here you go, 24
Better or Worse? A look at Los Angeles
posted: Tuesday, September 4, 2007 | Feedback | Print Entry
filed under: NHL, Los Angeles Kings
As we count down the days until the opening of training camps, I've decided to play a fun game of "Better or Worse?" In the coming weeks, I'll look at each team (in alphabetical order) and give you my opinion about whether it will be better or worse in the coming season, based on what it has done in the offseason. This isn't meant to be a complete preview. I'll leave that for the fall.
Los Angeles Kings (27-41-14): Better.
It will be difficult for the Kings to be any worse than they were during the 2006-07 season. They finished with just 27 wins, the second fewest in the league. So, I'll play the odds and predict that they'll pick up a few more points in the standings.
Still, these rebuilding Kings are a long, long way from a crown.
For the second straight summer, GM Dean Lombardi's efforts to woo high-end free agents to L.A. came up short. This time, he couldn't convince Daniel Briere or Chris Drury to relocate to Hollywood.
Once those key players went off the market, Lombardi started taking some expensive risks. To date, he has signed experienced forwards Michal Handzus (four years, $16 million), Kyle Calder (two years, $5.4M) and Ladislav Nagy (one year, $3.75), defensemen Tom Preissing (four years, $11M), Brad Stuart (one year, $3.5M) and Jon Klemm (one year, $500,000), as well as journeyman goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin (one year, $525,000).
With the exception of Preissing, who did well as a 5-foot-6 defenseman in Ottawa, none of the aforementioned players is coming off what you might call a "good" season.
Handzus missed all but eight games last season with the Blackhawks due to knee surgery. Lombardi committed a lot of money and term to an average player coming off an injury.
Calder, Nagy and Stuart didn't have injury problems, but none of the three skaters played up to expectations last season. In fact, all three guys were traded during the season and neither really made a significant impact for the teams that traded for them.
Nagy and Stuart signed expensive one-year deals, so the risk is limited. Calder, however, inked a two-year contract. If he doesn't find his game, the Kings will be on the hook for a second year. While Klemm was signed as a depth defender, Aubin will have a chance to get some crease time in L.A. because of the club's messy goaltending situation.
The Kings came into last season with goalies Dan Cloutier and Mathieu Garon. New Kings coach Marc Crawford wanted to lean on Cloutier, who had tended goal for him in Vancouver, but the netminder never found his stride. He was 6-14-2 with a dreadful .860 save percentage in 24 games before having his season shortened by hip surgery on Jan. 12. It was the second straight season Cloutier missed significant time due to injury.
Garon, who also had some injury problems, fared much better, posting a 13-10-6 record with a .907 save percentage. He was good enough to leave Los Angeles via free agency, signing a new deal with Edmonton.
With Garon gone, Cloutier, Aubin, minor-leaguer Jason LaBarbera and 2006 first-round pick (11th overall) Jonathan Bernier will battle for the two goaltending slots. The Kings have high hopes for Bernier, who turned 19 last month. Lombardi and Kings fans everywhere hope Bernier will be the long-term solution to the team's goaltending woes. At his tender age, I doubt he's ready for full-time NHL duty. Hopefully, he won't be rushed to the big league; the Kings cannot afford to damage this valuable asset.
In all, the Kings' summer signings didn't do much for me. The defense should be better, but it won't show if the club doesn't get consistent goaltending. Up front, I don't know what to expect from Handzus, Nagy and Calder. The answer might be ... not much.
I think it's pretty obvious the club's future rests firmly in the hands of young vets like Mike Cammalleri, Alexander Frolov and Dustin Brown, as well as top young prospects such as Anze Kopitar, Jack Johnson and Bernier. In time, as these players continue to mature, the Kings have a chance to be more competitive. For now, however, I don't see them making more than a 10-point improvement in the tough Western Conference.
That won't be nearly enough to get them to the playoffs in 2007-08.