2018-19 Record (31-42-9) 71 Pts
At the start of the 2018/19 season, there were reasons for optimism amongst Los Angeles Kings fans. The team had just completed a successful regular season campaign, qualifying for the playoffs with 45 wins and 98-points.
Anze Kopitar was coming off a career season, recording a stat line of 35 goals and 57 assists for 92 points, and winning the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward in the league. Dustin Brown had a career resurgence. No longer toiling in the bottom-six forward group, Brown was given top minutes playing alongside Anze Kopitar, and his stat-line benefitted as a result. 28 goals and 33 assists for a 61-point season. A career-best points-wise for the then 33-year-old forward. The only season where Brown scored more than 28 goals was a decade earlier when the 23-year-old version potted 33 goals in 78 games.
The Kings benefitted from elite goaltending that season, Jonathan Quick leading the way with 33 wins, a .921 save percentage (SV%), and 2.40 goals-against average (GAA). Put simply, the Kings scored a lot, almost three goals per game, and had a stingy defence, normally a recipe for playoff success. Unfortunately, they ran into the upstart Vegas Golden Knights, were swept in four games, scoring just three goals total in the process.
Entering free agency, the Kings looked for scoring. They were rumoured to be in on Jeff Skinner who was being made available by the Carolina Hurricanes, but after he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, the Kings landed another big name. 35-year-old winger Ilya Kovalchuk. Five years had elapsed since the dynamic forward had taken his talents to Russia. Multiple NHL teams were interested in acquiring his services but balked at the request of a three-year deal. The Kings didn’t blink, agreeing on a three-year contract at a cap hit of 6.25 million dollars. What could possibly go wrong?
Pretty much everything that could go wrong, did. After a poor start, Head Coach John Stevens was fired, and Willie Desjardins was appointed as interim coach. Similar to a situation that a substitute teacher might find themselves in, coming into an unruly classroom that had traumatized their regular teacher, it was difficult for Desjardins to gain the respect of the players and get the best out of them.
If Desjardins had managed to get the most out of Kovalchuk, it’s possible he would have been hired on a permanent basis. However, he failed; Kovalchuk finished the season with a disappointing 16 goals and 18 assists (16-18-34). Healthy scratching the winger, and moving him up and down the lineup did not provide the desired response. It also did not help Desjardins prospects of permanent employment that almost every core player on the Kings had underwhelming years statistically.
As the season wore on, the Kings plummeted farther and farther down the standings. Thankfully the Ottawa Senators are ‘a team’ in the NHL, preventing the Kings from finishing dead last.
Anze Kopitar – Like having to choose the best apple of a box left in the back of a truck for a week in the middle of summer, picking an MVP (Most Valuable Player) for the Los Angeles Kings considering the season they had was difficult. In the end, I went with Anze Kopitar. Scoring 60 points (22-38-60) whilst playing difficult minutes on the team that would finish second-last in the league lifts him above the competition.
Most Improved Player:
Jack Campbell – Prior to last season, Jack Campbell had played a mere seven NHL games. Although the 27-year-old netminder had a losing record last season (10-14-1), he boasted an impressive .928 SV% and 2.30 GAA.
Jeff Carter – The 34-year-old forward scored 13 goals in an injury-shortened season in 2017-18. In 76 games last season, Carter scored the same amount of goals, a paltry 13. For a player signed for another three years at a $5,272,727 AAV, the production does not come close to matching the salary cap hit.
Highlight of the Year:
Current Depth Chart:
Top Three Prospects:
Gabe Vilardi (C), Rasmus Kupari (C), Alex Turcotte (C)
Players Primed for a Breakout:
Carl Grundstrom (LW), Alex Iafallo (LW/C), Adrian Kempe (C/LW)
Free Agent Additions (as of July 15, 2019):
Martin Frk (RW), Joakim Ryan (D)
Jonathan Quick (G), Tyler Toffoli (LW/RW), Derek Forbort (D)
Off-load players with term past their prime, get younger and faster.
Trending Up or Down:
Who knows? It’s hard to pick “down” when a team finishes second-last, but it’s also hard to see a team with an aging core suddenly rejuvenate into a playoff spot. I would guess that the Kings will stay about the same, and finish in the bottom-five next season.
Check out the other season reviews already released here!
Feature image credit @PhilliesToday