On the one hand, this gives them six months to rest, heal and get ready for next season. It’s been a grueling three years of gutting it out in defense of their two titles but alas, this is just not their year. On the other hand, for a city that’s used to seeing their sports teams go far, this is going to be a very, very long summer.
So where did it all go wrong? What finally killed their season? Was it leaving points on the table in the extra session? Is it really all Slava Voynov‘s fault? Did losing Tanner Pearson hurt them more than they thought it would? In short: It was death by a thousand cuts.
In order to truly answer these questions, we have to go back to last June shortly after the Kings had won the Stanley Cup. During the exit interviews, GM Dean Lombardi informed left-handed left-shooting defenseman Willie Mitchellthat they would not re-sign him due to lack of cap space. Mitchell was a very steady second-pairing defenseman who played big minutes and was a valuable penalty killer.
Now jump to October when Voynov was arrested for allegedly assaulting his wife. The news was stunning at the time. With Voynov suspended indefinitely until the investigation had finished, the Kings were down another valuable defenseman. Six games into the season and the Kings had lost their entire second pairing on defense. That forced them to move Alec Martinez, a third pairing defenseman throughout most of his career with Los Angeles up to fill Voynov’s spot.
It was quite a struggle to overcome Voynov’s absence for quite some time. Martinez has done an admirable job and has grown into his role on the second pairing, but it took a while for him to really find his niche there, especially since he was playing on his off-side. There was that struggle, but Voynov also carries a $4.1 million cap hit and a rash of injuries in early November complicated call ups from the Manchester Monarchs, their AHL affiliate. On top of that, the Kings were breaking in 23-year-old defenseman Brayden McNabb, who was forced into the lineup probably more often than Darryl Sutter would’ve preferred.
That’s not a knock on McNabb at all, who has performed very well all season. However, every young player goes through growing pains and McNabb’s came at a time when the rest of the defense couldn’t seem to get it togetherand Jonathan Quick was having the worst month of his career.
This was further complicated by Drew Doughty playing well above his career average, often surpassing 30 minutes a night. Despite being only 25 years old, there was concern about wearing out the team’s best defenseman, especially considering his heavy usage on the PK. Towards the end of the season, those fears appeared to be founded as Doughty made uncharacteristic mistakes and couldn’t seem to make the right decision — something he has rarely struggled with in the past.
Doughty joins Matt Greene, Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown as the only Kings not to miss a game all season. McNabb remained healthy but was often scratched in favor of experienced veterans rejoining the lineup.
Promising rookie Tanner Pearson has been out of the lineup with a broken fibula since January 10, after he collided into the end boards. He started off the year red hot and was cooling down quite a bit, but his presence had finally given the Kings some sorely needed depth and balance on the left side, something they’ve been searching for the last several years. His spot was primarily filled by Dwight King, a good depth player, but not quite an adequate replacement. King lacks the speed and skill that Pearson had but he did a suitable job skating to the left of Carter and Tyler Toffoli.
Missing Toffoli for six games to mononucleosis threw another wrench at the Kings as he went out the same time that Pearson did. The team was fortunate that he was able to make a speedy recovery and didn’t suffer from many of the symptoms related to it. They also caught a break that they had a few days in the schedule with the All-Star Game that afforded Toffoli a little extra rest. However, it took a few games for him to get his stride and his timing back following his bout with mono and the team’s offense and play driving suffered a bit.
The acquisition of Andrej Sekera was a great pickup by Lombardi. Once he finally got comfortable and gelled with the team, things finally seemed to be looking up. Then, with seven games remaining, someone fell on his leg and he was forced to miss the rest of the season. Sekera was a great stabilizer and allowed Sutter to scale back some of Doughty’s minutes. But it was yet another blow that the Kings really couldn’t afford, especially at such a critical time.
The severe drop off in play of Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards was unexpected and challenged the team’s center depth, which they had so boasted about not even a year prior on their way to their second Stanley Cup. Nick Shore was an adequate replacement for Richards and made his linemates better, though he did little in the way of providing sorely missing scoring depth. While his line has chipped in with a few goals since his arrival, it wasn’t enough.
There’s also the matter of being historically bad at shootouts. If they’d managed to pick up seven points (roughly half) in the extra sessions and skills gimmick, instead of being stuck at 93 points, they’d have 96 points and would hold the third spot in the division over the Calgary Flames.
From the beginning, the Kings were behind the eight ball and were playing catch up all year. This time, they couldn’t manage a miracle come back. Don’t read too much into their records this year, particularly OT/SO, which tends to be random and is not likely to happen again.
After a summer of rest, they’ll be back to contend again. Lombardi has built a very good roster.
I don’t think this Kings team was very different in talent, effort, etc, from the 2012, 2013, or 2014 editions. Just a little less lucky.
— Andrew Leafman (@andrewleafman) April 10, 2015