Anze Kopitar Week: What Can We Expect in 2015-16?
After four days of focusing on the past, here's what the future might hold.
When the Los Angeles Kings reached the 2013 offseason, there was little doubt that they were a force to be reckoned with. They'd backed up their first Stanley Cup with a trip to the Conference Finals. Jake Muzzin and Tyler Toffoli had burst onto the scene, showing flashes of potential in the midst of a mostly unchanged roster. Jeff Carter scored 26 goals in only 48 games. And Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, and Mike Richards all had solid, if unspectacular, offensive seasons, while the young defense took another step forward.
There were questions around the guy who topped them all in the points department, though. After 42 points in the shortened season, Anze Kopitar had only nine points in 25 playoff games. Though a nagging injury (which Kopitar didn't acknowledge) was at least partially to blame for his woes, most people covering LA had opinions on whether Kopitar's postseason drop-off signaled future trouble for the forward. We all know how that ended: with a season that placed Kopitar firmly in the "best players in the NHL" discussion.
A year later: we're back where we were. Not all the way back, mind you, but after Kopitar posted his lowest point total since his rookie season, there's at least a little bit of chatter about just how big the Kings should go on his next deal. (Ten million dollars is looking incredibly unlikely, put it that way.) That being said, here are five questions you might be asking about Kopitar.
Was Kopitar's scoring downturn a fluke?
No, though I'll preface it by saying he only was six points down from 2013-14, in three fewer games.
The decrease in goals is largely down to shot quantity -- see question 4 for more on that -- but his shooting percentage was above 10% just as it's been every other year of his career. And as Nick pointed out in his stellar review of Kopitar's (otherwise excellent) 2014-15 season, his even strength assist rate was right in line with his career average. His power play performance for the league's 11th-ranked PP attack was solid. It really wasn't a case of the shots not falling (to steal a basketball term); he shot a bit less and played a bit less, and scored a bit less.
The real question, for me, is will Kopitar ever exceed a point per game? I don't see it, as in 2009-10 everything fell into place and he "only" got to 81. But it'd be fun to see a 2013-14 Getzlafesque season from him, if only so he could get a Hart nomination. On that note...
Is Kopitar ever going to win an individual award?
Book him for a Lady Byng eventually, at the very least, but you know in this question, "individual award" is code "Selke."
I think it happens within the next three seasons. Bergeron had two top-5 finishes before winning. So did Kesler. So did Toews. I still think Kopitar would have won this season if the Kings had earned ten more standings points; finishing third despite the playoff absence is impressive, and whenever the Kings put it together during the regular season, Kopitar's getting his.
Will Darryl Sutter continue to give Kopitar slightly less ice time?
I slipped in a subtle mention of this above, but Kopitar averaged under 20 minutes of ice time per game for the first time in his career. My first theory was that Sutter had been trying to give Kopitar a little additional rest at the start of the season, but breaking Kopitar's season into quarters and excluding the game he left early due to injury, Kopitar averaged 19:26, 19:23, 19:56, and 19:15 per game. Scratch that. My second theory was that Jeff Carter took a chunk of Kopitar's time, but Carter's TOI went down from 2013-14 to 2014-15. So screw my theories.
Anyway, aside from Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, no one really got a noticeable boost, so it's hard to say there was a concerted effort beyond giving Kopitar slightly less stress. The departure of Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll weakens LA's veteran center depth enough that Kopitar's probably going to find his shift count back on the rise.
Can Kopitar finally start shooting more?
Theoretically, everyone was actually fine with a drop-off in shots last season. The arrival of Marian Gaborik offered Kopitar a weapon he'd naturally defer to, and he did. 134 shots, though? For the ENTIRE season?
The good news is, there's seemingly no way Kopitar can post that low a shot total next season. Replacing Justin Williams (who loved putting the puck on net whenever he could) with Milan Lucic (whose shot per game rate was almost identical to Kopitar's) will help. So will Darryl Sutter putting an emphasis on shot volume from his best players, which I can only assume will happen after a season in which Trevor Lewis took more shots than Anze Kopitar.
Counterpoints to the above: Lucic should get more shots on a far superior possession line, and Sutter's talk didn't do much anyway. Jon Rosen mentions in that linked shot volume article that Kopitar was on pace for 134 shots on goal with two months to go, and he finished the season with... 134.
Still, I'd set the over/under at 164... two shots per game.
What can we expect from Kopitar next season?
Based on the above? A bounce-back... though calling it a bounce-back is pretty misleading given that, again, Kopitar was pretty darn good last year. The long offseason could potentially allow Kopitar to play more, shoot more, and take over games more. But even if he doesn't do all of that, circumstances should allow Kopitar to be the center of the Kings' attack more than he was last season.