"Is this team really that promising?"

Ersberg (commenter on "Inside the Kings," not the actual Ersberg) asked the following great questions in the Inside the Kings comments section:

"Does anyone else think the Kings seem to not have the type of offense that some teams have that can be a threat on almost any possession? They just seem anemic on O, [yet] they have a lot of the same guys as they did last season [who] scored a lot. [...] With [...] regard to our prospects [...] how are [they] going to get it done next season?

[...] Is it, in fact, Terry's system? Are we missing key guys? Are some of our 'older, younger' guys not what we thought they'd be (Kop, Fro, Brown, etc.)? Was it a fluke last season when guys like Brown scored 30+? Is it the guys below our top scorers [...] that are the issue[...]? [...] [D]o you feel our guys have a higher "ceilings" than what we're seeing? Do you see guys like Johnson, Greene, Quincey getting better? What about Purcell, who's 24(?) [...]? It seems like they're trying real, real hard, but they end up coming short, which is why I believe they need some more changes and additional players.

Who do we add? Who goes? Who do you think will actually want to come here? [...] Is this team really that promising? Columbus [...] has had a lot of changes, some very young additions, and they are sitting in a playoff spot. I see the Kings being very much the same.

[...] In addition [...], ask yourselves this: when was the last team any sports team (4 major sports) went cheap, and won a championship? I'm thinking it was the Angels in 2002. It seems to me we're a 'cheap' team."

The problem on offense: certainly, part of the drop in production is due to TM's defensive system. There's really no way around that. You're always going to sacrifice some offense when you play a tighter defense. As it has turned out, the Kings GF and GA have both dropped about 0.3 goals/game. So it's basically a wash. However, notice that reducing both goals-for and goal-against by the same amount has resulted in better results (assuming the Kings don't proceed to lose the next nine games).

Looking at the offensive numbers: this season, the Kings have averaged 2.0 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5. Last season, they averaged 2.3. That's all of our loss of production. Five-on-four, the Kings are up to 6.6 goals/60min from 5.8 the previous year. Five-on-three, we're at 22.9, up from 21.0 [just to clarify, 22.9 goals/60, 5-on-3, means that if they were to play an entire game 5-on-3, they would score on average 22.9 goals]. In short, this season, the special teams are slightly better, and 5-on-5 we're much worse. Of course, it's 5-on-5 where the defensive system is in full force, so that's another reason it must shoulder (at least) some of the blame.

Actually, those numbers alone ought to be enough for those who are predisposed to blame TM to put the last few nails in the coffin. M y purely statistical response to that would be, per above, to point out that a commensurate drop in offense and goals-against yields better results, in terms of wins/points.

I would also say, in TM's defense, that if the Kings had stuck to their defensive system even more than they have, they would be looking at the playoffs right now. Before the season started, I pointed out in the ItK comment section that if the Kings were able to reduce their goals-against from last season's 3.24 (from memory, I could be off a few 1/100ths) to around 2.75 they would make the playoffs, 2.75 being the usual threshold for a playoff team. They were on track to do this for about half the season, I think, but they got sloppy. In this context, TM's benching of Frolov makes a lot of sense. He (TM) knows that it's the defense that's going to make the difference.

Underline: even with the drop-off of production, the Kings would have made the playoffs this year had they stuck to the system. That's okay. It's not a knock against the players that they didn't just magically see the light. You have to learn by experience. Devils+v+Los+Angeles+Kings+KH2MOluueWel.jpg" class="aligncenter" title="Doughty Devils" />

Re "are we missing key guys?" -- DL made a revealing comment in an interview a few weeks ago that [paraphrase] Kopitar was basically a second-line center who has the potential to be a first-line center. The expectation has to be that he grows into the role of #1 center, otherwise frankly he's not earning his contract. DL was just being honest (maybe too honest, since it opens him up to a lot of criticism -- why pay that much for a #2 center, etc.). But I did get the feeling this season that Kopitar looked like the understudy suddenly forced to play the lead part. And he's done okay, especially of late. But watching him in the #1 center role makes me (and I think a lot of other people) long for a game-changer.

As a mental exercise, I sometimes try to imagine where our various guys would fit in on a powerhouse, elite team, say, Detroit. Kopitar would be a great #2 center on the wings. Brown, a great third line winger. Frolov, 2nd liner, but maybe still in the doghouse for his lapses (see Fedorov). Stoll, 3rd line center. Handzus, third line center. Williams, 2nd line, maybe third. Calder, scratch. Armstrong, waived. Ivanans, Westgarth, waived. Zeiler, waived (they waived Ellis, who is a better Zeiler). What this exercise reminds me is, on the Kings roadmap to Elite-ness-itude (-ity), we've already got ourselves a great third line, a great second line, and no first line.

And, boy, doesn't it feel like that's just what we have?

I'm not saying Kopitar won't grow into the #1 center role. I think he will, actually. He's still a kid. But, as far as "missing key guys" goes, I would say, yes, definitely, it's time to get a true, top-line sniper, a finisher, a star. You do that, and you take the pressure off Kopitar, he won't see the other team's best shift after shift, and he will have room to grow.

re "prospects, how are they going to get it done?" -- Simmonds, Doughty and Quincey are unqualified successes this year. Purcell, Moller, Quick and Harrold are successes with asterisks attached. In Purcell's case, it took him most of the season to get it together. Moller started strong and then had a run of bad luck (followed by TM's odd insistence on keeping him out of the line-up because he wasn't strong enough, as if this wasn't also true at the beginning of the season when he was leading the Kings in PP goals, etc. -- file that under "don't get me started"). Quick was an instant star and then lost some of his star-power, but has still been huge. Harrold gets an asterisk because he's a "veteran" prospect and he has the curse of doing a lot of things well, but nothing spectacularly well. He's extremely useful, but easy to pencil out. Of those guys, can we expect them to get better? Absolutely. Simmonds and Moller, for one thing, are kids. They're physically immature. They're going to get bigger and stronger. Doughty, we forget that in addition to everything we've seen from him, he likes to check, and has been known (as we've seen in glimpses of him this season) to take over games. When he's mature, he's going to be that much more dominant. Johnson, whom you mentioned, has to play smarter, but that's not unusual for young defensemen, and JJ is following a much more traditional d prospect path. We're spoiled by Doughty stepping right in and playing a dominant role. That happens, well, almost never.

Re the Kings being a "cheap" team -- It's hard to argue against that when the Kings have the lowest cap figure in the league. However, I must. First of all, next season, with Kopitar's and Greene's contracts kicking in, the Kings will not have the lowest cap figure anymore: they'll be somewhere around $47-48MM, i.e. more or less halfway between the ceiling and the floor. If they sign a big UFA, they'll be much, much closer to the ceiling. There's a good chance the ceiling will come down season after next, and some have said as low as $52MM. This would mean many teams would have to shed salary in order to comply. I don't think DL is cheap. I think he's smart. There is simply no way in the post-lock-out NHL to have a team that has several superstar contracts (or even more than two -- three is pushing it). You must have a balance between big names, medium names, role players and prospects. Look at Detroit: Holland cannot sign both Hossa and Franzen, unless he's willing to forego team depth, which he clearly doesn't want to do. The Kings could easily be in that position in two years, and, p.s. would have been for certain if they had given Cammellari the $6MM he asked for, given POS the $4MM or whatever and kept him, both of which would have meant giving Kopitar more, giving JJ more this summer, etc., etc..

The distance between floor and ceiling is quite small. DL kept near the floor this year. Signed Kopitar and is halfway to the ceiling. This summer, he could go all the way to the ceiling with one signing.

Re "who would want to sign here?" -- Let's take Hossa as an example. Hossa wants to stay in Detroit. Detroit wants him. He's willing to take less, but how much less is not known, and the talks have stalled. If Hossa doesn't sign with Detroit, he's going to seek more money elsewhere. The question is, (1) who wants him? (2) who's attractive to him? and (3) who can afford him?

Answer to #1: more or less, everybody.

Answer to #2: first choice, a contender. Who are the contenders? San Jose, Washington, Calgary, Chicago, Boston, Vancouver, New Jersey, Pittsburgh. But see answer #3...

Answer to #3: none of the contenders have cap space to sign him. Will someone sign him and then put themselves in the Brian Burke position of having to trade assets when the entire world knows they are over a barrel? Probably, they won't. Will someone go on a draft day fire sale to shed salary in order to make room for Hossa? Dangerous to do that, since you might not get Hossa, and then where will you be?

Who has the cap space? A bunch of losers, that's who. I'm including the Kings in that. A bunch of teams that aren't going to look too attractive to Hossa. Among which, he may have to pick the team with the brightest future. The loser with the brightest future. Among said losers, there is no one regarded to have a brighter future than the Kings.

That's our hope. We have the cap space, we are the future, and we need to be successful now. Now is the time.

That's not a horrible pitch. Will it be good enough? Who knows.

re "next season...how are they going to get it done?" -- For one thing, it will be a slightly different "they." I believe DL will push very hard to bring a big UFA forward in. He needs to. As many have pointed out, not getting into the playoffs a year from now will be a failure placed solely at DL's feet. The pressure is mounting and the team is going to have to produce next season. He's going to try very hard to bring in some big-bucks snipery finish for the first line. Will he succeed? I am going to put my money on ... probably.

So, first piece of the puzzle is one big tasty UFA. Second piece of the puzzle is, no Calder, no Preissing, no Gauthier, no Armstrong, probably no Zeiler, maybe no Ivanans. Third piece, bigger, stronger, older Doughty, Moller and Simmonds. Purcell coming into his own. Lewis hopefully on the team full time on the third line. Hickey, Teubert, Voynov...one of them will make it, maybe even two. Jon Bernier...I still hold out hope that he will top them all in camp this September.

The other issue, I think, is finding a workable fourth line that has an actual theme and purpose and use, as opposed to it just being a catch-all for players who are dressed but benched in the third period. I liked the old Donnelly/Millen third line idea, small/speedy tertiary scoring. I think there's a version of the Kings with a Moller/Loktionov/Azevedo/Richardson type third line configuration, that would be terrifying and beautiful to behold. That would free up the fourth line to be a Handzus/Lewis/Simmonds/Brown/Wudrick type ordeal. Yes, okay, Brown on the fourth line. But I'm talking about rolling four lines all game, with much more balanced ice-time. Think Detroit. And let all the "unhealthy Detroit fixation" gossip begin.

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