I’ve made my share of homer picks in my time as a fan and part time hockey blogger. During 2012’s incredible run, I picked the Kings in every round (always in more games than it took to win with the exception of the final) because I felt it was possible if not probable they’d win, but in an almost superstitious manner I was very careful not to say out loud “We’re gonna win the Cup!”. Those words didn’t come out of my mouth until after game 3 of the finals, a 4-0 Jonathan Quick shutout of the Devils that gave the Kings 3-0 lead in the series. Of course, they lost the next two games and made me – and a lot of other Kings’ fans – more than a little nervous before winning the the CUp in game 6 in dominant fashion 6-1.
Monday evening, the Kings aired a live practice on their local broadcast affiliate and Hall of Fame play by play man Bob Miller announced that the Kings are are the first Cup champion in NHL history to bring back every player who played in a Stanley Cup playoff game the following year. I don’t have any way of verifying this but if that’s the case, this team is something special.
It made me think… it took us 45 years to get a Cup in LA. Why not two now? The same team, same chemistry that was there last spring should still exist. Same uptempo style Daryl Sutter brought to an already rock solid defensive base and one of the leagues premier goaltenders. So why not?
Of course, there will be challenges. The Kings start 2013 without perhaps their best player, Anze Kopitar, who is recovering from a knee injury suffered while playing in Sweden during the NHL lockout. Defenseman Willie Mitchell, who played key minutes paired with rookie Slava Voynov and was instrumental in the Kings’ dominant postseason penalty kill, could miss up to a month after offseason knee surgery. All-world goalie Jonathan Quick was just cleared to play this week after undergoing back surgery during the offseason. But the Kings have depth at Center. Jeff Carter will slide in from the wing and fill in admirably for Kopitar at #1 center. Davis Drewiske or youngster Jake Muzzin can spell Willie Mitchell for a short period of time; and while Quick looks to be in game shape during camp, the Kings still have a blue chip backup in Jonathan Bernier – a guy good enough to start for probably 20 teams in the league. And if the lockout did any team a favor, it’s the guys who played into June. The Kings are well rested and ready for the puck to drop.
Another factor that can’t be overlooked: AEG CEO Tim Liewieke has said publicly that GM Dean Lombardi has permission to spend to the cap if the Kings have an opportunity to acquire a player or players that he feels can help ensure the Cup stays in LA.
So while it’s no guarantee, it’s fair to say the Kings have as good a chance, maybe better, than any Cup champion in the 15 years since Detroit won back to back titles, to repeat. The organization has indicated that anything less would be considered failure at this point. If you’ve been a fan as long as I have, that’s a HUGE shift in culture and attitude from within.
And this time, I’m not saying it out loud even a minute too early.