When news broke this morning that Kopitar had injured his knee in Sweden, Kings fans could only shake their heads and say, "Of course."
After all, the players and owners seem to be inching closer to ending the lockout, and the puck might actually drop in two weeks. Wouldn't that be just typical?
No one ever wants to hear that a star center is hurt, but at least now the situation looks better than it first appeared. Linus Hugosson of Pro Hockey Magazine relayed a direct quote:
Kopitar: "Got tangled up in the corner and it felt funny. Precautionary reasons to step off. Taking this seriously." Says 2-3 weeks #lakings— Linus Hugosson (@linushugosson) January 5, 2013
Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times brought more encouraging reports:
Spoke to Anze Kopitar's agent, Pat Brisson. He said Kopitar's knee injury "is nothing to be alarmed with." Said Kopitar is in good spirits— Helene Elliott (@helenenothelen) January 5, 2013
Brisson said more will be known about Kopitar's knee after tests are done in next few days but Kopitar doesn't think it's serious.— Helene Elliott (@helenenothelen) January 5, 2013
We're still waiting for news on tests, of course, but even if the projected 2-3 week recovery time is correct, and a 48-game season does in fact begin on January 19th, Kopitar may only miss a handful of games.
That's something they're better prepared to deal with than most.
Kings have centers to spare
Even if Kopitar isn't 100% for a while, Los Angeles boasts more solid options at center than they've had in years. In fact, you can trace Lombardi's urgent efforts to improve their center depth back to Kopitar's season-ending ankle injury before the playoffs in 2011. The Sharks rolled Thornton, Couture, and Pavelski as their top three centers in the first round; the Kings were left with Stoll, Lewis, Richardson, and Handzus. There was simply no comparison when it came to matching lines. Kopitar was not able to take his regular place going head-to-head against Thornton, and the team was killed in possession. It's a testament to the team's never-say-die attitude, or perhaps the Sharks' atrocious penalty kill, that they were able to give the Sharks any trouble at all.
Coming into 2013, the Kings' roster is radically different. Jeff Carter, who was forced to play wing, could easily switch back to his natural position; he averages about 30 goals per season. Mike Richards should be ready to go, looking to bounce back from the trials of 2012, and the team will be even better if he can regain his form. Jarret Stoll has served as a second-line center in the past, or they can keep him with his Cup-run linemates.
Last but not least, Andrei Loktionov has been honing his craft in Manchester. Though he had an unproductive stint at center last season, he could have a better chance at sticking if Sutter paired him with the likes of Simon Gagne (12.8 SH%) rather than below-average shooters like Lewis (3.2%) and Richardson (7.0%).
So, while we wish Kopitar a speedy recovery, their improved forward depth gives them many options. If a season does start in two weeks, what lines do you think Sutter will come up with? What would you like to see?