NHL Season Preview: Three big questions facing the Los Angeles Kings
As part of SB Nation's NHL preview series, we've been asked to take a look at three questions a neutral observer would have about the 2013-14 Los Angeles Kings. They could prove to be the X-factors for LA this season.
The Kings head into 2013-14 looking to recapture the Stanley Cup, and they've got the team to do it. That being said, there are still questions facing this team. Here are three of them, as posed by SB Nation.
1. What can we expect from Tyler Toffoli?
You might remember Toffoli from his breakout performance in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, though you may have witnessed his offensive skills at some other point. But at this point, Kings fans are anxiously waiting to find out whether Toffoli will even make the opening night roster. The Kings have 13 NHL forwards aside from Toffoli, and the rest of them would be exposed to waivers if sent down. If LA sticks with eight defensemen in his 23-man roster (and head coach Darryl Sutter has said this is a distinct possibility), Toffoli might get sent down to the AHL until something clears up.
So when we set expectations, we need to think about where Toffoli will be playing. Sutter has attempted to play Toffoli, a natural right winger, on the left wing during camp, but that plan seems to have flopped a bit. So his likely Opening Night spot is on the right wing, either on the third line with Jarret Stoll or (more likely) the fourth line with Colin Fraser. If that's the case, I'd set 30 points as a goal for Toffoli, as he'll likely get plenty of offensive zone starts and substantial power play time. However, if Matt Frattin falters next to Richards and Carter on the second line, or if there are any injuries on the top two lines, Toffoli could find himself on a scoring line. 50 points is a possibility there.
Of course, you can throw this all out the window if Darryl Sutter decides that he'd rather have Jordan Nolan and Daniel Carcillo in the lineup. Ugh.
2. Where does L.A.’s secondary scoring come from?
In last year's playoffs, the answer was, "Nowhere." That was a problem.
This season, strictly fourth line players like Carcillo, Nolan, and Fraser are not going to chip in a lot of scoring, so the onus is on the Kings' potential third line forwards. Jarret Stoll had a hugely unproductive 2011-12 but bounced back somewhat last season. Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford both set career highs in goals and points despite the shortened season; however, 14 points in 48 games didn't blow anyone away. And Dwight King, so successful after being called up in February 2012, couldn't get anything going on the offensive end last season. We can't expect a huge jump from the back end, but if they could all chip in 25 points, the Kings would be satisfied.
The Kings are also looking for increased scoring from their defense. Jake Muzzin was a revelation, and Slava Voynov had a productive first full season, but Drew Doughty's offense slipped as he took on tougher defensive assignments. Those three, along with possible bottom-pairing guy Alec Martinez, will be relied on heavily to fill in the scoring gaps that the Kings' secondary forwards can't. With a healthy defense, they should be able to do just that.
3. How many games does Jonathan Quick start, and can he be overworked?
We're setting the over/under at 67 games for Quick during the regular season. This takes into account that Jonathan Bernier has been replaced with Ben Scrivens, but it also takes into account the fact that Quick can indeed be overworked. Quick played 71 games in 2009-10 and crumbled in the playoffs. Quick played 69 games in 2011-12 and won the Conn Smythe in the playoffs, but he also got a ton of rest between series and got to recharge. Darryl Sutter will hope that the Kings can lock up the Pacific Division before season's end, allowing Quick to get a couple days off down the stretch.
Last year, the Kings got tremendous backup goaltending from Jonathan Bernier. Quick struggled mightily for most of the season after offseason back surgery, and Bernier's performance in 12 games probably boosted the Kings by a couple seeds in the playoffs. But any doubt about Quick's effectiveness was erased in rounds 1 and 2 in the playoffs. Scrivens will be lucky to see 1/4 of the starts as Bernier did last season, but he was effective in 17 starts last season for Toronto. Expect to see Scrivens in most of the 14 sets of back-to-back games for Los Angeles this season, along with a few other appearances when Quick needs a breather.