The NHL.com 30-in-30 series landed on the Los Angeles Kings Thursday, August 13. They have great urgency to perform in the present, as their chance to catch the three Stanley Cup titles in the decade by the Chicago Blackhawks could get away from them.
The Kings concluded the 2014-15 NHL season without a Stanley Cup-playoff berth for the first time since 2008. That does indeed leave them not only hungry but rested.
More importantly, Los Angeles has the manpower and pedigree to make it happen. Milan Lucic provides a slight upgrade over Justin Williams. Nick Shore and Jordan Weal should be ready to step up as adequate replacements for the combination of Nick Shore and Jordan Weal. At some point Slava Voynov is likely to be able to provide an upgrade over Andrej Sekera and Derek Forbort could be an upgrade over Robyn Regehr.
The Kings are also unlikely to deal with so many blue-line injuries during the 2015-16 NHL season. So long as injuries they get do not take out top-tier players, they will be able to endure a couple at each skating position thanks to plenty of capable reserves.
The core is still among the best in the NHL: Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick are the best trio of top players at each position anywhere, and they are only just now reaching their prime. They have solid support at the top of the forward and blue-line depth charts.
What Los Angeles no longer has is veteran depth. Some of the younger players that have begun to take over those roles are developing, and all but two of its players are 30 or under.
That does not sound like a team with a closing window, so how exactly would the chance to catch Chicago in Stanley Cups slip away? There is a two-fold answer to that question worthy of being further examined.
First, the Kings are hard against the salary cap with two peaking players facing unrestricted free agency (Kopitar and Lucic). General Fanager shows them tied to three more players over the age of 30 well into the next decade for over $16 million per year, making it hard for them to retain their talent.
Chicago does not have that problem because general manager Stan Bowman made the tough roster decisions this summer for his roster’s long-term health, with only one player on the roster that is 33-plus years old during the 2015-16 NHL season. However, those moves could cost the three-time champions a postseason berth and certainly knocks them from legitimate contention for a Stanley Cup.
That opens the window for Los Angeles to catch them in the 2015-16 NHL season. Even if general manager Dean Lombardi is able to keep both major free agents next summer, his team will be lucky to keep pace with a Chicago team a year ahead in the reload that has already gone through the transition six years ago let alone win an extra Stanley Cup.
That is why it is now or never for the Kings to match the only team to achieve more this decade. Without a clearly better team heading into the 2015-16 NHL season, they might be the team to beat for the Stanley Cup even with the three-time Pacific Division-champion Anaheim Ducks right in their backyard.