Obviously it’s still early in the summer and the Los Angeles Kings are still basking in the glory of their first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history. However, as soon as that puck drops again in October (or late September for the teams starting the season in Europe) the battle begins to crown the next Stanley Cup Champion. Since the lockout, which was a mere seven years ago, there have been no repeat champions. The closest we got were back to back Detroit vs. Pittsburgh finals, with each team taking a Cup home. So one must wonder, can the Kings repeat?
In a word: yes. They can. However, repeating is incredibly hard, and harder still in a league with so much parity. The Kings themselves are proof of this parity, being the first ever No. 8 seed to win a Stanley Cup and beat the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd seeds along the way.
Let’s take a look at what will be in the Kings favor, and in their opposition, as they attempt to go back to back.
For the Kings:
-Roster. Every significant piece of the Los Angeles Kings roster is locked up for next season, with the exception of Dwight King, who is an RFA and in all likelihood will return. When your most significant departure is likely to be Scott Parse, you’re doing okay. The Kings roster is stacked with offensive power, will have a revamped Dustin Penner for a full season, has one of the best defenses in the league, and a Conn Smythe goaltender locked up for a long time to come.
Additionally, the Kings have some cap space, so they could go after a free-agent this summer, or fill a hole as it arises come trade deadline time this season. However, it’s not urgent for LA to be adding pieces to a team that just steamrolled its way to a 16-4 playoff record and a Stanley Cup, which brings me to my next point…
-Speed. Not their speed on the ice, but the relative speed with which they managed to finish their playoff run. Where some teams might suffer from enduring a long, tiring series after every round, the Kings longest series was 6 games. Other than the Finals, they had two 5-game series and one sweep. Certainly they won’t be as well rested as teams who did not participate in the playoffs, but comparatively to other seasons, it’s not as bad.
-Youth. The players on LA’s roster are all relatively young. There aren’t many old bodies that are on the twilight end of their career on the Kings. So healing up and getting ready for another push shouldn’t pose as much of a physical burden as with an older team.
-Staff. The Kings return with Darryl Sutter who has proven to be a winning coach. He fit in well with the team and his brand of coaching managed to get a response from the team where Terry Murray seemed to have lost his voice. The Kings also lost what was perceived as dead weight in Jamie Kompon. While Kompon’s power play responsibilities were taken away a while ago, relinquishing him of blame in that department, fans and pundits alike felt he was a null addition to the coaching staff.
Against the Kings:
-Rest. Yes, I know I just cited their rest as a plus, but like I said, they did play more in the playoffs than any team other than the Devils. There is no denying the fact that they logged more time on ice and are probably a little more banged up than most.
-Hangover. ”Eric, isn’t that the same thing as rest?” No. The Kings are going to be busy this summer with travel, appearances, parties, rallies, autograph signings, etc. That’s a lot of time and energy focused on the past and not the future. Granted, they deserve it (as do their fans), but there is no denying it can hurt.
-Drive. Yes, being focused on the celebration (hangover) could be seen as the same thing as focus on the future (drive), but I’m listing it separately. Winning can cause complacency. Some players are susceptible to the mindset that they can let it slide for a while, resting on past success. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said it took a season to show who on the team was committed to winning again after they won their Stanley Cup in ’06. Sure, some guys get a taste of winning and want it again more than ever. We’ll just have to wait and see which player is which…
-Target. Everyone guns for the Champions to prove they can win. Every coach in the league will be telling his players to prove themselves against champions, both to show how hard they need to play and to boost their confidence.
All of these factors outside of the roster are hard to gauge. I have no real idea how banged up the team is outside of guesswork. And I really have no idea what their mindsets are because most of them have never won a Cup before so I can’t even make a comparison. However, these guys are pros. They’re paid to win and quite a few of them have been winners at every level of the game. The difference is, once you reach the NHL there is not a bigger trophy to get. It’s about getting back to the top of the mountain again to show you’re as relevant today as you were yesterday.
Eric Cooney is a staff writer at Sunbelt Hockey Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @EricCooney