Nightmare Fuel: Could the Kings Withstand the Loss of Anze Kopitar?
Anze Kopitar's career has been a blessed time to be a fan of the Los Angeles Kings. Remarkably durable, Kopi has played in more than 90% of his team's games in every season since his very first. Even in that first season, he played in 87% of the Kings' games.
It seems rather unlikely that Kopitar is going to miss much time - if any - as a result of the ridiculous butt-ending he received from noted non-hockey player Ryan Reaves. Darryl Sutter said after the game that Kopitar seemed better. In an ideal world, the Kings will err on the side of caution and sit him out if there are any concerns about his well-being.
The only time we've really had to wonder about the Kopi-less Kings is when he broke his ankle in 2011. The playoff-bound Kings were significantly hindered by his loss and wound up surprising the Sharks by pushing them to six games in round one of the playoffs.
Without Kopitar, that Kings team was a disaster.
In 75 games with Kopitar in the lineup, that team put up a respectable 51.7% Corsi. In 13 games without Kopitar, their Corsi dropped all the way to 47.7%, and that includes an extremely weak finish to their regular season schedule that saw them play four games against teams near the bottom of the league in Corsi. They were outclassed in every single way.
Though the Kings were always going to try and add a significant piece to the puzzle, Kopitar's injury lit the fire for the team to acquire a more true #2 center. In the interim, they tried to fill the spot by committee with the likes of Jarret Stoll, Michal Handzus, and Trevor Lewis. That did not work.
That Kings team was ultra-reliant on Anze Kopitar. Besides him, they had Drew Doughty, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, and a handful of decent but not great players. Pre-2012 was sad times.
Times are better. As I wrote in my piece about Dustin Brown: the Kings have a lot more talent now. Even with the subtraction of Justin Williams, this roster is excellent. The likes of Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Marian Gaborik and Jake Muzzin - among others - have significantly padded the upper echelon of talent that the Kings boast.
What could we reasonably expect from a Kopi-less Kings? The forwards would line up something like this:
Lucic - Carter - Toffoli
Gaborik - Weal - Brown
Pearson - Shore - Lewis
Clifford - Andreoff - Nolan
The First Line
It seems pretty likely that That 70sish Line would be about the same as they've been so far. They'd put up a bunch of points and put up somewhere between a 55% and 57% Corsi. Their ice time would go up a tick, which is great, because I love watching them play hockey.
The Second Line
This is the biggest question mark we have going forward. It's a little bit hard to figure out. Jordan Weal is a complete unknown in the NHL. What we do know is that Dustin Brown has about a 54% Corsi in his ice time without Anze Kopitar over the past few seasons. Gaborik has been less than stellar without Kopi, posting a meager 49.8% Corsi on a pretty great team. No matter what happens with Weal and Shore, it seems rather unlikely that they lose the shot attempt battle. Gaborik, Brown, and Weal's raw offensive skill probably drag the Kings' second line to respectability, but it could be a struggle.
The Third Line
Same ol', same ol'. Sutter might use them a bit more prominently as a stopper role in an attempt to hide the second line, but we pretty much know what to expect out of them: not much of anything exciting. The reason I think Shore stays here as opposed to sliding up the lineup is because Sutter knows what he's going to get out of this group. He gets puck possession and defensive responsibility. No one in this lineup is going to be the savior that ignites this line offensively. Expect something like a 55% Corsi and 14 minutes when you don't have to pay attention to your television.
The 4th Line
Well, this time they have a very capable #1 center to replace him. Jeff Carter is an outstanding player. The second line would take a significant hit, but giving Nick Shore and Jordan Weal extended looks with skilled players would probably do more good than harm. The bottom six wouldn't change much at all. Trevor Lewis would likely split time between the second and third lines based on whatever Darryl Sutter is feeling on a particular day.
The Kings would suffer a dip in puck possession and offense for sure, but they would probably remain afloat until Kopitar returned, even if it was a long term thing. There wouldn't be any real need to make a deal for another center unless that player was extremely inexpensive. It's hard to believe, but this Kings' team is currently so much better than the rest of the league at possessing the puck that they could experience a significant fall from grace and still remain in the upper third of the league.
If the Kings felt so inclined, they could also use the open roster spot (from putting Kopitar on IR should worse come to worst) to call up Michael Mersch. The fit isn't great, as the only spot opened in the top six is a center role, and the Kings are currently carrying 5 players that can play center even if Kopitar leaves the lineup (Carter, Weal, Shore, Lewis, Andreoff). Mersch plays the wing. The only real option would be to put him on the third line, but I suspect that Sutter would leave the fourth line in tact and resort to scratching Jordan Weal. Scratching one young and talented player for another sort of defeats the purpose.
Life without Kopitar is horrifying, but survivable. Merely surviving is never the goal. May Anze Kopitar be blessed with Bruce Willis's Unbreakable genes, amen.