Hips Thoughts- As it Stands right now.....
After being bombarded with Emails and PM's asking about my thoughts on the upcoming season I finally have the time to share my thoughts. Keep in mind this is subject to change with any looming trades and acquisitions so as it stands on the overcast morn of Saturday Aug 7th here are my thoughts.
There is an old adage in sports that's tired and hackneyed but rings true nonetheless in “If you didnt get better you got worse.” I heard it a lot in conjunction with the Dodgers before the MLB season started and it certainly looks in that case to be a real truism though I digress due to the fact that baseball sucks.
Overall, I do not see our current roster as being one that will improve by leaps and bounds as there are some legitimate weaknesses and the only wild card in mass improvement comes between the pipes and the hopes of maturity and growth will parlay into the “getting better” wildcard.
Lets get to it shall we?
Forwards- I still like our Forward depth and while the loss of the enigmatic Frolov may hurt in the goal scoring dept its not out of the question that Ponikarovsky may be able to fill that void as well as maybe, just maybe show some interest in competing nightly and thus if he has any warrior fighting spirit inside his Russian heart may be an overall improvement to the Forward core given Frolovs penchant for-well lets just say you will never confuse him with Darcy Tucker or Doug Weight on the effort scale.
The Wild Card here IMO is clearly Schenn. Lest we forget Schenn almost made the team last season being one of the last cuts in camp after playing very well towards the end of preseason. Schenn only went back to the Juniors to finish the season with 99pts and wearing the C for the Wheat Kings and a couple of other Canadian teams in international tournies. Looking at his Junior stats Schenn never took a step back as his point totals improved every year. Something to Note- of the 5 leaders in WHL regular season scoring; 3 are now property of the Kings in Brandon Kozun, Jordan Weal, and Schenn at 5th respectively. With good speed and a hard, honest 2 way game Schenn could be the difference maker at forward and open the door for future trades and acquisitions. Having Schenn develop into the next Rod Brindamour certainly wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Also of note that of the Top 5 players selected in the 2009 Draft, only Schenn did not make his NHL directly team out of camp. With all of the above as a guide I would say barring Schenn punching Terry Murray in camp he has a very good chance to make the team if not an outright lock.
As for the other forwards on the roster I don't see anyone having a huge breakout season-as a matter of fact I would project last years stats to pretty much hold true this season as well with the only difference being Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds finished the season with 16 goals and 24 assists, had over 100 PIMS and +22. With only 2 NHL seasons under his belt apparently the sky is the limit with most projecting Simmonds to have a couple of 30 goal seasons ahead of him. Even a 20/20 guy who keeps up with the PIMS and energy is invaluable(think Scott Hartnell). Being able to consistently bring it and maybe officially earn a spot on the top 6 would be huge for the team and once again open the door for acquisitions to help other areas(D corp cough cough.)
Other burning questions-can Smythe and Justin Williams play over 70 games? In Williams case can he play over 50?
On D I have some concerns-mainly in that the Kings only have 3 vets going into the season with the injury to Matt Greene and losing the toughness and vet leadership that OD provided. Last season at this time we were crowing about how there would be a huge battle for the #6 dman on the team with all other boxes on the roster being filled. Without question this is a huge step backward. Even with Greene you are still talking about the 5th and 6th spots on the roster hoping to be filled by rookies. As much as I hate Andy Sutton he would have been a solid pickup. Kind of funny how in todays NHL yesterdays hacks have become solid commodities. It wasn't that long ago that Sutton and Hal Gill type players were tossed around like the town tramp but recently have discovered a modicum of respectability amongst the NHL. I am still not sure why 1.5 million for OD couldn't have been matched by the Kings. In an nutshell, The High End of the squad with Doughty is elite-but until Greene gets back we really need to keep our fingers crossed that a lot of things will go right early in the season. And given the sordid history of the franchise one would be foolish banking on the Kings getting lucky or catching a break.
Even with Green returning the last 2 spots are question marks and once again how hard would it have been to get Sutton or OD back as an insurance policy? I am a big supporter of Lombardi but the offseason work with the Dcorp may as well have been from the Dave Taylor playbook. Pulling Stephan Quintal out of retirement would have been a positive. On that same note-this will be the season Doughty will win the Norris. I still can't believe Mike Green got more votes last season.
Goaltending is the one area without question we will be better at. I will go to my grave wondering what may have happened had the Kings rolled with Bernier in the playoffs. Won't get into the debate but will say it will not surprise me one bit to see Bernier as the #1 goalie at the end of the season. Even if that fails to materialize it will be good to see someone be able to spell Quick and hopefully keep him at the 50-60 count of games and hopefully keep fresh for the playoffs....or even the final month of the season for that matter.
With all of the above considered the one area I am very concerned about is team toughness. We saw how Vancouver intimidated and physically dominated us in the playoffs and this off season we have not only not addresses it but certainly gotten worse in this area. While Ivanans was a mediocre enforcer, he could hang with anybody in the league. Westgarth is a question mark as far as hanging with NHL heavies. His fighting style is entertaining for sure and I have no doubt he will be more active and willing then the often times reluctant Ivanans. The question is-what happens when he gets tagged and ends up like Ryan Flinn? Its not all that unreasonable to assume the possibility. In this case scenario the Kings are banking on yet another unproven to pull the weight and should there be any unfortunate happening the team better have some type of backup plan of which right now I dont think there is. Once again-given the history of the franchise planning and hoping for good fortune is foolish.
Sorry but when Westgarth is Option A-I am just not comfortable in this area given the way the season ended especially when Dallas is rolling with Burrish, Sutherby, Barch, and Ott and other Pacific teams are without question bigger and tougher. Can the Kings with Westgarth and Clune really expect to fare well in this area? I would not be opposed to us signing Arron Asham, Guerin, or Owen Nolan-not that any of these guys are a true solution or enforcers per se as much as at least we will have some additional balance in the physicality dept.
In a nutshell, I expect the Kings to get pushed around from other teams in the division. If I'm an opposing coach its a reasonable and sensible game plan. I expect that goal scoring should be roughly the same as last year barring Brayden Schenn from having a breakout rookie year in which he can score 15-20 goals. I expect the D to be the same if not slightly worse in the 4-6th spots on the roster. Those question marks may be offset by growth and maturity from JJ and Doughty. And I expect the goaltending to be better. So I expect similar results as last season with some of the losses being mitigated and offset by some of the gains. But at the end of the day at this point I can firmly say that the weaknesses of yesteryear simply have not been addresses to this point.
To use a car race analogy- if a car loses a race because of a bad tire and you don't change or repair that tire you would be a fool to think you would win the next race. To use a basketball analogy-if you lost a playoff series because you didn't have a big center to clog the lane you wouldn't expect to win the next series with the same center. Then again I digress because the NBA sucks.