian Kempe, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson combined for zero points. Suffice to say it’s impossible to win any game, much less a playoff series, if you can’t score goals.

Missing Derek Forbort and Jake Muzzin. With Muzzin, third on the team with 34 assists, out with an upper-body injury for two games and Forbort out with a lower-body injury for the entirety of the Kings’ short playoff run, coach John Stevens was forced to lean on relatively inexperienced defensemen Oscar Fantenberg, Paul LaDue, and Kevin Gravel. Considering the Kings’ goal-scoring woes in their first-round series, they almost certainly would have fared better had Muzzin been available the entire time.

That dismal home record. The Kings had the second-fewest regular-season home wins of any playoff team with a 23-15-3 record. They lost both home playoff games too, sinking their postseason home record to 0-5 over the last two years.

The Questions

Does Doughty sign another extension in L.A.? Doughty’s eight-year, $56-million deal doesn’t expire until after next season, but he’s allowed to start discussing an extension with the Kings on July 1. Soon after the Kings were eliminated from the playoffs, Doughty made it clear he wants to stay and finish his career in L.A. General manager Rob Blake said negotiating an extension with Doughty is a top priority.

How do they improve? Offensive depth is a major concern for the Kings this offseason. To keep up in today’s NHL, they need scorers beyond Kopitar, Brown, and Carter; only five of their players notched 15 or more goals last season. Center Gabriel Vilardi, the Kings’ first-round pick in 2017, could make the jump next year, among other prospects in the system. Whatever they do, they need to get younger and faster.

Should they rebuild? The Kings were one of the oldest teams in the NHL last season. Their stars aren’t getting any younger, but it doesn’t make sense to tear it all down. Many NHL teams have rebuilt on the fly – keep the core players together, maybe add a couple pieces down the stretch, and make way for younger talent. The Kings would do well to get away from the heavy, Darryl Sutter hockey they played when they won the Cup in 2012 and 2014 and focus on what it takes to win now.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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